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

Conclusions
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