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Early Grade Reading Study (EGRS): Building Foundations

The Early Grade Reading Studies aim to realise the Department of Basic Education’s vision and mission by focussing on Goal 1 and 16 in the Sector Action Plan “Action Plan to 2019: Towards the realisation of Schooling 2030”:

  • Goal 1: Increase the number of learners in Grade 3 who, by the end of the year, have mastered the minimum language and numeracy competencies for Grade 3
  • Goal 16: Improve the professionalism, teaching skills, subject knowledge and computer literacy of teachers throughout their entire careers

The Early Grade Reading Studies are a related series of large scale evaluations being led by the South African Department of Basic Education in collaboration with academics at various universities and international donor organisations. The project aims to build evidence about what works to improve the learning and teaching of early grade reading in South African schools. The project uses formal impact evaluation methodologies (randomised experiments) and makes extensive use of mixed methods (classroom observation and detailed case studies) so as to provide both a quantitative estimate of what the impact of each intervention is on home language and English as First Additional Language, as well as understand where, how and why different elements of the interventions are working.

EGRS I: Setswana 2015 – 2017

EGRS Policy Summary Report

Learning to read is foundational to all subsequent learning; yet the majority of South African children are being left behind in this regard. Although there are various initiatives underway to support early grade reading – and there have been many others in the past - there is little or no sense of what is working or why. The core of the project is a comparison of the cost-effectiveness of three promising intervention models to improve reading outcomes in learners’ home language (Setswana). The three interventions were implemented in the Grade 1 class of 2015 and at the Grade 2 level in 2016, thus following the same cohort of learners. In 2017 the two structured pedagogic interventions have continued at the Grade 3 level, thus ensuring that this cohort of learners were exposed to the interventions for the entire Foundation Phase. Of the three intervention models we have been evaluating, the Coaching intervention is showing a substantial positive impact after two years of intervention. This intervention included lesson plans, reading materials and on-site coaching by reading experts. Learners who received two years of this Coaching intervention were approximately 40% of a year of learning ahead of the students in the schools that received no intervention (‘business-as-usual’ schools).

Overall, the evaluation found small to moderate positive impacts of both the Parental Involvement and Training interventions and the largest gains were seen in the schools where the Coaching intervention was implemented. The evaluation further found that the Coaching intervention is helping boys catch up some of the way to girls. For all three interventions, the observed impacts are larger in urban township settings, but there is no measurable impact in deep rural settings. Finally, both the teacher support interventions (“Training” and “Coaching”) had the largest impacts in relatively large classes (38 to 45 learners).

Three documents; the Policy Summary Report, a Summary Report and an infographic on the study provide overall description of the analysis of the results of the Early Grade Reading Study after two years of implementation.

The Policy Summary Report is a 10-page summary focusing on the policy implications of this research while the Summary Report is more comprehensive. The infographic gives a 2 page summary of the study

Family Influences on Early Grade Reading

The family influences report aims to explain the relationship between family influences and reading achievement, by specifically considering how participation in the parent training workshops relates to household reading habits. There are three key findings from the analysis of the parent data. The first is that parents from resource-poor homes and communities harbour different views about their role in developing their child’s reading. The second is that this perspective matters. It is related to how well learners read and how involved parents are in training interventions. The third point is that many of the family influences that made a difference to emergent literacy were tried and tested, ‘low-tech’ solutions such as reading to a child on a regular basis and an ongoing awareness of what a child was doing at school (through checking a school bag and being aware of a child’s reading levels). Put simply, showing up and showing an interest in a child’s reading practices show the greatest promise. This is encouraging from a policy perspective because it confirms that significant ground can be covered by developing simple reading strategies for parents to follow regularly and consistently.

Download the Family Influences report here.

Classroom Observation Study

A lesson observation study was designed with the purpose of providing a more in-depth understanding of the different mechanisms at work in schools in the various intervention groups. The study was conducted in 60 of the schools that participated in the Early Grade Reading Study. The evidence found through the Lesson Observation Study suggests that although intervention 1 brought about significant change in teachers’ instructional practices, it seems that the reading coach component of intervention 2 was critically important with regard to: (1) in shifting the deep-practice of teachers by providing them with a greater understanding of the enactment of the methodologies they were taught during the training; and perhaps more importantly, (2) in supporting and motivating teachers in persisting with the implementation of the programme.

Download the Classroom Observation report here.

Case Study Report

This report reflects on case studies of four Grade 2 Setswana Home Language (HL) classrooms. The purpose was to gain better understanding of changes in classroom practice including when and how behaviour changed. The report presents finding from investigating the impact that two of the EGRS interventions had on teachers’ instructional practices in two rural and two urban schools that were average performing on both the base line and the EGRS’ midline assessment of learners’ HL literacy, but who had shown various levels of change between the two data collection points.

Download the Case Study report here.

Wave Reports

Four waves of data have been collected to date. A baseline data collection (“Wave 1”) was collected at the start of 2015 when learners had just begun grade 1. A midline data collection (“Wave 2”) was collected at the end of 2015. A third wave of data was collected at the end of 2016, when most learners were in grade 2. To evaluate the sustainability of the EGRS, a fourth wave of data was collected in 2018.  

Data Collection Instruments


An organisation called “Class Act Educational Services” has been appointed to run the three interventions on behalf of the DBE for the purposes of this impact evaluation.

Programme interventions are being funded by a coalition of donors, including the ZENEX Foundation, UNICEF, Anglo American and the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation in the Presidency.

The evaluation side of the project is being supervised by the Research Team while the data collection and capturing is being managed by South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) who also works closely with the Research Team on instrument development. The evaluation is being funded by the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie).




Anglo American:



Class Act:


North West Department of Education and Sport Development:


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