York leads way in Kenyan schools boost

Academics from the University of York will lead a major project looking into ways to improve teaching methods in Kenyan schools

Funded by a joint grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Department for International Development (DFID), researchers will explore effective teaching and learning approaches in the developing world.

The project will investigate the impact of cross-age peer tutoring, a student partnership where an upper primary pupil is trained to work with a younger child in structured reading sessions. Supported by multi-media literacy software where possible, results will measure whether cross-age peer tutoring improves a child’s reading achievements, and if such a method could feasibly be rolled out nationally.

Prompting the project is recent educational data suggesting that teaching quality in Kenyan primary schools remains low. A study by charity UWEZO reports that only three in ten of pupils aged 9-10 can read a basic story in Kiswahili, and only one in ten can read a basic story in English.

A recent DFID review of pedagogy, curriculum, teaching practices and teacher education in developing countries has also found an over-reliance on the transmission of knowledge through recall, rote learning, memorization, repetition, recitation, copying from the board, choral response and ‘chalk and talk’.  Consequently, it is recommended that teachers need training in the use of communicative strategies to encourage interactive teaching practices.

Professor Frank Hardman, Director of Research and Professor of Education and International Development at York’s Institute for Effective Education (IEE), said: “While many countries in Eastern and Southern Africa are on track for meeting the Education for All targets, the issue of quality remains very real.  Around 40 percent of children in the region are still failing to complete primary education and monitoring data suggests only 36 percent of children are attaining basic levels in reading.

“In the face of these challenges, there is a growing recognition of the need to address the quality of classroom pedagogy to improve retention and completion rates, and achieve meaningful learning outcomes. While there is good evidence of peer tutoring being effective in high-income countries, little research has been conducted in low income countries. We believe this programme has the potential for a transformative impact in improving children’s reading skills.”

In the study’s first year, teachers and students will be trained in the cross-age peer tutoring approach and accompanying literacy software will be piloted to ensure appropriateness for a range of Kenyan contexts. Following this, a randomised controlled trial will be conducted in the second year to evaluate the new pedagogy’s impact on children’s reading and classroom processes, and the possibility of scaling it up across Kenya.

Bringing together researchers from the IEE, including Professor Bette Chambers, Dr Pam Hanley and Dr Giacomo De Luca from York’s Department of Economics, the study will also involve partners from the University of Nairobi and Concordia University in Canada.

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