Monthly Archives: February 2023

Progress is possible! The Funda Wande Limpopo RCT Results (Feb’23)

Last week Funda Wande released the midline evaluation of their Limpopo Randomised Control Trial, evaluated by Prof Cally Ardington from UCT. In essence the intervention is 120 schools split into 3 arms of 40 schools each: a control arm, a Materials+training arm, and Materials+training+Teacher-Assistant arm (each teacher received a full-time Teacher Assistant). Although the graphic says “Materials only” – the report shows that actually there was also centralised teacher training (of 4 days per term – 2 for literacy and 2 for numeracy).

The intervention is both a literacy intervention (Funda Wande) and a numeracy intervention (Bala Wande) with the same learners, teachers and schools. The results are incredibly encouraging with a 0,5 standard deviation increase in both reading and mathematics after two years of intervention in the Materials+Training+TA arm. That means that this intervention represents the largest gains we’ve seen in foundational literacy and numeracy in South Africa to date. We can see the gains in terms of standard deviations. But in their presentation to the 2030 Reading Panel, Prof Ardington and Dr Makaluza show the changes in outcomes realtive to the DBE’s new language-specific and grade-specific reading benchmarks.

While the 39-page evaluation report is rich in detail, one of the areas that really stood out to me was the increase in workbook coverage in both the LTSM+Training arm and the LTSM+Training+TA arms:

This intervention shows that unemployed youth, when they are recruited properly (literacy and numeracy tests among other things), trained properly, and supported properly (they have TA mentors), they can have a big impact on reading outcomes in the classroom.

For those interested in what components of reading and mathematics were tested, and how large the impacts were across the treatment arms, these are also in the report and included below:

We have a lot of shit going on in South Africa at the moment. We have ministers coming and going. The power is coming and going. The political winds seem to be more like a series of squalls rather than anything predictable or helpful. And this is all before the 2024 election when everything will get even more uncertain. Yet even in these turbulent times, it is encouraging to note that there are schools and teachers and youth that can pull together and with the right support, training and materials can lead to large improvements in reading outcomes for the young children in their charge.

Congratulations to Dr Nwabisa Makaluza and the entire Limpopo Funda Wande team who ran and implemented this intervention, and to Prof Cally Ardington who has conducted an incredibly useful evaluation of the intervention.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” – MLKJ

2023 Reading Panel

On the 7th of February we held the second 2030 Reading Panel meeting. The Panel is comprised of 18 respected South Africans who meet annually to review progress towards the Presidential goal of “All South African children being able to read for meaning by age 10 by 2030”, and provides implementable systemic recommendations to government.

Key findings from the 2023 Background Report launched on 7 February 2023:

  1. 82% of SA Grade 4 kids can’t read, up from 78% pre-pandemic: Before the pandemic it was estimated that 78% of Grade 4 learners could read for meaning (PIRLS 2016), new research based on learning losses in the Western Cape suggests that this has risen to 82% as a result of COVID-19 school closures and rotational timetables.
  1. It will take SA 86 years on our current trajectory to reach 95% of children reading for meaning, i.e. the year 2108.
  1. Pandemic has erased a decade of progress, sending us back to 2011. In 2016 22% of Grade 4 children could read for meaning in SA according to PIRLS. Due to COVID-19 it is estimated that now only 18% can read for meaning, the same level as in 2011, erasing a decade of progress in reading outcomes.
  1. 50% of children in no-fee schools do not learn the letters of the alphabet by the end of Grade 1. New research from Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and the North West published in December 2022 shows that less than 50% of children in no-fee schools learn all the letters of the alphabet by the end of Grade 1.
  1. There is currently no National Reading Plan and no national budget for reading. Although the Director General has made reference to a ‘National Reading Plan’ in parliament, no such document exists in the public domain or has been seen by stakeholders. There is also no national budget for improving home-language reading.
  1. Western Cape & Gauteng are both spending more than R100-million over three years to improve reading, the only provinces to do so. The Western Cape is investing in a Reading for Meaning program for Grades 1-3 (2023-2025, R111mil) and Gauteng in their Grade R Program (2022-2024, R107-mil). These are the only provinces to allocate significant budgets to reading (although the Gauteng intervention is 80% donor funded).
  1. Government has spent over R25-billion on PYEI, including Educator Assistants (EA), 10% of which are Reading Champions. As part of its COVID response the Presidency Youth Employment Initiative (PYEI) has employed over 850,000 youth on temporary contracts. It is estimated that 250,000 youth will be appointed in 2023 & approximately 30,000 will be Reading Champions. Although this is a welcome addition, there is currently no face-to-face training for these youth and the only requirement is that they must have passed matric.
  1. Twice as many children learnt to read in Limpopo after a 2-year intervention with trained teacher assistant and new reading workbooks. A new evaluation of the ‘Funda Wande’ intervention in Limpopo (2021-2022) showed that twice as many children learnt to read in the intervention schools (34%) compared to children in comparable schools who did not receive the intervention (18%), the largest gains seen in SA to date. (Full Feb’23 evaluation report here).

The panel found that almost no progress had been made on the 2022 recommendations and therefore reiterated the four recommendations from 2022 and added two more:

  1. Measuring what matters: implementing a universal standardized assessment of reading at the primary school level
  2. Moving from slogans to budgets: allocating meaningful budgets to reading resources and reading interventions not only talking about them
  3. Providing a minimum set of reading resources to all Foundation Phase classrooms (Grade R-3) as a matter of urgency.
  4. A university audit of pre-service teacher education programs.
  5. To publish a National Reading Plan and the budget for its implementation
  6. To improve the implementation of the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative

The full 2023 Background Report is available on the Reading Panel here and advisory notes on the reading panel website: