What Works to Improve Early Grade Literacy in Latin America and the Caribbean? A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis

Improvements in students’ learning achievement have lagged behind in low‐and middle‐income countries despite significant progress in school enrollment numbers. Approximately 250 million children across the world are not acquiring basic reading and math skills, even though about 50% of them have spent at least four years in school. Educational policies on early grade literacy (EGL) in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have long suffered from a disjuncture between school practice and research.

This systematic review examines the effectiveness and fidelity of implementation of various programs in the LAC region that aim to improve EGL outcomes, including teacher training, school feeding, computer‐aided instruction, nutrition, and technology‐in‐education.

Key Findings

Overall, programs did not have statistically significant effects on EGL outcomes. But there are instances in which programs may have positive or negative effects.

For example, teacher training did not show positive effects on EGL outcomes, but a study from Chile showed that teacher training can possibly positively affect EGL outcomes in high‐income economies when it is well implemented and complemented by sustained coaching. Similarly, nutrition programs did not improve EGL outcomes. However, a study from Guatemala showed positive effects on EGL, possibly because Guatemala has high rates of stunting and wasting.

Although there is no statistically significant effect of technology‐in‐education programs on EGL outcomes in the LAC region, a study from Peru showed that the distribution of laptops to children can have adverse effects, particularly when not complemented by additional programs.

Other studies showed that phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and comprehension are associated with reading ability. Furthermore, poverty and child labor are negatively correlated with EGL outcomes. This finding supports the result that nutrition programs may be effective in settings with high rates of stunting and wasting.

Image of Thomas de Hoop
Managing Economist and Program Area Lead, Agriculture, Food Security, and Nutrition
Andrea Coombes
Senior Researcher