Celebrating 10 Years of Literacy Boost – What Have We Learned So Far?

Written by Pamela Mendoza and Sonja Horne

Childhood is unique experience across the world, but all children deserve the chance to access high quality education, especially around literacy. But how best to create a suite of tools that can be adapted to the experience of children across the world? In 2009, Save the Children set out to answer this questions by developing our evidence-based non-profit Literacy Boost approach to address cumulative evidence of gaps in basic reading instruction,  and its flexible design in the components allows for adaptation to better guide schools, teachers, parents, and communities on literacy practices. Now, a decade on we want to take the opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from implementing Literacy Boost over the last 10 years and investigate Literacy Boost’s contributions to the children in more than 27 countries currently using and adapting Literacy Boost. This blog post is just an introduction, the full report of the first decade of Literacy Boost is available for download at our Resource Centre.

What is Literacy Boost?
Literacy Boost is an adaptive approach designed using evidence gathered from across countries Save the Children works. It aims to improve literacy learning outcomes, and increase reading skills of children, especially those who may struggle to learn to read, in a growing number of program sites across the globe.[i]

Literacy Boost focuses on four areas:

  1. Reading Assessment: Identify gaps and measure learning improvements in the core reading skills
  2. Training teachers: Teachers are trained on core reading skills and writing to incorporate skill-building into their regularly scheduled curriculum
  3. Community action: Quality teaching and learning environments inside and outside of schools to help children improve their reading skills
  4. Enhancing the literacy environment: Provide appropriate reading materials to practice and enjoy reading

What have we learned?
Literacy Boost improves student’s learning skills, especially for girls and children from weaker home learning environments.

Literacy Boost focuses on life-wide learning that is, children’s engagement in enjoyable, cognitively demanding literacy-related activities both inside and outside the home (Friedlander, Dowd, Borisova, & Guajardo, 2012). Literacy Boost significantly improved learning outcomes in 13 out of 17 sites included in this analysis. Literacy Boost students learned more on average than students that did not receive the intervention. Overall, there has been a positive shift from non-readers to readers with comprehension, particularly for children within Literacy Boost schools (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Reading Comprehension Tiers Aggregating Data from 17 Samples

Notes: Non-Reader: Students who cannot read 5 words correctly in 30 seconds. Beginning Reader: Students who can read 5 or more words correctly in 30 seconds but can only answer 75% or less of comprehension questions correctly. Reader with Comprehension: Students who can read 5 or more words correctly in 30 seconds and who can answer more than 75% of comprehension questions correctly.

Notes: Non-Reader: Students who cannot read 5 words correctly in 30 seconds. Beginning Reader: Students who can read 5 or more words correctly in 30 seconds but can only answer 75% or less of comprehension questions correctly. Reader with Comprehension: Students who can read 5 or more words correctly in 30 seconds and who can answer more than 75% of comprehension questions correctly

In terms of equity, Literacy Boost is helping girls learn more letters, read more passages and understand their meaning. In 12 country samples, Literacy Boost girls gained significantly more in foundational and advanced literacy skills than the girls that did not receive the program. For home learning environment (HLE), in 12 studies we found that Literacy Boost students that had low interactions at home gained significantly more in at least one literacy skill compared to their peers that did not receive the program. 

Adaptability and focus on educators and families helps children improve their reading in a variety of contexts

On Literacy Boost successes, reflections from the different country office (CO) sites are dominated by improved teaching in classrooms and improved learning by students. CO colleagues report that teachers now know reading skills and create materials to promote them. At the student level, CO colleagues note the increase in pass rates, in the percentage of children who can identify letters and words, their improvement in fluency and reading with comprehension, greater participation in class, and enthusiasm for reading engagement in learning both inside and outside schools among others. Finally, a core set of respondents note successes in both garnering ministry support and using different mechanisms to achieve greater scale with Literacy Boost within their communities.

On gender and disability, only nine Literacy Boost sites responding to the survey have elements that are specifically addressed to the learning needs of boys and girls. For instance, in Cote d’Ivoire, Niger, and the Philippines have prioritized developing or selecting gender-sensitive books. Twelve of the country teams report having design aspects of their Literacy Boost programming that are specifically targeted to ensure inclusion for children with disabilities. For example, in Malawi, Guatemala, Niger, and Papua New Guinea the team implements the SNAP (Student Needs Action Pack) alongside Literacy Boost to equip teachers with skills to identify and support learners with diverse learning needs.

Half of the respondents report that in their site the children speak the language of instruction (LoI) at home, while the other half offer evidence of a complicated linguistic setting for learning. Overall, the respondents are supporting children who speak 114 different languages at home across these 27 sites. While in some cases the use of a variety of local languages to promote learning is formally promoted, in many more it is used—likely as it is feasible when teachers speak the children’s home languages.

Literacy Boost influenced the development of a National Reading Strategy which has resulted into the implementation of National Reading Program through the Ministry of Education,” Malawi staff

Within the last decade that Save the Children has been implementing Literacy Boost, many successes have been captured, including the overall positive impact of the program, as well as equity improvements for participant children and a significant uptick in the number of implementing sites. Given its overall success, it is not a surprise that the program was one of the first programs endorsed by Save the Children as a common approach in 2016. As the program moves forward and is implemented in more sites, it is important to take into account the lessons learned and to set a focus on sustainability for all of Literacy Boost’s core goals, so that the improvements made towards children’s literacy will benefit not only the children currently partaking in the program but all children who come after them.

Despite the substantial progress that has been made towards increasing education access over the last decades, 670 million of children and youth lack basic mathematics and literacy skills[ii]. The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the learning crisis and negatively impacting more than 1.6 billion of children and youth. While the majority of countries are making huge efforts at putting in place remote learning strategies, a recent survey from Save the Children shows that students are having access to fewer distant options and lacking the necessary support given that caregivers are facing challenges accessing essential services and goods.[iii] Furthermore, recent evidence suggests that school closures across contexts have led to significant learning losses in the past months.[iv] The dire effects on learning due to the current COVID-19 pandemic further highlight the need for evidence-based, context-appropriate learning approaches that develop and support quality learning for children in schools and communities. Literacy Boost has been one approach that has been proven to improve learning outcomes for some of the most marginalized children across the globe.

[i] https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/library/literacy-boost-common-approaches

[ii] https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/education/

[iii] https://www.savethechildren.org/content/dam/usa/reports/advocacy/global-childhood-report-2020.pdf

[iv] https://www.cgdev.org/sites/default/files/practical-lessons-phone-based-assessments-learning-revised-jul2020.pdf

Realizing the Global Ceasefire on Violence Against Girls – A first look at the new UN Global Gender Response Tracker

Written by Gabrielle Szabo, Senior Policy and Advocacy Adviser on Gender Equality

On April 6, 2020, the UN Secretary General called for a global ceasefire on all forms of violence in response to what he called a “horrifying surge in violence against women and girls in the home”. More than 140 governments responded to the call. Yesterday, just short of the six-month anniversary of the Secretary-General’s announcement, the UN answered civil society calls for accountability by launching its COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker. This is a critical step forward, providing precious new data at a time when policy-makers, advocates and researchers are struggling to keep up with rapidly changing circumstances.

What can the tracker tell us?
The tracker currently looks at 2,500 policy measures enacted by governments in 206 countries and territories and will be continually updated. It is a remarkable example of the value of collaboration between governments and UN agencies, and an important step in support of accountability to women and girls. The tracker examines the introduction of ‘gender-sensitive’ policy measures and responses to violence against women and girls, efforts to promote their economic security and address unpaid care burdens (like childcare and chores).

Global analysis shows us that low and high-income countries all over the world are implementing gender-related measures in response to COVID-19:

  • Almost 80% (164) of countries and territories surveyed had introduced measures considered gender-sensitive in response to COVID-19 – a total of 992 measures.
  • More than 70% (704) of those measures were intended to address violence compared to just 17% (177) aimed at economic and social security and 11% (111) aimed at addressing unpaid care work.
  • Two-thirds (63%) of measures to address violence concerned services, including helplines and shelters, and the next most common measure was awareness-raising (18%).
  • Poor and fragile countries and territories are the least likely to have introduced both measures to address violence and gender-sensitive measures in general.

And what about girls?
We know that girls face high-levels of gender-based violence, including age-specific violence like child marriage. But adolescent girls in particular, too often fall through the gaps between child protection and gender-based violence services. Girls are also more likely to shoulder excessive burdens of unpaid work, particularly in times of crisis. So, what does the tracker tell us about how governments are addressing girls’ needs?

The tracker is not age-disaggregated but back-of-the-envelope analysis by Save the Children shows that girls are specifically referenced or addressed by just 16% (33) of the 206 countries/territories analyzed – on quick inspection, many of these measures have girl-specific elements and cannot simply be accounted for by the tendency to refer to “women and girls” collectively.[1]Just three of these 50 measures (in Chile, Mexico and Uganda) relate to social protection, all of the others address violence.

What sorts of measures are governments taking?
Measures range from helplines and shelters to women only police emergency response teams (Jordan), awareness-raising activities, panic buttons on smart phones (Guatemala), virtual court hearings (Barbados) and safe spaces (Afghanistan, Bolivia), to additional leave for working mothers (Mexico), bicycles for gender-based violence service providers (Malawi), issuing of alerts for missing women, girls and boys (Guatemala), support to access menstrual hygiene products (South Africa), and inclusion of women’s organizations in government briefings (Uruguay).

Do any countries stand out?
Any number of countries could be identified as standouts, but some exciting examples include:

  • Egypt, which has the highest number of girl-specific measures (4) of any country/territory including new remote referral hotlines, continuation of family court hearings despite suspension of other court hearings and measures to continue and adapt efforts to end harmful practices, specifically female genital mutilation (FGM) through the pandemic.
  • Uganda, one of just three countries to include girls’ empowerment programming for economic and social protection through ‘Girls Empowering Girls’, an urban cash transfer and mentoring programme for adolescent girls that has adapted to allow remote enrolment, delivery and mentoring.
  • Bangladesh, Cambodia and Kenya, all of which have introduced measures to reduce harmful practices including child marriage and FGM that exclusively or primarily affect girls and are projected to increase as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – despite being a fragile state, DRC is one of just 8% (48) of countries analysed to make violence against women and girls an integral part of their national and local COVID-19 response plans.

What’s next?
With this growing wealth of information at our fingertips, governments must take the opportunity to learn from each other and adapt and improve responses to COVID-19. And advocates must make use of this new accountability tool. Closer examination will be required to understand the extent to which girls’ age-specific needs are being responded to, including in relation to their rights to education and sexual and reproductive health.

The next iteration of the tracker will include a women’s leadership measure. This is an exciting development and will be a real test of governments’ commitment to girls’ right to participate. A global ceasefire on violence against girls is still far from a reality. As we celebrate International Day of the Girl and work toward #GenerationEquality, we must use this new tool to ensure that girls voices are at the centre of decision-making processes, through COVID-19 and as we work together to build back safer.

Save the Children will continue to monitor content from the Global Gender Response Tracker as part of our own live-tracker looking at the impact of COVID-19 on children.

[1] These percentages are based on searches for the term ‘girls’, ‘child marriage’ and ‘FGM’ and ‘female genital mutilation’. Inclusion of the search term ‘child’ would have significantly increased the number of countries and measures considered to be specifically addressing girls and a closer analysis would be needed to determine whether these measures specifically addressed the needs of girl children.