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

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