project . 2020 - 2022 . Closed

Solid Foundations, Mother-Tongue Literacy, and the Transition to Adolescence

UK Research and Innovation
Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: ES/V001132/1
Funded under: ESRC Funder Contribution: 101,218 GBP
Status: Closed
27 Sep 2020 (Started) 26 Sep 2022 (Ended)

A large amount of money goes into funding education, especially literacy, with the belief that there will be long-term, positive effects. However, literacy rates - especially in Sub-Saharan Africa - remain incredibly low. Very few of the hundreds of rigorously evaluated interventions show more than moderate gains in student learning; almost none provide longitudinal evidence on longer-term outcomes. In short, there is little evidence from longitudinal studies in Africa about the effects of early learning on later school or life outcomes, and whether a strong early foundation better supports transitions, paving the way for continuing education, life-long learning and post-primary success. In response to this gap, our project will provide some of the first rigorous evidence regarding how investments in the early years of schooling from a highly successful literacy program can translate into long-term academic success and life outcomes. The project builds upon a randomized evaluation of an early grade literacy program in Northern Uganda. The evaluation involved 128 schools and studied a teacher training and support program for mother-tongue literacy in grades one through three. After four years of the program, we found massive effects of the program: Grade 4 pupils tested in 2017 after being exposed to the program in grades 1-3 scored 0.92 standard deviations higher in mother tongue reading - equivalent to 6.3 grade levels - more than the control students. The effects on English oral reading fluency were almost just as large. While it was impressive that such large gains were possible, in a post-conflict low-resource setting, a new set of open questions emerged. Specifically, at the end of 2017, only 52% of our study respondents were found during school visits. Importantly, we found no differential attrition across study arms - in other words, despite the unprecedented learning gains from the program, there was no positive impact on keeping children in school suggesting that outside factors - such as barriers and marginalization - rather than learning, play an important role in education transitions. This study addresses the following new questions: 1. How do children and parents/guardians plan for, and navigate challenges to, successful school and life transitions and how does early grade literacy help this navigation and transitions? 2. What are the causal effects of solid foundations in early grade literacy on learning, life skills, and school and life transitions? 3. What are the factors that, in a resource-poor environment, affect children's ability to harness the potential returns of early literacy skills? This proposed study will extend the NULP longitudinal data by interviewing a sub-sample of children and their parents/caregivers as they transition into adolescence. We will collect three rounds of data from children, and one round of data from parents/caregivers, over two years to measure learning life skills, school and life transitions. The study will conduct innovative qualitative child journey mapping and quantitative experimental analyses to provide some of the first evidence on how investments in the early years from a highly successful literacy program can improve learning, school and life transitions.

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