Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy

Young-Suk Grace Kim, School of Education, University of California at Irvine
Helen N. Boyle and Stephanie Simmons Zuilkowski, College of Education and Learning Systems Institute, Florida State University

Image of report coverMillions of children across the world are unable to read a single word even after up to four years of schooling (UNESCO, 2014). The goal of this landscape report is to review and summarize available empirical evidence on early grade literacy acquisition and instruction in developing countries.

To achieve this goal, papers with empirical data were searched, identified, screened, and reviewed on topics that included student-level factors (e.g., emergent literacy, oral language), larger contextual factors within which the student is embedded (e.g., home literacy environment, language of instruction, and larger system issues such as teacher education), and long-run considerations (e.g., sustainability, costs, and scaling up). The available empirical evidence was, then, rated by topic as strong, moderate, emerging or limited. The vast majority of studies reviewed were project-based work with a comprehensive, multicomponent approach, incorporating the 5Ts—teaching, time, texts, tongue, and test. The Big 5 skills identified in the National Reading Panel Report—phonological awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension—were central in these projects.

Our review of the evidence revealed that overall, much progress has been made in the last decade. However, the review also clearly indicated that the vast majority of topical areas within the field of literacy in developing country contexts still lack rigorous evidence, and there is much work to be done. Overall, this review substantiates the systematic and systemic nature of literacy education. Promoting successful early grade literacy instruction and acquisition requires evidence-based, empirically tested, and scientific approaches as well as efforts of stake holders at multiple levels, from students, parents, teachers, community members, and leaders in the country.