McGovern-Dole Food for Education Project: Liberia Empowerment Through Attendance, Reading, and Nutrition (LEARN) and LEARN II

Children in Liberia receive books from Let's Read book distribution

The Liberian education system faces many challenges with respect to student attendance, graduation rates, teacher quality, gender discrimination, gender-based violence, and basic educational attainment.

While primary education is free and compulsory in Liberia, more than 15 percent of children six to 14 years-old are not attending school and only 69 percent complete grade 6 (Liberia Ministry of Education, 2016a). Late enrollment and low attendance in primary and secondary school are driven by political, economic, and health factors, including repercussions from a long civil war, widespread poverty, and an Ebola epidemic.

The LEARN Program

LEARN is a five-year program funded by USDA and implemented by Save the Children, designed to improve literacy, health, and dietary practices of school-aged children, and to increase awareness of gender norms and sexual and gender-based violence in 220 schools in the Rivercess, River Gee, Grand Bassa, and Grand Gedeh Counties in Liberia.

LEARN activities include providing school meals; distributing deworming medication, vitamins, and minerals; establishing parent-teacher associations; rehabilitating school canteens; providing pedagogical training and literacy resources; setting up school gardens; and training teachers to lead school health clubs.

In 2022, Save the Children began implementing LEARN II, expanding on the work of LEARN, with a focus on sustainability, including backing locally and regionally produced commodities for school meals.

AIR's Project and Impact Evaluations

On behalf of Save the Children and USDA, AIR conducted project and impact evaluations of the first phase of the LEARN project from 2018-2022 and is currently evaluating LEARN II which will run through 2026. AIR has used a mixed methods approach to measure the progress of LEARN and LEARN II, including quantitative surveys with students, teachers, and food preparers, and qualitative focus groups and interviews with beneficiaries, local and national stakeholders, and project staff.

During the evaluation of LEARN, AIR measured the impacts of two different packages of activities on Grade 2 students’ literacy outcomes. It found that the packages combining additional literacy support with school health and nutrition packages had a significant impact on student literacy, especially among boys. In addition, AIR found that participating students were more likely to have reading materials at home, and all caregiver groups reported trying to help their children as much as possible.

AIR also noted better handwashing practices among these students as well as higher awareness of school-related gender-based violence issues and willingness to report them. Respondents also generally noted the program’s positive impact on attendance, attentiveness, and relief for parents related to food security. AIR will continue to evaluate these outcomes and more as LEARN II progresses.