Finding Words

15 February 2017

This paper documents learning from Concern's work in education across seven of the world's poorest and most vulnerable countries. Based on data from Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) surveys, progress in improving foundational literacy skills is measured.

RC Primary School, Makali Community. Photo: Michael Duff/May 2014/Sierra Leone
RC Primary School, Makali Community. Photo: Michael Duff/May 2014/Sierra Leone


Concern programmes have contributed to substantial and statistically significant improvements in reading fluency scores in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, and Haiti. However, improvements in scores are not consistent across all programmes, and only limited improvements are visible in a number of countries, particulary Liberia and Niger. Conflict and crisis within a country often result in school closure and diverting of resources away from education programmes, which was the case in Liberia with the Ebola outbreak. In Niger, baseline levels were extremely low and it took two years of investment and government support to develop a holistic bilingual literacy intervention in this resource-poor country, with improvements not seen until the final year of implementation.

Key Findings

The key findings of this paper are:

  1. The implementation of a comprehensive foundational literacy intervention, including teacher training and mentoring programmes has resulted in significant returns on students' reading fluency. The use of phonics-based instruction and improved literacy teaching methods were found to improve assessement scores regardless of country or language.
  2. Students perform significantly better when taught through their mother tongue, as seen in Afghanistan and Somalia.
  3. Access to reading materials and supportive home environments contribute to increases in students' literacy, while parent's reactions to children's school performance has a strong influence on students' performance.
  4. There are significant gender differences in children's reading levels, but these can be successfully addressed with targeted gender-based interventions. Programmes need to consider the gendered needs ot both girls and boys, and intervene accordingly.
  5. Students who reported experiencing violence in the school or home tend to score significantly lower than their counterparts.
  6. Poor school management practices can negatively impact students' education.

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