Across Kenya, literacy rates in primary schools are significantly lower than expected despite increased access and enrollment. The Kenyan education system is seeking to improve learning outcomes by instilling better instructional practices, expanding resources for teacher training, and developing learning materials that support multilingual literacy.
Kenya’s approach to the challenge of raising literacy and learning outcomes is unique in its ambitious goals and well-researched methods for achieving its goal at a national scale.
Employing Rigorous Assessments to Improve Teaching and Learning
In 2015, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) joined with the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to fund a program known as the Tusome Early Grade Reading Activity. Taking its name from the Kiswahili word for “let’s read,” Tusome is designed to dramatically improve primary literacy outcomes for approximately 7 million Kenyan children in grades 1–3.
Under the leadership of the Kenyan Ministry of Education (MOE), RTI is the prime implementer of Tusome, supported by several partner organizations—WERK, Worldreader, and Dalberg- Global Development Advisors.
Two major aspects of Tusome set it apart: its rigorous evidence-based approach and its national scale.
The project builds upon the approach of the highly successful Primary Mathematics and Reading (PRIMR) initiative, which ran from 2011–2014. Also led by the MOE, funded by USAID and DFID and implemented by RTI, PRIMR tested early grade education interventions to assess their effectiveness and potential for national scale-up. In particular, PRIMR determined which ingredients of instructional improvement were most critical for learning, which types of information communication technology (ICT) support could make the most impact, and whether and how decisions about the language of instruction could support learning.
PRIMR started the process of data-driven instructional improvements to improve reading fluency, reading comprehension, and math abilities. Through PRIMR, teachers and trainers who work with teachers learned implement new, more effective instructional methods in low-cost ways embedded in government systems.
The interventions developed and piloted through PRIMR proved successful. Rigorous randomized controlled trials showed that grade 1 and 2 students in PRIMR schools were two times more likely than those in control schools to meet the MOE’s benchmark for reading fluency and twice as likely to read with comprehension.
Improvements were also seen in math, albeit to a lesser extent. Our research found that improved lesson plans, student books, and training and support for teachers—all of which were designed based on data-driven insights derived from classroom assessments—were integral to these improvements.
Scaling a Successful Approach to Reach 7 Million Children
Tusome is expanding the proven elements of PRIMR across Kenya. Working through Kenya’s existing education system and personnel, it aims to go beyond PRIMR’s success to achieve even greater improvements in learning outcomes for some 7 million children in grades 1, 2, and 3 in more than 22,600 public schools, 5,027 private schools and 1,500 alternative basic education institutions in urban slums of Kenya.
Tusome focuses on four key interventions developed and proven under PRIMR to improve literacy outcomes:
- Enhancing teachers’ capacity to effectively deliver classroom instruction
- Improving schools’ access to appropriate books and other learning materials
- Enhancing instructional support and supervision
- Enhancing collaboration with other literacy actors.
To prepare for successful interventions at the national level, the Tusome team developed a wide range of partnerships with institutions across Kenya who are playing a role in implementation. The team conducted numerous workshops, trainings, and sensitization meetings that involved stakeholders from all of the country’s 47 counties. The program also included revising teaching and learning materials (print and digital), developing new training manuals, and preparing tablets with the Tangerine® mobile assessment tool for administering classroom observation.
Monitoring and Evaluation Informs Continuous Improvement
Tusome’s rigorous commitment to monitoring, evaluation, and analysis fuels constant improvement across project activities.
Classroom data collected using Tangerine allows stakeholders to gain actionable insights about what is working for teachers and students. MOE Curriculum Support Officers receive tablets to conduct classroom observation and student assessments, supplying data for evaluations of the quality of program implementation and student learning. These data allow MOE decision makers to monitor progress and make informed judgments and adjustments when necessary.
In both Kiswahili and English, students made strong gains on reading in grades 1 and 2. In a recent external evaluation, the percentage of nonreader students in English Class 2 dropped from 38 percent to 12 percent between 2015-2016. Simultaneously, the percentage of students reading fluently increased from 12 percent to 27 percent.
In 2015, every child in grade 1 received textbooks in English and Kiswahili, and every grade 1 teacher received accompanying teacher guides. In 2016, grade 1 and 2 students received homework books in English and Kiswahili that include writing and handwriting practice, age-appropriate stories, and fun activities to support literacy development in both languages.
To date, we have delivered more than 19.1 million books and trained more than 98,000 grade 1 and 2 teachers and head teachers.
The ultimate demonstration of success for Tusome will be the transition to management by the Kenyan government in the project’s final year. The next steps include helping the government implement the national-scale mathematics program, which was also piloted under PRIMR.
The nationwide expansion of both programs shows the power of actionable insights gained through pilot programs to design high-quality interventions in schools, and do so in a way that is scalable and sustainable.