One of the biggest developmental challenges facing South Africa is the high number of children who do no learn to read for meaning in the early years of school. This is the foundational skill upon which all others build and as such this has become a leading priority for the Department of Basic Education (DBE). In order to address this challenge, the DBE initiated the Early Grade Reading Study (EGRS) in collaboration with academics at the University of the Witwatersrand, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and Georgetown University (USA). This is a large-scale educational impact evaluation – the biggest in South Africa - and aims to build evidence about what works to improve the teaching and learning of early grade reading in African languages in the country.
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 project commenced in 2015 by working in 230 quintile 1-3 schools in the North West Province. Each intervention has been implemented in a separate group of 50 schools with a further 80 control schools where ordinary schooling is continuing. The project uses a formal impact evaluation methodology known as a Randomised Control Trial (RCT) complemented with a 60-classroom observation study and eight detailed case-studies. The study design enables the researchers to estimate the impact of each intervention model on measures of reading, as well as understand where, how and why different elements of the intervention models are working.
The evaluation assessed three interventions:
- A structured learning programme and centralised training: The first intervention provides teachers with lesson plans aligned to the National Curriculum Statement Grades R-12 (NCS) including the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS), as well as additional quality reading materials and training at centralized workshops twice a year.
- A structured learning programme and specialist on-site coaching: The second intervention (implemented in a different group of 50 schools) provides teachers with the same set of lesson plans and reading materials but provides ongoing support to teachers through on-site coaching and small cluster training sessions.
- Parental intervention: The third intervention (implemented in a further 50 schools) holds weekly meetings with parents to discuss the importance of learning to read in the early grades and to empower them with the knowledge and tools to become more involved in their child’s literacy development.
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. This year (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.