BRIEF

Kenya: EMERGE Reading

September 26, 2018



Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, many children read below grade level. Overcrowded classrooms, poor teacher training, and little family support for student learning play a role in poor learning, but the problem often begins before children start primary school. Many children do not enter school with the cognitive, social-emotional and other skills needed to start learning. Policy makers are looking for ways to increase school readiness and promote pre-literacy skills to ensure that all children have the foundation they need to succeed in the classroom. 

Research area:

Early Childhood Nutrition, Development, and Health

Country:

Kenya

Evaluation sample:

Seventy-three communities, all located within two hours of Kisumu Town, in the Luo-speaking rural areas of western Kenya. Thirty-six communities (including 1,016 caregivers and 1,267 children between the ages of 36 and 83 months) were assigned to treatment, and 37 communities (including 997 caregivers and 1,260 eligible children) were assigned to control.
Within the treatment communities, 508 caregivers (and their 632 eligible children) were assigned to the Luo-language books treatment, while another 508 caregivers (and their 635 eligible children) were assigned to receive the English-language versions of the same children’s storybooks.

Timeline: 

2015-2019

Intervention: 

Training parents in reading strategies that are engaging for children; free children’s books

Researchers: 

Lia Fernald, University of California at Berkeley; Pamela Jakiela, University of Maryland; Heather Knauer, University of Michigan; Owen Ozier, World Bank 

Partners:

Early Learning Partnership (ELP), with support from Echidna Giving

Results:

Evaluation ongoing. Endline data to be collected in 2019 and results analyzed thereafter. Baseline activities: between June 8 and December 21 of 2017, the EMERGE field team conducted baseline surveys of 2,013 caregivers and 2,527 children aged 36 to 83 months.

Problem

Kenya has one of the best education systems among low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet many students aren’t learning at grade level -- the 2011 Kenyan Uwezo survey found that nearly seven out of 10 students in third grade cannot read at even a second-grade level. A 2011 survey by UNICEF and the Kenya Bureau of Statistics in Nyanza province, western Kenya, found only four percent of children under the age of five live in households where at least three books are present.



Intervention

The objective of EMERGE is to level the playing field for rural children by providing a low-cost, scalable, early literacy intervention, which combines two components:

  • Providing guidance to caregivers of young children on how to engage with and stimulate their children with books, with a particular focus on empowering illiterate caregivers to discuss illustrated storybooks and interact with their children.
  • Distributing locally appropriate, illustrated children’s storybooks to caregivers so they can engage in interactive reading activities at home on a regular basis. Storybooks are provided in either Luo (one of Kenya’s most widely spoken languages) or English (one of the two national languages, and the main language of instruction in upper primary and secondary school.

Evaluation design

Encouraging Multilingual Early Reading as the Groundwork for Education (EMERGE) is a cluster-randomized evaluation of an early literacy intervention in 73 communities in the Luo-speaking region of western Kenya. Thirty-six communities (including 1,016 caregivers and 1,267 children between the ages of 36 and 83 months) were assigned to treatment, and 37 communities (including 997 caregivers and 1,260 eligible children) were assigned to control.

The evaluation seeks to answer two main questions:

  • Can providing children’s storybooks and teaching caregivers how to use the books to interact with their children improve pre-literacy skills and primary school readiness?
  • Are mother tongue storybooks more effective than storybooks in the national language?

Results

The evaluation is ongoing.