Is It Possible to Improve Learning at Scale? Reflections on the Process of Identifying Large-Scale Successful Education Interventions

Improving learning outcomes at scale is hard. That may seem obvious, but only recently have policymakers and donors become aware of just how dire—and broad—the learning crisis is. Most of their efforts to improve learning have been pilot programs, and although in some cases it has been possible to improve outcomes at this small scale, it is an entirely different challenge at scale, which can involve thousands of schools—the level at which change must happen to fix the crisis.

Guiding Teachers Rather than Scripting Them

It is difficult to imagine an effective teacher who does not have mastery of the content nor command of the pedagogical skills needed to teach literacy. Yet many teachers, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, lack these very skills. In those same countries, students exit school without the essential capabilities they need. How can we help teachers to teach more effectively?

Mathematics from the Beginning: Evaluating the Tayari Preprimary Program’s Impact on Early Mathematics Skills

Given the dearth of research on early numeracy interventions in low- and middle-income countries, this paper presents the instructional methodology and impact results of the Tayari program. Tayari is a preprimary intervention in Kenya (2014–2019) that prepares children aged four and five for entry into primary school by providing materials for students, training for teachers, and continuous in-classroom support. The Tayari methodology was built on the Kenyan government’s preprimary syllabus to produce instruction that was developmentally sequenced, linked to out-of-school experiences, and supportive of children’s number sense. Tayari was evaluated using a randomized controlled trial (RCT) and collection of longitudinal data from 2,957 children in treatment and control schools at three time points. Pupil assessment items were drawn from a growing body of research on preprimary numeracy in developing contexts, plus instruments and techniques from the Measuring Early Learning and Quality Outcomes (MELQO) program (UNESCO, UNICEF, Brookings Institution, & World Bank Group, 2017). The impact evaluation of the longitudinal RCT results showed statistically significant effects in the numeracy tasks of producing sets, identifying numbers, and naming shapes, while revealing no initial effects in the areas of oral and mental addition. We present recommendations for Tayari’s improvement in terms of mathematics instruction, as well as preprimary policy implications for Kenya and similar contexts.

Measuring Executive Function Skills in Young Children in Kenya

Interest inmeasuring executive function skills in young children in lowand middle-income country contexts has been stymied by the lack of assessments that are both easy to deploy and scalable. This study reports on an initial effort to develop a tablet-based battery of executive function tasks, which were designed and extensively studied in the United States, for use in Kenya. Participants were 193 children, aged 3–6 years old, who attended early childhood development and education centers. The rates of individual task completion were high (65–100%), and 85% of children completed three or more tasks. Assessors indicated that 90% of all task administrations were of acceptable quality. An executive function composite score was approximately normally distributed, despite higher-than-expected floor and ceiling effects on inhibitory control tasks. Children’s simple reaction time (β = –0.20, p = .004), attention-related behaviors during testing (β = 0.24, p = .0005), and age (β = –0.24, p = .0009) were all uniquely related to performance on the executive function composite. Results are discussed as they inform efforts to develop valid and reliable measures of executive function skills among young children in developing country contexts.

Effectiveness of Teachers’ Guides in the Global South: Scripting, Learning Outcomes, and Classroom Utilization

This report presents the results of RTI International Education’s study on teachers' guides across 13 countries and 19 projects. Using quantitative and qualitative methods, we examine how teachers’ guides across the projects differ and find substantial variation in the design and structure of the documents. We develop a scripting index so that the scripting levels of the guides can be compared across projects. The impact results of the programs that use teachers’ guides show significant impacts on learning outcomes, associated with approximately an additional half year of learning, showing that structured teachers’ guides contribute to improved learning outcomes. During observations, we find that teachers make a variety of changes in their classroom instruction from how the guides are written, showing that the utilization of structured teachers’ guides do not create robotic teachers unable to use their own professional skills to teach children. Unfortunately, many changes that teachers make reduce the amount of group work and interactivity that was described in the guides, suggesting that programs should encourage teachers to more heavily utilize the instructional routines designed in the guide. The report includes a set of research-based guidelines that material developers can use to develop teachers’ guides that will support effective instructional practices and help improve learning outcomes. The key takeaway from the report is that structured teachers' guides improve learning outcomes, but that overly scripted teachers' guides are somewhat less effective than simplified teachers' guides that give specific guidance to the teacher but are not written word for word for each lesson in the guide.

Persistence of pre-primary programs in Kenya: Evaluating how Tayari's program impacts change over time and into primary school- CIES 2018 Presentation

CIES 2018 Presentation, given by Ben Piper. While there has been recent evidence pointing to the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of pre-primary interventions, there remains little known about how those interventions might work at medium or national scale, nor whether the theoretical impacts of the programs increase, decrease or remain steady over time, nor whether the gains persist into primary school. The endline results from two years of Tayari’s intervention provide longitudinal data on nearly 2500 children who have been evaluated across a range of early learning skills (literacy, numeracy, socio-emotional) at three data points, including their first year of Grade 1. The results presented will explain how Tayari program impacts change over these three data points and determine whether Tayari’s impact persists into Grade 1.

National level classroom monitoring: the impact of Kenya Tusome on learning outcomes and accountability: CIES 2018 Presentation

CIES 2018 Presentation, given by Ben Piper. Tusome is supporting the Ministry’s systems to increase the utilization of monitoring data, and to expand the accountability structures of the government using the data provided by the national literacy program. Of particular interest is the classroom observation data collected by government-paid coaches, in Kenya these officers are called Curriculum Support Officers (CSOs). The data presented in this panel shows how the instructional support structures in Kenya have worked over time, with particular interest in the availability and usage of classroom support data.

The role of language instruction in schools as a tool among marginalized groups in Kenya- CIES 2018 Presentation

CIES 2018 Presentation, given by Ben Piper. This paper examines the influence of Mother Tongue (MT) as a medium of instruction in lower primary schools in 4 zones of Machakos County based on the PRIMR program. The relationship between MT implementation at the classroom level and its impact on pupil’s literacy outcomes are explored.

Linking literacy and numeracy in Tayari- CIES 2018 Presentation

CIES 2018 Presentation, given by Ben Piper. To improve the quality of preprimary education in Kenya, the Ministry of implemented the Tayari program in collaboration with four county governments. The program works with government officers to train teachers and support them in the classroom on a daily basis. Teachers rely on Teachers’ Guides developed to guide them in their lessons and are encouraged to expand children’s learning through two core strategies: the use of materials and extended learning. This presentation details one way in which reading and mathematics can be intertwined on a project through consistent instructional messages in trainings, materials for teachers, and support visits.

Understanding whether and how the Tusome program worked: Evidence from the national scale-up of a tested literacy program in Kenya- CIES 2018 Presentation

CIES 2018 Presentation, given by Ben Piper. The Tusome national literacy program has been implemented in each of Kenya’s more than 22,000 public primary schools and 1500 low cost private schools in the slums since 2015. In addition to showing the comparisons between before and after Tusome’s implementation, this presentation will examine Tusome implementation data to reveal key characteristics of the scale-up framework that Tusome was designed to respond to. In particular, we share the extent of classroom utilization of the Tusome materials, the size of the classroom observational structures that Tusome tried to revitalize, and the responses of the community to the Tusome intervention. The findings suggest that Tusome had a substantial impact on literacy outcomes in both Kiswahili and English, in both Grade 1 and 2, in both public and low cost private settings, and in both urban and rural settings. This means that the program’s effect meant that nearly 1 million more children were able to be considered readers by the midterm intervention.