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Ghana iREAD Study 2012-2014: Final Evaluation
Literacy is a foundational skill that sets up children for lifelong success. Unfortunately, few children in sub-Saharan Africa have access to even the most basic tools they need to learn to read, including contextually and linguistically relevant books and reading materials. At the same time, advances in technology have unlocked solutions to battle resource scarcity and inequity in ways that were unimaginable even a decade ago.
To support global efforts to fight illiteracy the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid) and World Vision partnered to issue a Grand Challenge to the global development community: find a way to help kids read better using sustainable, affordable and innovative solutions that can be rolled out quickly, to prevent another generation from being stuck in a cycle of illiteracy.
Worldreader accepted this challenge with the iREAD Ghana Study 2012-2014 (iREAD 2), designed to tackle the lack of reading materials and low levels of literacy among Ghana’s early primary school students. The intervention addressed these issues with the provision of relevant (culturally and age appropriate) reading materials via e-readers, the implementation of effective teaching practices, and activity-based learning opportunities.
The program, which ran from January 2013 – July 2014, served 574 students from Primary 1, 2, and 3 (P1, P2, and P3) grades in four under-resourced schools in Ayensuano and Suhum Districts in the Eastern Region of Ghana. Components included:
1. Providing relevant content through e-reader technology:
– Each of the 574 project students, their teachers, and head teachers received an e-reader loaded with 240 titles in Akuapem-Twi and English;
– Roughly 50% of the content came from African and Ghanaian publishers. From that, 79% were storybooks, 18% were textbooks and 3% were reference books;
2. Strengthening the use of phonics and other literacy instruction techniques in conjunction with the e-reader;
3. Creating and deploying extracurricular reading activities that leveraged the e-reader;
4. Empowering schools and communities to manage the e-reader programs at the local level, working with School Management Committees that included teachers, parents and project coordinators.
Evaluation Method and Results
To assess the results of these project components Worldreader carried out a randomized evaluation that measured progress on early literacy skills for students at the treatment schools against that of four control schools. The final number of students evaluated was
720. The Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) methodology was used to measure progress on basic reading skills, and additional qualitative and quantitative data were collected through student surveys and other tools.
At the end of the intervention P2 students in the iREAD 2 program out-performed their peers who took part in Ghana 2013 Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) (RTI, 2014). Only 35.4% of students who took the Ghana 2013 EGRA in Akuapem-Twi could read at least one word compared to 89.3% of students in the Worldreader intervention. In English, 49.3% of students nationally could read at least one word, compared to 88.4% of iREAD 2 students.
The project’s evaluation showed the following additional outcomes:
1. Significant improvements in oral reading fluency;
– Students in the treatment group, on average, improved nearly twice as much as control students on measures of oral reading fluency in Twi (gains of 19 correct words per minute versus 10). The treatment’s mean number of correct words read per minute on the final assessment was 34.11.
– On average, students in the treatment group read over 24 words per minute more in English than they could before. The control group improved less, around 15 words per minute. The treatment’s mean number of correct words read per minute on the final assessment was 41.6 in English.
– 41% of treatment group students exiting the third grade could read above a minimum proficiency level of 45 correct words per minute in English by the end of the intervention, compared to just 13.4% of the control group.
2. Reading comprehension gains:
– In both Twi and English, students in the treatment group more than doubled their reading comprehension scores. Students went from answering 20.0% of Twi questions correctly at the baseline to 43.0% correct at the final, and from 16.6% to 43.5% on English comprehension questions.
– While students in the control group also improved, their gains were significantly lower.
3. Significant impact among low-performing students:
– The proportion of treatment students who could not read a single word in Twi decreased dramatically from 64.6% to 8.9%.
4. Development of positive reading habits:
– Students in treatment schools reported completing nearly three (2.89) books per day, versus control students who report completing less than one book (.69) per day.
Student surveys at the treatment schools (n=117) showed that the amount read in the previous 24 hours and having a favorite book on the e-reader were correlated to higher final scores on oral reading fluency. This opens the door for future research that examines the relationship between reading habits and reading performance.
The iREAD 2 study was proposed after Worldreader’s iREAD 1 (2011- 2012) demonstrated that access to digital learning materials improved literacy scores among upper primary students in Ghana. With funding from USAID, an independent evaluation of iREAD 1 found that after 7 months, Primary 4 students receiving e-readers and a full package of support interventions saw a 15.7% increase in literacy test scores, as opposed to the 8.1% increase among the control group. The results of iREAD 2 therefore show that these positive outcomes in reading skill development extend to younger children in Primary 1 to 3.
iREAD 1 also revealed that e-readers could be fragile, with 40% of the devices reported broken over the course of that 1-year study. iREAD 2 used a more recent version of the e-reader and saw the number of device failures fall to under 20% over the course of one year. It should be noted that the technology used in iREAD 2 is now more than two years old, and e-readers have been engineered for greater sturdiness since then—in Worldreader’s LEAP Study (Libraries, E-Reading, Activities, Partnership) in Kenya (2013 – 2014), no devices have been reported broken after more than 6 months of use.
Other challenges encountered included student absenteeism and turnover, increased school enrollments due to excitement around the e-readers, teacher engagement, and building a reading culture outside of the school to reinforce students’ gains in literacy. One challenge to scaling the program is the concern around the cost-effectiveness of providing one e-reader to each child. Responding to this concern, Worldreader has proposed a study to test the effectiveness of providing e-readers at a ratio of one to every three to five students. This proposal was submitted for Round 2 of All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development.
To ensure the viability of iREAD 2 schools in meeting these and other challenges after the close of the program, and to ensure long-term sustainability, Worldreader worked closely with the School Management Committee to create transition plans for managing and financing the e-reader programs on their own. To ensure maximum impact and cost effectiveness, all four schools decided to move away from the individual e-reader models towards shared models, in which students have access to classroom or library sets of e-readers.
Conclusions & Next Steps
In addition to outlining areas for future research, the results and lessons learned presented in this report will inform the future scale-up of the e-reader program to other geographies and more deprived districts in Ghana. Considerations for scale-up include further exploration of the shared e-reader models the iREAD 2 schools are adopting moving forward, cost analyses and program modifications to keep costs low, and the incorporation of Worldreader Mobile to engage community members and parents and ensure that students are reading outside of school.
The learnings presented in this report not only point to the efficacy of the e-reader intervention for improving early grade literacy skills and increasing access to books, but also provide insights towards a way forward that will allow Worldreader and partners to reach more students, in more corners of Ghana and sub-Saharan Africa, with cost-effective and impactful digital reading programs.
Read the full Ghana iREAD Study 2012-2014: Final Evaluation.