This program was piloted with support from the Innovation for Education Fund, a partnership between the Governments of Rwanda and the UK, managed by Cambridge Education
The Rwandan Emergent Literacy and Maths Initiative (ELMI) aimed at more inclusive and effective learning for all pre-school children to better prepare them for entering primary school. The project had two separate components: a first component aimed to improve the quality of teaching of literacy and Mathematics skills in early childhood development (ECD) centres. This included supporting caregivers to create a stimulating, age-appropriate and engaging learning environment. The second component worked with parents of children not able to access formal ECD services and trained them on simple activities they can do at home to support their children’s learning. The project also advocated at the national level for the integration of the ELMI approach into the new pre-primary curriculum.
ELMI has been successfully implemented in other contexts (for example, Mozambique and Bangladesh) but the approach to early years’ education was new to the Rwandan context. A parent outreach initiative in areas where there were no ECD centres was added to the delivery model in Rwanda with the aim of maximising the impact of the initiative for all children. This training of often illiterate parents to support the school readiness of their children through simple, practical learning activities in and around the house was a new way of working in Rwanda.
The ELMI activities changed the classroom environment in existing ECD centres to be more child-friendly and emphasised learning through play: children sat on the floor, there was the use of thematic corners, use of big books, use of local materials. Children actively participated and were encouraged to discover new things. ELMI boosted self-confidence. One of the committee members of a centre in which SC was working mentioned that “You can see the difference between a kid who is in an ECD Centre and a kid who isn’t - you can see it from the way they walk on the road. Kids who attend the ECD Centre have less fear and are less insecure.”
Parents were more readily engaged by being trained to do simple activities with their children that can be conducted in and around the house, in the market, etc. For example: learning counting skills by counting objects when doing small purchases, learning sorting skills during food preparation and reading together or talking about pictures in a book. The activity cards provided helped parents easily remember the ‘lessons’ and what to do.
The parenting component in particular shows interesting elements of parents’ empowerment; parents started to understand that they have something to offer to their children in terms of learning, even if they are illiterate themselves.
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CEI approaches in action
ELMI has worked with 2,873 parents and 58 caregivers
- SC to further the discussions with MIGEPROF about integration of the parenting programme in the MIGEPROF programme. Budgetary issues must be identi ed and clari ed, with budget to be made available through MIGEPROF, possibly complemented with external funding. An opportunity that arose more recently (after submission of the scale-up report) is that REB wanted a ‘pre-primary’ parenting curriculum to accompany the pre-primary teaching curriculum and SC is now talking with them about how this could be rolled out. Both options for integration within Government systems/structures will need to be further explored and possibly operationalized.
- External funding should be used mainly for SC technical support and capacity strengthening, with development partners to consider funding the scale up of the ELMI work, given its proven effectiveness and impact.
- SC to remain in dialogue with MINEDUC/REB as well as MIGEPROF to advocate for policy and budgetary support for the establishment and sustained running of ECD centres /pre-primary classrooms throughout the country.
- SC and the College of Education to discuss options of integrating the ELMI approaches and methods in the teacher training curriculum.
- SC to support the implementation of the new pre-primary curriculum.
Monitoring & Evaluation
The innovation was evaluated through a quasi-experimental comparison of designed treatments: considering changes in learning outcomes (measuring their school readiness) for children in ECD centres receiving ELM intervention (treatment 1) with those who were non-ECD children whose parents received ELM intervention (treatment 2) compared with those with children with no exposure to ECD (comparison 1) and those children in ECD centres but with no ELM intervention (comparison 2). Other quantitative measures, including observation of classroom and home environments, were also collected.
Significant improvements in learning outcomes for literacy and maths were found, for both treatment groups, with the best gains being for those whose parents were trained (treatment 2), though the absolute level of achievement was the same as the ECD centre children whose caregivers experienced ELMI (treatment 1). When children in all the groups enter Grade 1 of primary schools they make less progress, as compared to when they were at ECD centres, and are still working to gain foundational pre-school skills. (The parent treatment group makes the most progress). The implication is that the ELMI parenting component (treatment 2), which is much less resource intensive, produces almost the same gains as the ELMI ECD centre approach (with continuing inputs from parents when children enter primary school) - and is a better option for scale up. A key finding here is that for both treatment groups the interventions are benefiting all families and children equally, regardless of socioeconomic status or gender (this is not the case for the control group; comparison 2).
Few other variables were related to the improvements but the strongest relationship seen was between school environment and child learning from midline was the number of textbooks found in a classroom, which is positively related to learning gains in literacy and numeracy. The design, conduct and analysis of the study are to a high standard, using learning outcome measures (school readiness) drawing on an internationally used instrument validated and reliability checked for Rwanda results. These provide strong evidence of effectiveness of ELMI. More could have been done to illustrate the validity of the other instruments (e.g. classroom observation)
Engagement with parents was a key condition for the project’s success. In the longer term, sustainability of improvements in quality teaching for formal ECD services depends upon integration of ELMI into the revised pre-primary curriculum. This project represents a positive case study of planning for such integration with advocacy work and engagement with key stakeholders at the national level featuring as a key component of the project.
The participation of decentralised level government staff, Sector Education Officers in particular, is a critical condition for success, especially for the work with parents. Their participation and support to the parenting work will need to be formalised during scale up.
The ECD centre component benefitted from the input of appropriately skilled VSO volunteers to provide the necessary technical inputs and support to the care-givers.
The project was well grounded in government policy. GoR policies and budget need to be conducive to the establishment and management of ECD centres and/or pre-primary classrooms across the country for the benefits of the ECD centre component to continue.