USAID Selects URC to Manage Global Early Grade Reading Project

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has selected URC to manage a global early grade reading project to support Goal One of USAID's Education Strategy 2011–2015: improving the reading skills of 100 million primary school children by 2015. The new five-year, $10 million project will support the development of a Primary Grade Reading Community of Practice (COP), the implementation of a research agenda and the piloting of innovations to improve and promote the effectiveness and sustainability of early grade reading interventions at scale.

URC brings broad experience in creating COPs and translating research findings into programs through our USAID Translating Research into Action project, USAID Applying Science to Strengthen and Improvement Systems (ASSIST) project and others. Also, our US programming emphasizes education and literacy among hard-to-reach populations, including children of migrant farm workers. With 30 years' experience in operations research, knowledge management and quality improvement, URC is well-placed to implement progressive education initiatives. URC was also recently awarded a six-month contract from the Millennium Challenge Corporation to assess and design education programming in Guatemala.

Project Details

Key components of the global early grade reading project include:

  • Building and supporting a global Primary Grade Reading COP led by USAID and comprising policy makers, national and school managers, expert teachers, professional organizations, USAID implementing partners, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), funders, regional/national institutes, civil society and the private sector.
  • Using the Improvement Collaborative (IC) approach, a cutting-edge quality improvement (QI) method, to strengthen early grade reading. An IC is a short-term (6-15 month) learning network that brings together geographically close people, facilities, schools and/or communities that share an interest in solving a particular challenge and work together to solve it, sharing best practices and lessons learned along the way.
  • Filling the knowledge-practice gap by implementing research activities that result in the development, dissemination and accelerated uptake of early grade reading improvement methods, including instructional approaches, teacher training and support, practice teaching, texts and materials, mother tongue instruction and assessment.
  • Identifying social mobilization and behavior change strategies to gain the support of households, communities and the local government to reduce class size, better equip schools and increase general literacy.
  • Identifying, examining and responding to gender-related issues in primary grade reading programs.
  • Testing innovative information and communication technology tools and approaches (i.e., tablets, smart phones, text messages and video) to improve the availability of and access to materials, foster social and behavior change, facilitate teacher supervision and support data collection.
  • Nurturing national and sub-national champions to endorse COP tools, training materials and products.

The Link between Early Reading and Economic Development

In the past decade, primary school enrollment has increased significantly worldwide, particularly in low-income countries. However, it is the quality of education that is the deciding factor in education's role in economic development. A lack of early reading ability among a country's children can lead to high dropout rates, general illiteracy and an unskilled work force. An estimated 250 million children who attend primary school in developing countries struggle to read even basic words, and studies show that the learning levels of a country's population are correlated with economic growth. Ensuring that children can read in the early grades will determine their success and that of their country.

USAID and GPE have convened a group of concerned organizations and individuals to draw attention to this issue, design an early grade reading assessment that highlights deficits and begin the analytic process of identifying bottlenecks and solutions. Operations and implementation research underway in many USAID and other donor-funded programs will lead to understanding that helps the world collectively achieve universal primary education.

In Mali, a boy in primary school learns to read. © Global Partnership on Education/Michelle Mesen.
In Mali, a boy in primary school learns to read. © Global Partnership on Education/Michelle Mesen.
January 06, 2014
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