Kenya Primary Math and Reading Initiative

Funding Level:

$8.1 million

August 2011 – August 2014

Activity Goals:

  • Evaluate innovative teaching methods and new materials to improve student literacy
  • Build the skills and resources of educators
  • Work with the Ministry of Education on recommendations and strategies for scaling up successful programs

Activity Accomplishments:

  • Expanded number of Primary Reading and Math supported schools from 403 to 547
  • Conducted an impact evaluation and shared findings on the initiative’s three ICT interventions
  • Ensured a student : book ratio of 1 : 1 for every school participating in the initiative
  • Provided more than 245,000 Kiswahili and English reading text books to approximately 1,300 formal and non-formal schools, benefiting over 316,000 children in grades one and two
  • Conducted refresher training and initial training for Primary Reading and Math staff, coaches and tutors
  • Distributed teacher materials to 545 schools

Implementing Partner:

Research Triangle Institute, with funding to: CFBT Education Trust and World Reader

Key Partners:
Ministry of Education Science and Technology.

Activity Location:

Nairobi, Thika, Nakuru, and Kisumu Counties, with additional DFID support in Machakos and Bungoma

The Kenya Primary Math and Reading Initiative is a research-based activity to improve the English and Kiswahili language and mathematics skills of Kenyan children. The initiative is working jointly with the Ministry of Education to evaluate successful pilot interventions.

Ensuring that children have the reading and mathematics skills they need to succeed in secondary school and the workforce is an important shared goal of the Government of Kenya and USAID.

To date, the initiative has piloted and tested revised learning materials and 150 innovative teacher’s guides for teaching reading in English and Kiswahili. The initiative also builds the skills of educators and encourages professional development. Teachers receive training on how to encourage active learning and participation by both girls and boys in the classroom.

Primary Math and Reading uses classroom data to inform instructional approaches that improve student achievement in reading and math. Data from student assessments determine the effectiveness of reading and math interventions and inform policy-related discussions with Kenya’s Ministry of Education on recommendations and strategies for scaling up successful programs.

In late 2013, rigorous evaluations demonstrated that the piloted approach can improve reading skills nearly three times faster than methods and materials used in control schools.

The initiative is set to be rolled out nationally for first and second grades in 2014.

Interview with Kennedy Ouma, Manager of Emmaus Education Center in Ngomongo Village, Nairobi County
(as told to Donvan Amenya, Instructional Coach, Korogocho Cluster)

Has Primary Math and Reading Initiative (PRIMR) made any contribution to children’s learning in this school?
“Before PRIMR, my teachers had problems handling lower classes. They used to force the pupils to read and recognize letters. But when PRIMR came, it became very easy for them to handle lower primary. Teaching has become so easy and pupils understand and find it easier to recognize letters and even join sounds to read words. At the beginning, my teachers perceived it as too simple and thought it fitted well in preschool. But as things progressed, they saw how important it was, and now they love it.

“Secondly, it has also helped in enhancing retention of pupils in school. For the whole of last year, no child from Class 1 or 2 transferred to other schools. We had 100% retention. Initially, children used to transfer in the middle of the term to other schools. However, they could not transfer because parents also love the program a lot.”

Why?     “You see, when a parent brings a child to school, they expect miracles even when the pupil is weak. After one week or so they expect to see results. Before PRIMR, things were very difficult. But when PRIMR came in, the results impressed parents when they saw their children reading independently. In fact, I am also a parent here; my daughter is in Class 2. I usually assess her after school and I have realized PRIMR has done a lot because my daughter can read a story and understand it! There is a big difference in academic performance among children who have gone through PRIMR and those who have not. Like in our school, there is a big difference between current Class 3 and those in Class 4. The current Class 3 is brighter [performing better] than their previous counterparts who are now in Class 4. In our school here, we have joint examinations between classes that follow each other. When we did examinations early this term between Class 4 and Class 3, children who were between positions 1 to 10 all came from Class 3. This shows that the current Class 3 is brighter than Class 4.” (Class 3 went through PRIMR when they were in Class 2, while Class 4 did not.)

What about the teachers, do they like PRIMR?
“The teachers who went through PRIMR training testified that they had indeed learned a lot. In fact, after attending the training, one of the teachers regretted that she had made one child transfer to another school because she was just forcing the child to learn difficult concepts without the basics. If she were here, she could have testified to that. You see, most teachers in non-formal schools are untrained—They did not go through college. But those who went through the PRIMR training are better than the trained few. I wish PRIMR could train all teachers.”

USAID Contact:
Dr. T. Wambui Gathenya, Activity Manager
Office of Education and Youth
Tel: +254 20 862 2000

Primary Math and Reading Initiative Contact:
Dr. Benjamin Piper, Chief of Party
RTI International
Tel. +254 733 719966/716 71996


Updated June 2014

Last updated: May 15, 2015

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