Evaluation of the Accelerated School Readiness Strategy in Ethiopia

October 3, 2016

In Ethiopia, many children in the early grades of primary school are not learning as expected due to a lack of school readiness. Impact evaluation evidence finds that early childhood education programs can improve basic academic, cognitive and behavioral skills, which increases readiness for primary school. The results from this evaluation will help identify effective and cost-effertive approaches to supporting children’s success in Ethiopian primary schools.

Research area: Early Childhood Nutrition, Development, and Health

Country: Ethiopia

Evaluation Sample: 120 primary schools and 3,600 grade 1 students

Timeline: 2016 - 2019

Intervention: School-based school readiness support

Researchers: Elizabeth Spier, American Institutes for Research; Johannes Bos, American Institutes for Research

Partners: UNICEF


Policy Issue

Effective preschool programs prepare children for primary school by helping them develop basic academic, cognitive and behaviorial skills critical for learning. But in low-income countries, it can be challenging for governments to provide formal, comprehensive preprimary education to all children. This evaluation in Ethiopia will assess if a school readiness program that provide 150 hours of support using existing schools and trained teachers, either immediately before children start first grade, or during their first two months of first grade, improves school readiness in the short term, and improves attendance, persistence and achievement in the longer term.


Ethiopia is a low-income country where nearly 30% of the population lives below the national poverty line. There has been substantial progress in reducing stunting and wasting among children under age five and the Government of Ethiopia is committed to achieving universal primary education. To that end, it legislated free primary school for all children and also launched a large-scale public awareness campaigns to promote school attendance, which drastically boosted enrollment. However, many children in the early grades of primary school are not learning as expected and are unable to read a single word.

To raise learning levels, the Government is searching for an affordable model to increase school readiness that can serve as an alternative to providing a costly nine-month preprimary education. With support from UNICEF, the Government has designed the Ethiopia Accelerated School Readiness program to pilot two models for improving learning for young children. The program is both low-cost and scalable.

Photo: Natalia Cieslik / World Bank

Policy Impact

The evaluation will provide evidence on the relative effectiveness of two school readiness programs, which the Government of Ethiopia will use in their decision on expanding the program throughout the country. The evaluation will also contribute evidence on the effectiveness of school readiness programs in preparing children for school as well. This evidence, together with data on longer-term academic achievements, will be useful for other countries looking for affordable, effective models of supporting school readiness while universal, formal pre-primary education is rolled out over the longer term.

Program Description/Intervention

The program’s objectives are to enhance school readiness, attendance, persistence, and academic learning in primary school by providing school-based support to children living in villages without preschools. To ensure affordability, the program will use existing school buildings and primary school teachers will be trained in using child-centered, child-friendly classroom methods. The trained teachers will provide 150 hours of school-readiness support focused on developing basic academic and cognitive skills including pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills. Teachers will also focus on behavioural skills such as how to interact with teachers and other students.

The program will use two models to deliver the school readiness support. The first model will provide support to children during the summer break before they start first grade and will pay a stipend to teachers who agree to teach the summer program. In the second model, children will receive the school readiness support during their first two months of first grade term. After the program is completed, the teacher will teach a condensed version of the regular first grade curriculum to make up for the time spent on improving school readiness.

Impact Evaluation

Children across five regions in Ethiopia—in communities where there are no pre-primary classes available—are eligible to participate in the program. The evaluation will examine the impact of two different school readiness models on children’s academic learning, participation in primary education and teacher practices. The specific research questions the evaluation seeks to answer are:

  • What is the impact of the two different school readiness models on children’s short- and long-term academic learning?
  • What is the impact of the two different school readiness models on primary school enrollment, attendance and retention?
  • Does the impact of the two different school readiness models depend on child characteristics, such as gender?
  • What is the impact of the school readiness model that incorporates the lessons into the first two months of first grade on classroom quality and teacher practices?

The interventions will be assigned at the village level. Using village background information such as the number of children by age group, first grade enrollment and the gender makeup of primary school enrollment, researchers will create thirty matched groups, each consisting of four villages with a primary school. One of the four villages in each matched group already has access to a standard nine-month pre-primary class. The remaining three villages in each matched group will be randomly assigned to one of the two intervention groups or to the control group.

Children in the first treatment group will work with a trained teacher for two months during their summer break to develop school readiness skills before they start primary school. In the second treatment group, children will work with a trained teacher to develop the same school readiness skills as the children in the first treatment group but during the first two months of first grade. Children in the control group will not receive any school readiness preparation. The comparison group comprises children living in villages with access to standard nine-month pre-primary class. The evaluation sample will comprise 120 villages and at the primary school in each of these villages, 30 children in first grade will be randomly selected for a total sample of 3,600 children.

The evaluation will collect baseline data in 2016 before the pilot begins; in 2017 at the end of first grade; in 2018 while the children are in second grade; and finally in 2019 when the children are in third grade. To measure the impact on children’s academic learning, an assessment that captures literacy, mathematics and environmental science skills based on Ethiopia’s Minimum Learning Competencies will be used. Researchers will also assess the children’s executive function, school attendance and behavioural development such as task persistence, attention span, and attention to and comprehension of directions.

The evaluation will use a classroom observation tool to examine teachers’ use of child friendly pedagogy based on UNICEF’s school model. The evaluation will also collect information on children’s nutritional status, which will be used to capture their home environment because the two are highly correlated in Ethiopia.

Data on the degree to which the program is implemented as intended and the rate of participation in the program will also be collected. Additional qualitative research will explore which eligible children participate in the program, and likely reasons for children participating or not participating.

Additional Resources