Championing Foundational Learning in Africa: Experiences from the ADEA High-Level Policy Dialogue Forum 2023

Ministers and representatives from 20 African countries pledged to prioritise foundational learning after the 2023 Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) High-Level Policy Dialogue Forum on Foundational Learning. The event was hosted by the Zambia Ministry of Education from October 31 to November 1, 2023, in Lusaka, and aimed to promote and share best practices to improve foundational learning in the region.

TaRL Africa’s delegation to this event comprised Titus Syengo, the Executive Director, Ashleigh Morrell, the Programs and Partnerships Director, Amos Dembele, Côte d’Ivoire’s Country Director; and Hafsatu Hamza, Senior Programmes Coordinator in Nigeria.

Several TaRL Africa team members attended the ADEA forum held in Lusaka, Zambia.
Photo Credit: TaRL Africa

Various speakers reiterated the importance of foundational learning during the official opening ceremony. “This forum underscores the belief that foundational learning is at the base of any effort to change the course of Africa’s development,” said Hon. Douglas Munsaka Syakalima, the Minister of Education of Zambia, who was speaking on behalf of President Hakainde Hichilema of the Republic of Zambia. During his speech, the minister also highlighted the importance of foundational numeracy and literacy in improving learning quality. Mr Joel Kamoko, the Permanent Secretary (PS), Educational Services, Ministry of Education, shared Zambia’s journey implementing the government’s Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) methodology known as Catch Up and reiterated the government’s plans to scale to the entire country and sustainably institutionalise TaRL into national plans. Since 2016, TaRL Africa has worked with VVOB and several donor partners to support the design and delivery of Catch Up through the government system in Zambia. This year marks the fourth forum organised by ADEA. TaRL Africa moderated a roundtable discussing national programs that implement TaRL and Structured Pedagogy programmes  at scale with examples from Zambia, Côte d’Ivoire, Madagascar, and Botswana, which implement contextualised TaRL interventions, and Senegal, Benin, Kenya, and Liberia, which implement Structured Pedagogy programmes. You can watch the session on our YouTube channel. Reflecting on the roundtable, Titus Syengo, TaRL Africa’s Executive Director noted that implementers from the eight African countries had not only embraced evidence-based programmes but also infused them with local ingenuity. “They’ve made their adaptations and materials and achieved results equal to or even surpassing their pilot phases. This isn’t just impressive; it’s a resounding lesson for African governments on the quest for improved learning outcomes through evidence-based strategies,” he said.

TaRL Africa delegates also had an opportunity to visit Catch Up classes in schools. Reflecting on the visit, Amos Dembele, TaRL Africa’s Country Director in Côte d’Ivoire, marvelled at how well local languages had been integrated into teaching, given Zambia’s diversity of local languages. For Hafsatu Hamza, TaRL Africa’s Senior Programmes Coordinator in Nigeria, interesting takeaways included the role of senior teachers as mentors and the effective tracking mechanism in place. Drawing a parallel with the resilience of the flamboyant tree, Ashleigh Morrell, TaRL Africa’s Programs and Partnerships Director, expressed hope for Catch Up’s growth. “I hope just like this beautiful tree, Catch Up will continue to grow rapidly and endure and adapt to the challenges it faces.” she wrote in her reflections here.
At the event, participants committed to promoting dialogue and peer learning and sharing successful practices in foundational learning, aligning with the 2024 African Union Year of Education and beyond. Countries represented at the forum include Angola, Benin, Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, The Gambia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe. “We know what works to improve learning in Africa; Structured Pedagogy is one way; Teaching at the Right Level is another, so we need to do more of what works at scale,” said Dr Benjamin Piper, Director of Global Education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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