Literacy, Foundation Learning and Assessment in Developing Countries

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The UK Department for International Development (DFID) Education has commissioned a series of rigorous literature reviews focused on different aspects of education. This review focuses on literacy and foundation learning. 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.

Key findings

The key findings included:

  • 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.


An evidence brief based on this review is available for download.

Videos of Professor Maggie Snowling and Dr Sonali Nag, two of the authors of the review, are available through HEART Talks.

Other reviews in the series

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


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