Course Correction Proves Essential to Scaling up Kenya’s Literacy Program
Meeting the Needs of Diverse Student Bodies Through Mid-Program Change
In 2010, less than ten percent of Kenya’s primary school-aged children were reading at the national level benchmarks for English and Kiswahili (Kenya’s two official languages). Ten years later, largely due to the success of the Tusome program, nearly 66 percent of grade two students now read at grade level in both English and Kiswahili. Moreover, Kenya became the only country in sub-Saharan Africa where every child has a textbook because of the learning materials distributed via Tusome.
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With the support of USAID, the Kenyan government turned a relatively small, three-year initiative (1,284 schools) to improve reading outcomes into a five-year, national, cost-effective program that reached 7.6 million Kenyan students at every primary school nationwide. The evidence-based program allowed for several course corrections that improved outcomes and ensured that the Tusome program effectively scaled nationwide with the support of a broad range of local, national, and external stakeholders.
1. Special Needs Students
Tusome’s original program design did not factor in students with disabilities. Once the need to support visual and hearing-impaired children was clear, Tusome became the first national education program to develop literacy materials for special needs students alongside regular students with the support of the Kenya Institute for Special Education (KISE). KISE shared that “You produce a book for the regular learner, you are producing another one for the special learner. I don't think many international countries have also achieved that feat.”
KISE’s intervention does not cater to the full range of disabilities, but it did make important contributions toward more equitable and inclusive education nationally.
Before the rollout of Tusome, the student-to-textbook ratio was 3:1. However, educators realized that to vastly improve education outcomes, students needed to have their own learning materials. By developing a centralized procurement system, Tusome demonstrated to the Ministry of Education that they could achieve the 1:1 textbook-to-student ratio of quality instructional materials in a cost-effective way.
To help scale the program nationally and alleviate the early changes associated with frequent, out-of-stock materials due to increased enrollments, Tusome dispatched buffer stock materials regionally until the national procurement supply chain was able to catch up to the increased number of students. This helped ensure that materials were available within proximity to schools and enabled new students to access Tusome books quickly and reliably. Today, the Ministry of Education is now fully in charge of procurement, production, and dissemination of Tusome learning materials for grades 1-2.
In addition to course-correcting the quantity and access to textbooks, Tusome created a mechanism to correct the quality of the materials. Teachers participated in regular reflection sessions where they had opportunities to provide feedback on Tusome materials, such as editorial errors, images, and comprehension passages. For example, one RTI interviewee shared that “initially, the books portrayed the girl as a weaker character, but now Tusome tries to balance the gender in that it is trying to portray the girl as someone who is brave.” This process greatly contributed to the quality of materials throughout the implementation.
3. Stakeholder Professional Development and Feedback
Teachers were able to provide feedback not only about learning materials but about the program, their students’ success, and other recommendations. Continuously engaging education stakeholders at the national, county, and community levels was vital to the success of this nationwide initiative.
The Tusome program held feedback and reflection sessions which allowed teachers to share with each other and provide insight on how to improve and course correct the program as teachers adapted.
In addition to providing feedback, teachers had regular, in-service training for all basic education teachers, including teachers of learners with basic visual and hearing impairments, to help them best serve students. This was noted as one of the key successes of the program and is what differentiated the program from other education initiatives.
The improved literacy of Kenya’s primary students in the Tusome program is evidence that while shifting a program from an initial activity to a nationwide program does require significant resources, it also requires flexibility and a commitment to change and adjust to fit the needs of every student.