EGRS: Probably the most important education research/intervention post-apartheid

EGRS logo final Setswana

Breaking News: New ‘gold-standard’ study finds improvement of 40% of a year of learning in reading for disadvantaged children in South Africa. (At least that would be the title I’d pick if I was a sub-editor reporting on EGRS!)

In South Africa and around the world today there are many reasons to be despondent – whether about inequality, the environment or some of our political overlords. But every now and then we learn of truly amazing things that are happening despite all the shit in the world, and the Early Grade Reading Study (EGRS) is the best example of this in South Africa. The researchers leading the study were Stephen Taylor (DBE), Brahm Fleisch (Wits) and Mpumi Mohohlwane (DBE).

For those of you who don’t already know about it, have you been living under a rock? The EGRS study was a large randomised control trial that aimed to determine which (if any) interventions improve early grade reading outcomes in home language (Setswana) in 230 Quintile 1-3 schools in the North West province in South Africa. It was implemented in 2015 (Grade 1) and 2016 (Grade 2) and today the final results of the intervention were released and they are very encouraging! I would suggest everyone reads the EGRS Policy Summary Report and I include the great infographics below:

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There are also three additional EGRS reports:

3 responses to “EGRS: Probably the most important education research/intervention post-apartheid

  1. Very encouraging! Thx

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. It is really awesome to read this. But, as you know, I always have a few comments (sorry). I noticed that the infograph mentions that the middle to top set of learners benefit the most from these interventions? Is that correct? If so, how is that working towards the eradication of literacy inequality? Good interventions that work towards leveling the’playing field’ and providing the weakest set of students with an equal opportunity of performing on par with middle to top sets of students is what we really need in South Africa (we need both equality AND equity in education). We know interventions that work towards achieving this are already being piloted in SA and show massive convergence in academic literacy skills development. Further, these are being piloted with rural, township schools where African home languages are being used as the MOI. At a high school level, this particular intervention has shown that with intensive scaffolding, differentiated teaching and assessment etc etc these weaker students are able to perform at a similar level to students in top performing ex-model C schools. Interventions that work to scaffold the weakest set of students is what really works to break the cycle of poverty. If the Reading to Learn SA organisation were given adequate financial support to run large, longitudinal studies to test the impact its programme further, we would see literacy convergence……not divergence or stagnation. The pilot studies are very promising for the weakest set of students, and largely non-native speakers of English.

    Ok, will get off my soap box now. Keep up the amazingly good work with your research Nic. And thank you for sharing the various research reports.

  3. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed reading the report and cannot help but feel the same. One of the most important pieces of research for SA that has been released in the last couple of years. Some of my thoughts are:

    There’s a reason why national literacy rates are used to evaluate the status and development of nations (It’s because the societal and economic aspects of a country cannot operate effectively if its citizens cannot communicate or learn). The ability to read (effectively) unlocks the full potential for an individual to learn anything and communicate his or her fears, concerns, ideas, plans, etc.

    I’m glad that the researchers are extending the study to early-grade English FAL and Mathematics. And it was interesting to see that there were positive spill-over effects for other language subjects, particularly English FAL, and no negative impacts (due to crowding out of learning time) on other non-language subjects.

    Loving the “economics” jargon used in this research.

    Perhaps “Radical Economic Transformation” means ignoring international practices around foundation phase curriculum and creating a curriculum that is in the best interest of South Africa?

    When it comes to the issue of “so what” I don’t see much in the way of how learnings or insights can or should be shared? While I agree that there is no “cheap” way of scaling these interventions in a way that replicates 100% of the activities completed, surely there must be some aspects that can be introduced into existing processes or policies. E.g. existing educator training activities, online portals, LTSM distribution, etc.

    What activities took place at the control group schools and could this have affected the results? For example; even though a control school does not know they are part of an experiment (hopefully) their behaviour might change simply by completing a questionnaire that asks about their classroom environment. If this is the case, then it would only strengthen the significance of any relative improvements found between the control and test schools.

    Does this research suggest that university training is not preparing educators well enough? Is it more of a surprise, shock or disappointment that giving existing qualified educators extra materials, training and coaching significantly improves the reading proficiency of early grade learners? Does this show that the interventions (1 & 2) were successful or that educators are not aware of what’s required of them and their learners? I think it means that more needs to change at the university/college level as well as in the way educators are currently supported by subject advisors (while I note that subject advisors cannot completely take the place of coaches)

    In respect to on-going monitoring…the DDD programme data could be used as a very cost-effective way of monitoring learners from these intervention schools (and control schools) over time. The data can also help monitor how intervention schools perform after coaches leave. Standardised tests outside of the CAPS policy can be included and captured in SA-SAMS (but the process itself of getting schools to capture test results may bias results).
    I suppose one of the downsides of the parent intervention is that once learners leave school the impact is lost. You need to reach every parent of every learner while reaching a single educator means you impact many more learners. If you permanently change the way educators teach, then the impact remains so long as they continue teaching.

    In response to T J Millin, the triple-cocktail of providing lesson plans, learner resources and quality teacher capacity building does not address some of the other issues that severely at-risk learners may be facing (e.g. malnutrition, transport, socio-economic, home issues like abuse or specific undiagnosed learning barriers). You would need a “centuple-cocktail” of interventions to ensure all learners experience a statistically significant improvement in learning outcomes. It’s a harsh reality in that you almost don’t want to waste resources (time, financial or other) on learners who stand no chance of benefiting from such additional support. It goes against the “no learner left behind” principle…but there just aren’t enough resources to help everyone.

    The differences in performance between rural and urban schools may be due to the ability of the educators themselves to adopt and implement these new materials and approaches. This may be a harsh reality, but I know of staff retention issues in rural schools because new or younger educators use these vacancies as a way into the system. They will then take the first opportunity to move to a school in an urban area – which is often given to the best educators first. Given the type of interventions mentioned, it may be the case that educators in urban areas are just simply more able to better apply the learnings from these interventions?

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