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Improving Early-Grade Literacy in East Africa: Experimental Evidence from Kenya and Uganda


  • Adrienne M. Lucas

    (Department of Economics,University of Delaware)

  • Patrick J. McEwan

    (Wellesley College)

  • Moses Ngware

    (African Population and Health Research Center)

  • Moses Oketch

    (African Population and Health Research Center)


Primary school enrollments have increased rapidly in sub-Saharan Africa, spurring concerns about low levels of learning. We analyze field experiments in Kenya and Uganda that assessed whether the Reading to Learn program, implemented by the Aga Khan Foundation in both countries, improved early-grade literacy as measured by common assessments. We find that Ugandan literacy (in Lango) increased by 0.2s. We find a smaller effect (0.08s) on a Kenyan literacy test in Swahili. We find no evidence that differential effects are explained by baseline differences in students or classrooms, or by implementation fidelity. We conclude that differences between countries can likely be attributed to differential effective exposure to the literacy treatment in the tested languages. Students in Kenya were tested in Swahili, which is not necessarily the primary language of instruction, despite official policy.

Suggested Citation

  • Adrienne M. Lucas & Patrick J. McEwan & Moses Ngware & Moses Oketch, 2013. "Improving Early-Grade Literacy in East Africa: Experimental Evidence from Kenya and Uganda," Working Papers 13-03, University of Delaware, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:dlw:wpaper:13-03.

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    Cited by:

    1. Raza, Wameq A. & Kabir, Md. Mahbubul & Rashid, Rafiath, 2019. "Factors affecting early grade educational attainment: Evidence from South Sudan," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 65(C), pages 92-97.
    2. Hanushek, Eric A., 2021. "Addressing cross-national generalizability in educational impact evaluation," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 80(C).
    3. Jones, Sam, 2016. "How does classroom composition affect learning outcomes in Ugandan primary schools?," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 66-78.
    4. Blimpo, Moussa P. & Pugatch, Todd, 2021. "Entrepreneurship education and teacher training in Rwanda," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 149(C).
    5. Annie Duflo & Jessica Kiessel & Adrienne Lucas, 2020. "Experimental Evidence on Alternative Policies to Increase Learning at Scale," NBER Working Papers 27298, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Stranger-Johannessen, Espen, 2017. "The African Storybook, teachers’ resources, and pedagogical practices," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 52(C), pages 26-36.
    7. Sabrin Beg & Waqas Halim & Adrienne M. Lucas & Umar Saif, 2022. "Engaging Teachers with Technology Increased Achievement, Bypassing Teachers Did Not," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 14(2), pages 61-90, May.
    8. Wedel, Katharina, 2021. "Instruction time and student achievement: The moderating role of teacher qualifications," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 85(C).
    9. Elizabeth Spier & Pia Britto & Terri Pigott & Eugene Roehlkapartain & Michael McCarthy & Yael Kidron & Mengli Song & Peter Scales & Dan Wagner & Julia Lane & Janis Glover, 2016. "Parental, Community, and Familial Support Interventions to Improve Children's Literacy in Developing Countries: A Systematic Review," Campbell Systematic Reviews, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 12(1), pages 1-98.
    10. Derksen, Laura & Leclerc, Catherine Michaud & Souza, Pedro CL, 2019. "Searching for Answers: The Impact of Student Access to Wikipedia," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 450, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    11. Derksen, Laura & Michaud-Leclerc, Catherine & Souza, Pedro C.L., 2022. "Restricted access: How the internet can be used to promote reading and learning," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 155(C).
    12. Blimpo, Moussa & Pugatch, Todd, 2023. "Unintended Consequences of Youth Entrepreneurship Programs: Experimental Evidence from Rwanda," IZA Discussion Papers 16489, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    13. Chicoine, Luke, 2019. "Schooling with learning: The effect of free primary education and mother tongue instruction reforms in Ethiopia," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 69(C), pages 94-107.
    14. Derksen, Laura & Leclerc, Catherine Michaud & Souza, Pedro CL, 2019. "Searching for Answers : The Impact of Student Access to Wikipedia," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 1236, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    15. Piper, Benjamin & Simmons Zuilkowski, Stephanie & Dubeck, Margaret & Jepkemei, Evelyn & King, Simon J., 2018. "Identifying the essential ingredients to literacy and numeracy improvement: Teacher professional development and coaching, student textbooks, and structured teachers’ guides," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 324-336.
    16. Schaffner, Julie & Glewwe, Paul & Sharma, Uttam, 2021. "Why Programs Fail: Lessons for Improving Public Service Quality from a Mixed-Methods Evaluation of an Unsuccessful Teacher Training Program in Nepal," Staff Papers 316663, University of Minnesota, Department of Applied Economics.
    17. Atuhurra, Julius & Alinda, Violet, 2018. "Basic Education curriculum effectiveness in East Africa: A descriptive analysis of primary mathematics in Uganda using the ‘Surveys of Enacted Curriculum’," MPRA Paper 87583, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    18. Pooja Nakamura & Adria Molotsky & Rosa Castro Zarzur & Varsha Ranjit & Yasmina Haddad & Thomas De Hoop, 2023. "Language of instruction in schools in low‐ and middle‐income countries: A systematic review," Campbell Systematic Reviews, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 19(4), December.
    19. Jacobus Cilliers & Brahm Fleisch & Cas Prinsloo & Stephen Taylor, 2020. "How to Improve Teaching Practice?: An Experimental Comparison of Centralized Training and In-Classroom Coaching," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 55(3), pages 926-962.
    20. Bénédicte de la Brière & Deon Filmer & Dena Ringold & Dominic Rohner & Karelle Samuda & Anastasiya Denisova, 2017. "From Mines and Wells to Well-Built Minds," World Bank Publications - Books, The World Bank Group, number 26490, December.
    21. Berry, Christopher & Barnett, Edward & Hinton, Rachel, 2015. "What does learning for all mean for DFID's global education work?," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 323-329.
    22. Eble, Alex & Frost, Chris & Camara, Alpha & Bouy, Baboucarr & Bah, Momodou & Sivaraman, Maitri & Hsieh, Pei-Tseng Jenny & Jayanty, Chitra & Brady, Tony & Gawron, Piotr & Vansteelandt, Stijn & Boone, P, 2021. "How much can we remedy very low learning levels in rural parts of low-income countries? Impact and generalizability of a multi-pronged para-teacher intervention from a cluster-randomized trial in the ," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 148(C).
    23. Fleisch, Brahm & Schöer, Volker & Roberts, Gareth & Thornton, Amy, 2016. "System-wide improvement of early-grade mathematics: New evidence from the Gauteng Primary Language and Mathematics Strategy," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 157-174.
    24. Delavallade, Clara & Griffith, Alan & Shukla, Gaurav & Thornton, Rebecca, 2017. "Participation, learning, and equity in education: Can we have it all?," IFPRI discussion papers 1627, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    25. Atuhurra, Julius & Alinda, Violet, 2017. "Basic Education curriculum effectiveness analysis in East Africa: Using the ‘Surveys of Enacted Curriculum’ framework to describe primary mathematics and English content in Uganda," MPRA Paper 79017, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 08 May 2017.

    More about this item


    education; literacy; teacher training; Kenya; Uganda; randomized controlled trial;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • H52 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Education

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