• Article

Identifying the essential ingredients to literacy and numeracy improvement


Piper, B., Simmons Zuilkowski, S., Dubeck, M., & Jepkemei, E. (2018). Identifying the essential ingredients to literacy and numeracy improvement: Coaching, teacher professional development, improved books, and teachers’ guides. World Development, 106. DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2018.01.018


Several rigorously evaluated programs have recently shown positive effects on early literacy and numeracy outcomes in developing countries. However, these programs have not been designed to evaluate which ingredients of the interventions are most essential to improve literacy outcomes. Policy makers therefore lack evidence as to whether program ingredients such as teacher professional development (PD), instructional coaching, learner materials, teachers’ guides, community support, or technology are required for program impact. The Kenya Primary Math and Reading Initiative was a randomized controlled trial that compared three treatment groups with specific ingredients and a control group. Using literacy and numeracy outcome measures for grades 1 and 2, we evaluated the benefits of the following ingredients: (1) teacher PD and teacher instructional support and coaching; (2) revised student books in literacy and numeracy, at a 1:1 ratio, added to PD and instructional support; and (3) structured teacher lesson plans added to student books, PD, and instructional support. We found that two of the three combinations of ingredients had statistically significant positive impacts on learning outcomes. The results showed that the third combination—PD, teacher instructional support and coaching, 1:1 student books, and structured teacher lesson plans—was most effective. A cost-effectiveness analysis on the ingredients showed that the option of PD and instructional support, 1:1 revised books, and teachers’ guides was the most expensive, but that the additional impact on learning made this the most cost-effective intervention. This study rigorously analyzes which ingredients for literacy and numeracy improvement would be most effective for overall impact, and suggests to policy makers that careful decisions regarding program ingredients will lead to more effectively designed and implemented interventions to improve learning in developing countries.