Interventions aimed at improving early-grade learning in South Africa

A research project to improve early learning for Setswana children during the foundation phase of schooling, kick-started in February this year. The HSRC’s Education and Skills Development programme, together with academics from Stellenbosch and Wits universities, the Department of Basic Education and the University of Oxford, are conducting and evaluating interventions aimed at improving early-grade learning in South Africa.

The study involves the evaluation of three alternative strategies to improve reading in Setswana:

  • A teacher training course focused specifically on teaching reading together with additional reading booklets and lesson plans;
  • A support programme for teachers, consisting of monthly visits from specialist reading coaches, together with additional reading booklets and lesson plans; and
  • A package designed to improve parent involvement in – and monitoring of – learning to read.


The evaluation is being conducted in 230 non-fee paying schools in the North West, with 50 schools randomly assigned to each treatment and 80 schools assigned to the control group.

Formative research and piloting occurred during 2014. Baseline data collection took place in February this year, before the launch of the programmes. Mid-line data collection will happen at the end of this year and end-line data collection at the end of 2016. Once all the data is in, valuable information will be available on how to improve teaching children to read in the first grades of school. The project team believes that improving learners’ foundation in reading in this way will benefit all their subsequent learning, as well as their prospects in general life and in the workplace.