RTI: Improving early grade education across Kenya

In 2015, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) joined with the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to fund a program known as the Tusome Early Grade Reading Activity. Taking its name from the Kiswahili word for “let’s read,” Tusome is designed to dramatically improve primary literacy outcomes for more than 3.5 million Kenyan children in grades 1–3.

Under the leadership of the Kenyan Ministry of Education (MOE), RTI is the prime implementer of Tusome, supported by several partner organizations—WERK, Worldreader, and Dalberg- Global Development Advisors. Two major aspects of Tusome set it apart: its rigorous evidence-based approach and its national scale.

The project builds upon the approach of the highly successful Primary Mathematics and Reading (PRIMR) initiative, which ran from 2011–2015.

Also led by the MOE, funded by USAID and DFID and implemented by RTI, PRIMR tested early grade education interventions to assess their effectiveness and potential for national scale-up. In particular, PRIMR determined which ingredients of instructional improvement were most critical for learning, which types of information communication technology (ICT) support could make the most impact, and whether and how decisions about the language of instruction could support learning.

Under PRIMR, we collected, analyzed, and used classroom data to design and implement instructional improvements and, in turn, improve reading fluency, reading comprehension, and math abilities. We trained teachers and teacher trainers to implement these new, more effective instructional methods in low cost ways embedded in government systems.

The interventions developed and piloted through PRIMR proved successful. Rigorous randomized controlled trials showed that grade 1 and 2 students in PRIMR schools were two times more likely than those in control schools to meet the MOE’s benchmark for reading fluency and twice as likely to read with comprehension.

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