Literacy proficiency
Africa has made unprecedented gains in school enrolment in recent years. In 1999, only 59% of primary school-age children were enrolled in school in Sub-Saharan Africa. By 2016, 80% were enrolled.1
Due to the tremendous efforts of governments, local communities, non-profit organisations, and the international community, school enrollment rates in Africa are converging on universal primary enrollment. Yet learning levels remained low: in 2017, over 80% of Grade 2 students in Ghana, India, and Malawi could not read a simple word and over 60% of Grade 2 students in Ghana, India, and Uganda could not perform two-digit subtraction 2. J-PAL affiliated researchers have conducted over 200 evaluations in more than 40 countries to test the effectiveness of a wide variety of education programmes, with the aim of improve learning outcomes.3 Yet learning levels remain low…
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Many programmes aiming to improve the quality of education in Africa have been ineffective because they fail to address the needs of all students.

Not only is business-as-usual failing to improve learning outcomes in Africa, but many new innovative programmes from governments and non-profits have also been unsuccessful. Because schools tend to be overcrowded and have fewer resources than in developed countries, many programmes have sought to reduce class size, add inputs such as flipcharts or textbooks, or provide schools with cash to independently purchase inputs. Unfortunately, rigorous impact evaluations from J-PAL affiliates show that interventions of this type in Kenya , Sierra Leone, Niger, and The Gambia were not effective. 
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Despite the success in getting children to school, learning outcomes are still desperately low in many contexts.

A study which assessed the impact of textbook provision in Kenya, like other input interventions, found no evidence that textbook provision increased average test scores, or that it reduced either grade repetition or dropout rates. However, textbooks benefited students with higher average test scores before the programme: those in the top 40% of the class before the programme increased their test scores between 0.14 and 0.22 standard deviations after one year, compared to a control group. This insight combined with several other studies helped illuminate a key reality common to many contexts: teachers teach to the top of the class – the few students who are at the level of the curriculum – while most students are left behind. Given the structure of education systems across many parts of the world, this is unsurprising. Many teachers are faced with classes with a wide variety of learning needs, dense and ambitious curricula, and high stakes primary leaving exams which incentivise teachers to move at the pace of the fastest learners.
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Pratham’s mission statement is: “Every child in school and learning well.” Driven by this mission, Pratham began designing and implementing programmes which focused on providing children with basic skills by tailoring teaching to children’s learning levels.11 In 2001 J-PAL and Pratham partnered to investigate the impact of Pratham’s “Balsakhi” programme. Balsakhis (“children’s friends” – female secondary school graduates) pulled Grade 2 to 4 children who were struggling with the curriculum out of class for two hours a day to focus on basic reading and mathematics skills. The programme improved children’s learning outcomes by 0.14 standard deviations in the first year and 0.28 standard deviations in the second year. This was the beginning of a long learning partnership between Pratham and J-PAL, and the start of what we now know as Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL). Since then , Pratham has partnered with J-PAL affiliated professors to rigorously evaluate, adapt, and improve TaRL models which can be efficiently scaled. This process began with early proof of concept randomised evaluations which showed the effectiveness of TaRL and continued with subsequent iterations of the approach to understand how best to implement at scale with government teachers during the school day.
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Does Continuous Professional Development Improve Teaching at the Right Level in Zambia?

 Central Province, Itezhi District, and Western Province in Zambia
 273 public primary schools
 2022 – 2025
Research papers:
 This evaluation was started while Andreas de Barros was a postdoctoral associate at J-PAL Africa.

Remedial education and differentiated instruction are promising approaches to tackle the low learning levels that plague many low- and middle-income countries. However, little is known about how to promote these strategies at scale. Researchers are evaluating the impact of the “Teaching at the Right Level” program on students’ foundational literacy and mathematics skills. The program—which runs in Zambia’s public primary schools and is locally known as “Catch Up”—divides children into groups based on their learning needs and pace and adds extra time during which teachers provide tailored instruction to each group. The study also investigates the effectiveness of combining the Catch Up program with a continuous professional development program for teachers. Research is ongoing; results are forthcoming.

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India: Volunteers pulled children out of school for 2 hours per day

India: Self-paced computer games

India: Volunteers led after-school classes for improving reading and mathematics

Kenya: Grade 1 classes divided by learning level, led by government teachers during the school day

India: One-month holiday camp held at school, led by teachers with volunteer support

India: In-school teacher-led programme for 1 hour per day throughout the school year. Strongly supported by government mentors

India: “Learning Camps” in government primary schools led by Pratham staff and supported by village vounteers

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