Making the Grade: Understanding What Works for Teaching Literacy in Rural Uganda

Jason Kerwin, University of Michigan
Rebecca L. Thornton, University of Michigan

This paper evaluates an early primary literacy program in Northern Uganda. Through a randomized experiment, we measure the effects of a literacy program, implemented by the organization that developed it, and the effects of a reduced-cost version implemented through the government, designed to simulate how the program could be implemented at scale. The full version of the program has extremely large impacts on student learning improving student recognition of letter names by 1.0 SD, among the largest ever measured in a randomized trial of an education program. The reduced-cost version improves letter name knowledge by 0.4 SDs making it slightly more cost-effective than the full version. However, its effects on overall literacy are statistically-insignificant and generates large negative effects on certain aspects of writing. This suggests that cost-effectiveness in improving the “headline” outcome measures emphasized by programs can come at the cost of lower performance in other areas.

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Presented in Session 15: Education Issues in Developing Countries