Literacy, Foundation Learning and Assessment in Developing Countries

The UK Department for International Development (DFID) has commissioned a series of rigorous literature reviews focused on different aspects of education. The reviews identify critical evidence gaps to guide future research programmes and present existing evidence for the development of effective interventions. A team from the Universities of Oxford and Durham, and City University London with The Promise Foundation (India) authored the review titled Literacy, Foundation Learning and Assessment in Developing Countries.

Developing countries face distinct challenges in providing access to quality education. Educational provision also varies markedly in terms of teacher training, teaching and learning resources, school attendance, and motivation of parents, teachers and children for schooling. Against this backdrop, the authors consider the available evidence on foundation learning and literacy in order to identify key components for intervention that are appropriate to specific cultural and linguistic contexts.

In this video Professor Maggie Snowling, one of the authors of the review, discusses the findings.

Dr Sonali Nag, another of the authors, also gave her thoughts on the review:

A presentation, which Dr Nag refers to in her video, can be downloaded here as a pdf.

The full review titled Literacy, Foundation Learning and Assessment in Developing Countries, can be downloaded from our document library.

An evidence brief based on the review is also available from our document library.

Key findings

The key findings from the review were as follows:

  • Language is the vehicle of classroom instruction. In the multilingual contexts of developing countries, children with low proficiency in the school language are disadvantaged.
  • Strong foundations in oral language are essential to enable fluent reading with understanding.
  • Interventions targeting language skills are beneficial for literacy development and, if delivered early, they can provide a scaffold for learning across the curriculum.
  • Literacy-related assessment in the early grades has focused on symbol knowledge, and to a lesser extent phonological awareness, but not on the critical skills of vocabulary and grammar.
  • Assessment of numeracy focuses on arithmetic operations and seldom includes mathematical reasoning.
  • Teaching of numeracy privileges the school language. Children’s performance improves when teachers support their reading (and comprehension) of problems and they are permitted to give the solution in the home language.

Other reviews in the series

The review is part of a series of DFID education rigorous literature reviews. Other reviews in this series include:

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