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  • In the classroom of the Nabweru Moslem Community Nursery School on the outskirts of Kampala, 35 children learn under the guidance of two certified teachers. In addition to traditional subjects, they also learn math, science, environmental studies, health, hygiene and nutrition.
    AKDN/Zahur Ramji
Improving learning achievement in early primary in low-income countries

1 March 2010 - Completion of primary school is a key goal within the Millennium Development and Education for All (EFA) Goals. Yet, there has been little attention to where education efforts break down: right at the beginning. Analysis of grade-disaggregated data indicates the highest drop-out and repetition rates are in Grade 1. In too many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia nearly half the children who enrol either repeat first grade or drop out. Of those who stay many become established in persistent patterns of under-achievement and leave school with no useful skills. This is costly in both human and financial terms, and represents a serious inefficiency within education systems that has received far too little attention.

A growing number of the Foundation’s programmes and research studies now focus on the issue of early transitions – not only as it relates to expanding provision of a range of early childhood supports to children and families but also, and critically, to improve the quality of learning in early primary classrooms.

Transition is closely linked with another of AKF’s cross-cutting themes – the work with marginalised or excluded groups. Not surprisingly, it is precisely these children who are most at risk during the key transitions in the education system. Given competing demands, unless the education on offer seems relevant and useful to both the children themselves and their families, early drop-out is near certain.

Children growing up in the countries where AKF works need to develop multiple skills during the course of their lives. Key competencies which are needed in addition to the vital literacy and numeracy skills are adaptability, innovation, problem-solving and communication as well as responsible citizenship and respect for diversity. Whether or not expanded educational opportunities translate into meaningful development – for either the individual or the society – depends on child rearing and teaching practices which fosters this.

AKF staff have written a number of papers and reports highlighting the issues involved in transitions including for the 2007 EFA Global Monitoring Report. AKF commissioned Dr. Sheridan Bartlett to undertake this literature review in order to learn more about what does and does not happen during the early years of primary and what we know (and don’t know) about what works in different contexts. The current document draws on available evidence from programme evaluations and research studies (mostly from low-income countries) and is a synthesis of the original longer review. In addition to making use of a wide range of research literature, the paper also draws on two companion papers. One, by a University of Cambridge team, Dominic Wyse and Helen Bradford, looks more closely at policy and progress within sub-Saharan countries. The other, by Colette Chabbott, from George Washington University, focuses on early grade reading. Both of these were co-funded by AKF and a grant from the Hewlett Foundation for a new programme starting up in East Africa.