Dr Monazza Aslam, Managing Partner at the Oxford Partnership for Education Research & Analysis (OPERA), shares the timely and policy-relevant evidence on taking promising interventions to scale in Kenya.
Amidst the gloom about the ‘learning crisis’ that we know the world faces, interesting new evidence is providing promising pointers not only on what can be done to equip teachers to try to address it but also providing policy makers useful insights into how lessons can be learnt about successfully scaling up favourable interventions.
Two new papers by Piper and colleagues were discussed by Barbara Bruns, Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development and former lead education economist at the World Bank, in the Centre for Education Economics’ recently published Annual Research Digest 2017-18. They were also a focus of discussion during the launch event, sponsored by Cambridge Assessment, held on 19th September in London. These two papers have found strong positive effects from a major large-scale national reading programme in Kenya – the TUSOME programme (in Swahili: Let’s Read).
This new evidence is important. We know the world is facing a ‘learning crisis’ and we are also increasingly aware that a ‘teaching crisis’ underpins this. These two papers provide timely and policy-relevant evidence on how to improve teachers’ ability to teach reading in the first two grades of primary school and showcase the successful example of Kenya taking a pilot programme to scale. Both of these are invaluable contributions.
The first because we know that learning gaps start early and investing in the pre-primary and early primary years has the potential to address this crisis. Investing in the early years has the potential for increasing efficiency in the entire education system. We also know that the highest primary school failure rates are between grades 1 and 2 despite automatic promotion policies across several contexts. This concentration of failure in the early years necessitates the need for schools to be ‘ready’ for children with a key element of that readiness being a teaching cadre able to teach reading and numeracy in the early years.
Secondly, Kenya’s TUSOME programme provides a good example of how government willingness and engagement and the right set of political economy factors can help take a relatively small-scale pilot programme to scale and produce impressive outcomes. We know that the design and implementation of even the best-intentioned reforms is likely to be significantly influenced by politics. This is especially true when reforms require teacher behaviours and practices to change. Paradigm alterations – such as TUSOME - require not only materialistic amendments to pedagogy and teaching through syllabus materials, but also modifications in the behaviour of all the actors involved including the students, teachers, and parents. In this regard, large-scale programmes can often be anomalies from a political economy lens – they succeed when we are not really expecting them to do so.
A key ingredient for success is government engagement and will. TUSOME exemplifies this point. Since 2012, the government of Kenya has engaged in extensive efforts to transform the way basic reading and numeracy skills are taught in the first 2 grades of primary school. A key part of this strategy has been serious evaluations of smaller scale reforms – the first stage involved several randomized evaluations of a pilot Primary Mathematics and Reading (PRIMR) program. Based on the positive findings of the robust evaluation, the government designed a new national literacy programme (TUSOME) and as is noted in the discussion in the Digest, the government perhaps most unusually, in the national scale-up of TUSOME opened all levels of the education system to classroom observation, data collection and external analysis of the quality of the implementation process. It is partly due to the strong engagement of the government of Kenya that what started as an impact evaluation in 7 counties in Kenya has scaled up to all 23,000 public primary schools and 1500 low-cost private schools in the country with an independent evaluation documenting sizeable impacts on students’ reading fluency after 2 years of scale up (Freudenberger and Davis 2017).
The Centre for Education Economics (CfEE) is an independent think tank working to improve policy and practice in education globally through impartial economic research.
Download a free copy of CfEE’s Annual Research Digest 2017-18: evidence from the developing world.
Dr Monazza Aslam
Managing Partner, Oxford Partnership for Education Research & Analysis (OPERA)
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