Project Summary

Abstract | Literacy is the foundation for an informed, skilled citizenry. But in East Africa, less than 1/3 of pupils possess basic literacy skills. Ugandan children perform the worst; only 44.5% pass basic literacy tests. Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) data from a Research Triangle Institute (RTI) survey in northern Uganda in 2009 indicated that 82% of P2 pupils could not read a single word in the local language, compared to 51% of P2 pupils in the central region. Similar to other African countries there are many problems in Uganda's education system, including undertrained teachers, lack of materials and quality methods for teaching literacy, non-existent systems for tracking pupil performance, and parents, communities and local officials that lack the know-how to support and advocate for their children's education. Despite strong mother tongue education (MTE) policies, due to underdeveloped orthographies and a lack of materials in many languages, implementing successful MTE programs poses a significant challenge for African countries, including Uganda. While many MTE programs have been implemented, impacts have been minimal overall; moving to scale has also proven hugely problematic as program effects reduce further.

Since 2010 Mango Tree (MT), a private, locally owned educational tools company in Uganda, has been piloting a successful early literacy project in one language community in northern Uganda. The main goals of the MT program include increasing literacy rates, enhancing education quality through improved, effective materials and teachers, and fostering a culture of reading among pupils, parents and communities within a cost-effective and scalable framework. Compelling evidence for the large benefits and cost-effectiveness of the intervention comes from a pilot randomized evaluation of the program conducted by University of Michigan (UM) researchers in 2013 and 2014.

The Literacy Laboratory Project (LLP) will be implemented from January 2014 to December 2016 and will scale up and evaluate the literacy program, whose model delivers better-quality teacher instruction, access to relevant literacy materials, inclusive approaches to learner assessment, parental and community engagement in schools and strengthening literacy infrastructure so that reading and writing, especially in local languages, becomes a meaningful part of daily life in households and communities. This scale-up will test a piloted and improved model to evaluate its effectiveness and test the mode of program delivery. Under the LLP, researchers from the University of Michigan will conduct a rigorous randomized control trial (RCT) of the program in the Lango Sub-region over 4 years to measure the effectiveness of the instructional model, teacher training and support supervision innovations and literacy materials and methods on Primary 1- Primary 3 pupils' literacy achievement and explore public-private avenues for scale-up. We will study 128 schools, which are randomly assigned to either the full LLP implemented by Mango Tree?s field officers, a partial-program implemented by Government Teacher Tutors, or a control group. The study will collect a rich set of pupil, parent, teacher, classroom and school-level longitudinal data. Learning outcomes will be measured principally in terms of improvements in Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) and Early Grade Writing Assessment (EGWA) scores.

Our goal is to: 1) demonstrate that big effects on learning are possible; 2) prove that with the right combination of training, teaching and learning materials and correct support, teachers can be supported to effectively teach literacy - even in rural, under-resourced, overcrowded classrooms; and 3) to test and evaluate economic approaches to implementation at scale to determine value-for-money impacts on pupil learning and teacher performance in African schools.


UK Department for International Development (DFID)


  • Jeffrey A. Smith

Project Period

2015-05-01 - 2015-12-31