We propose to adapt, implement, and evaluate the impact of cross-age peer tutoring on the teaching of reading in Kenyan primary school. Cross-age peer tutoring consists of student partnerships in which an upper primary pupil is trained to work with a younger child to conduct structured reading sessions. International research suggests it is one of the most powerful and cost-effective methods for raising achievement. Evidence from Kenya is also emerging showing that the use of a freely available multi-media software programmes known as ABRACADABRA (ABRA) can significantly raise attainment in reading comprehension.
However, while there is ample robust research on the positive effects of peer tutoring and use of multi-media software including ABRA for teaching literacy in high-income countries, evidence about its effectiveness in low income countries is in need of further research. Because of the impoverished environment found in many Kenyan classrooms, interventions that require additional infrastructure or learning resources, or extra work from the teacher, often encounter strong resistance. Therefore the cross-age peer tutoring programme will be designed to reflect local realities with regard to teacher training, class sizes, learning resources, and school infrastructure, and to fit in with the Kenyan national curriculum guidelines for the teaching of reading. Because most Kenyan schools do not have a wealth of reading resources at their disposal, the peer tutoring intervention will use both printed children's books and online texts from the ABRA programme and a free, printable digital library to enhance children's reading.
By providing school-based in-service education and training to teachers, the project will explore to what extent cross-age peer tutoring, with and without the support of the ABRA literacy software, can help them cope with the range of challenges they face in the Kenyan primary classroom. We believe this programme has the potential for transformative impact for improving children's reading because it makes effective use of 'resources' that already exist in the school, that is the children themselves. Effective peer tutoring can change children's perceptions of themselves, empowering them as facilitators of learning. It will also be cost effective and sustainable because it uses materials that are freely available, and can be printed locally.
Once students are trained as peer tutors in a school, a core of expertise is established which can be drawn upon in future years. The study will provide evidence as to whether the development and scaling-up of cross-age peer tutoring in cultural contexts like Kenya supported, where possible, by multi-media literacy software is feasible, cost effective and results in substantive learning gains in reading. During the first year of the study we will conduct a pilot study of the project, make adaptations based on the pilot, and then in the second year conduct a large-scale randomised evaluation of the cross-age tutoring, with and without the support of the ABRA early literacy software programme. After the trial is finished, teachers in the control schools will be taught how to implement both cross-age peer tutoring and ABRA and be given the training and support materials.
The project aims for societal impact, through generating and communicating new knowledge on: (i) how teachers can integrate cross-age peer tutoring into the teaching of early reading; and, (ii) the role of computer-based literacy software like ABRA in improving the teaching of reading in Kenyan primary schools. The project impacts directly on economic growth as a functional level of literacy is increasingly becoming a necessary skill for gaining meaningful employment, particularly in the growing urban areas of Kenya. Improving the teaching of early reading will mean children and young people can access all curriculum subjects and proceed to secondary school. Having completed a secondary education they will be better prepared to lead sustainable livelihoods, thereby reducing poverty and widening the skill base to support economic growth. Research suggests teachers are central to improving learning outcomes in school and equipping them with the necessary pedagogic skills will help improve the quality of learning and attainment in reading. Impact on beneficiaries: (i) The main beneficiaries of the project will be the teachers and children in schools that adopt changes in pedagogic practices leading to improvements in the teaching of early reading. (ii) National, regional and district level policy makers and education officials and staff of international agencies in Kenya will also be beneficiaries through the acquisition of new knowledge on the impact of cross-age peer tutoring and the use of early literacy software in the teaching of reading. The study will expand their capacity by helping to identify at all levels of the education system what works in the teaching of reading and by ensuring it is shared with other relevant stakeholders throughout the lifespan of the project. (iii) Grassroots stakeholders groups such as local NGOs, teacher unions, parents associations and civil society organisations involved in education (e.g. UWEZO) will benefit from access to the project's findings and expand their capacity to take up the findings from the research through their involvement in research briefings. (iv) International agencies, such as Aga Khan Foundation, DFID, Save the Children, UNICEF and UNESCO, and policy makers in ministries of education who invest in, design or implement education programmes will benefit from guidance on the effective teaching of reading in poorly resourced contexts. (v) Academics and researchers will benefit from new knowledge and understanding of the role of cross-age peer tutoring in the teaching of reading in low-income countries through dissemination of the findings in academic journals and at conferences, thereby adding to the limited evidence base. Impact legacy will be achieved within Kenya and in other countries in the eastern and southern African region through a series of consultation and research briefing meetings organised by ministries of education, UNICEF, Aga Khan Development Network and other key partners, together with ongoing email and telephone contact with other interested stakeholders. Early on in the study through workshops and consultation meetings with key stakeholders, we will ensure the research is relevant to programme objectives and organisational priorities at the national, district and school level. This will help build a sense of research ownership and commitment to implementing the findings amongst our partners. International impact will be achieved through engagement with staff in the head offices of international agencies, such as DFID, Save the Children, UNICEF and UNESCO, and by ensuring the findings are related to their current research priorities. We will reach international agency staff through an end of project workshop, targeted policy briefs and participation in conferences they usually attend, and through our website, one-to-one meetings and email contact.