Research, Learning, and Innovation at TaRL Africa

In the latter half of 2023, TaRL Africa remained dedicated to advancing innovations in foundational literacy and numeracy. Over the past six months, we have continued to conduct and participate in a variety of exciting knowledge-generation activities across Sub-Saharan Africa. These include rigorously testing TaRL adaptations, strengthening program delivery in diverse contexts, exploring innovative ideas in our Learning Labs, and sharing our research findings with a global community of changemakers and implementers. 

Our learning efforts to
strengthen TaRL at the classroom level have included testing a new adaptation of TaRL called the “progressive grouping” model that addresses the challenges of large groups of beginner-level learners in a few countries (i.e., more than 75% of children  who cannot read a word yet). We trialled a new approach in which the first phase of the TaRL program focused intensively on the beginner-level groups with a focus on pre-math and pre-literacy skills.Phase 2 focuses on the higher level competencies as the majority of the children would be on the word/2-digit or higher level. This model gave a big “push” towards getting most children above beginner levels. During the pilot in Côte d’Ivoire, teachers reported they found this grouping approach simpler and more effective in reducing the number of non-readers. With these encouraging findings, we will follow up with an A/B study to test the innovation with a larger number of classrooms and see if learner outcomes are meaningfully improved with the adaptation.

In the second half of 2023,  we continued our collaborations with partners on improving TaRL classroom delivery. In September 2023,  TaRL Africa and its partner Youth Impact received a Catalytic Funding award through SALEX (The School Action Learning Exchange) to support applied, collaborative research. Together, we will collectively document and improve key tools and processes that support TaRL teachers in the classroom, leading to an action-oriented toolkit for teachers. 

SALEX supports schools to build evidence and implement promising practices.
Photo: Jacobs Foundation

We continue to test and innovate TaRL practices of mentoring, teacher support, and teacher professional development. To do so, we have initiated multiple learning activities focused on remote mentoring, to address the challenges of remote locations, high costs of physical school visits, and mentors not aligning support with teacher/school needs.  For instance,  a pilot in Nigeria is now studying a new mentoring model with the objective of increasing teacher support through school-level peer mentoring. Results are expected after January 2024. And through a generous IDRC-funded GPE-KIX grant, we anticipate completion of an RCT in Zambia in 2024, which evaluates the TaRL approach as well as an innovation offering additional school-based and remote learning opportunities for teacher professional development. 

Our Learning Labs have offered us opportunities to design, iterate, and deeply understand cutting-edge innovations such as the Language Learning from Familiar to Formal (L2F2) Methodology , which helps learners with an accelerated acquisition of the basics of English by leveraging the local language  (see above for more information on L2F2). For instance, in our Kenya Learning Labs, we have iterated on several L2F2 activities, including detailed assessments beyond basic ASER. We will now explore further tweaks related to time division between first and second-language instruction with a focus on higher-level activities.

Finally, to better understand and encourage the key ingredients that drive teacher agency and long-term government ownership and sustainability of TaRL, we have kicked off new projects that allow us to study motivation and barriers to human behaviour, and drivers of success in the education systems we support. Currently, our team is applying behavioural science to study how teachers’ beliefs and intentions influence the delivery of teaching practices in Zambia with new Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funding, in partnership with Busara Behavioral Science Lab (research lead) and VVOB in Zambia. Following a recent co-design workshop with teachers and Zambian Ministry of Education officials, we aim to test and iterate a behavioural innovation or ‘nudge’ this year, evaluating it for positive impact on teachers’ motivation and mindset. 

2024 is shaping up to be an exciting season for our team. We have more to do and learn as we enter the new year. We are also excited to share our findings with you! Stay tuned for regular updates on our findings on the TaRL Africa website. If you are a researcher who is interested  in partnering with us, please contact us at

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