This blog was originally published by the Center for Global Development.
The Learning at Scale study was designed to identify existing programs with demonstrated impact on foundational learning outcomes at scale. These programs are typically in short supply in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and where they do exist, there has been limited research into how they can be used to inform other programs. The goal of Learning at Scale is to draw on the successful approaches and characteristics of these programs to provide policymakers and development practitioners with evidence-based strategies for improving instruction (and student outcomes) across contexts. This research is being led by RTI International and is part of the Center for Global Development (CGD) education research consortium, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
A focus on numeracy
Throughout the United Nations’ Transforming Education Summit in September, it was clear that improving foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN) outcomes has become an important part of the policy and planning process for many donors, implementers and policymakers in LMICs. Much of the work in recent decades, however, has been focused more on foundational literacy, and less on numeracy. While this literacy focus has been essential for generating evidence on how to improve reading outcomes at scale in LMICs, there remains a dearth of evidence on successful, large-scale numeracy programs in these contexts.
Studies in high income countries have shown that early math is at least as predictive as reading of later academic achievement in both reading and math. There is also significant evidence about the importance of foundational math skills on high school completion rates and career pathways.
Despite this evidence, numeracy outcomes are far lower than they should be in many LMICs—and rapid, sustained (and equitably distributed) improvement is urgently required. The key to this change is understanding how to improve numeracy instruction at large scale.
Enter phase II of the Learning at Scale study, dubbed “Numeracy at Scale”.
The selection process
In early 2021, our team undertook a worldwide search for compelling examples of where early-grade math outcomes had been improved at measurable scale. The initial call for programs was posted in January 2021. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was difficult to identify programs that were available to participate in such a study, as they were focusing their efforts on responding to prolonged school closures and other COVID-related impacts.
We then resurfaced the call in early 2022. Initial and follow-up discussions led to the identification of 29 potential programs for consideration. Focusing on programs that had the strongest evidence of “effectiveness” and “scale”, the list was ultimately narrowed down to a final list of six programs. Two of the programs are government-implemented initiatives.
The selected programs constitute six of the most effective, large-scale numeracy-focused programs in LMICs, all of which have rigorous evidence of impact on student outcomes in mathematics.