Integrated Support for Sustainable School Canteens and Early Grade Reading in Ivory Coast (2016-2020), IMPAQ

Integrated Support for Sustainable School Canteens and Early Grade Reading in Ivory Coast (2016-2020), IMPAQ

Authors : Michaela Gulemetova, Laurence Dessein, Ed.M., Elnaz Safarha, M.S.

Affiliated Organisation : IMPAQ

Publication Type : Report

Date of publication : July 2016

Link for the original document


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Recent research has indicated that learning (e.g., reading skills) contributes more to a country’s economic growth than school attendance (e.g., years of education).

The mastery of reading–the basis of student performance–develops gradually throughout all years of schooling. However, a child’s most sensitive period to learn to read is between four and seven years of age. Children who learn to read in the early grades are better prepared to absorb more advanced skills

and content that rely on reading in later grades. In contrast, children who experience reading difficulties in early grades are seriously disadvantaged compared to their peers. Specifically, young children who struggle to maintain the same reading level as their peers risk falling behind in other academic subjects. The children who experience early reading difficulties often are unable to absorb printed information, follow written instructions, or communicate in writing.

According to a 2009 administration of a Programme for the Analysis of Education Systems (PASEC) assessment, a diagnostic assessment in language and mathematics used in Francophone countries, Ivory Coast was classified in the group of countries with the lowest scores in reading and mathematics (MENET, 2012). The PASEC assessment showed that the quality of primary education in Ivory Coast had deteriorated since 2002. A detailed analysis of the results showed that the weak performances of second and fifth grade students were linked to factors such as geographic location, poverty of parents, and residence in rural areas. The 2006 UNICEF supported Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) further revealed that a third of young adults in Ivory Coast could not read a simple sentence without difficulty (INS, 2007).

Faced with difficulties in acquiring reading skills and challenges in improving the quality of education, MENET began reforming the national educational curriculum in 2012 to use the syllabic method to teach reading. The syllabic method is an intuitive way for children to learn to read and is used exclusively to teach reading in African languages. The main characteristic of the syllabic approach is that it is based on the knowledge of letters and the combination of written forms and written syllables that are spoken aloud (the oral syllable is an easily recognized unit of breath). It is based on “consonant-vowel” sequences, e.g., ba, be, bi, bo, bu; ka, ke, ki, ko, ku, etc. From these, teachers prepare written “syllable charts.” The charts provide the basis for various activities, particularly for teachers and students to make up different words from the chart. Such word play activities appear to be very popular with learners, and teach them that words are composed of sounds and sounds are represented by letters.

The objective for the reframing process is to require students to achieve the following skills by the end of six years of primary school:

  • React properly to oral or written messages,
  • Speak fluently in communication situations in everyday life,
  • Read text fluently in French, and,
  • Produce simple written text in everyday communication situation.

The program uses MGD supplied commodities and cash funding to achieve MGD’s two highest level Strategic Objectives (SOs):

  • (1)  improve literacy of school-aged children, and
  • (2)  increase use of health and dietary practices.
  • At the national level, AVSI supports MENET with improving and maintaining control of inventories of textbooks, toolkits, and resources.
  • At the school level, AVSI manufactures mobile libraries, which are locally produced, to offer material and support to encourage recreational and cultural activities, and mobilize French language children’s book donations.
  • At the teacher level, AVSI provides training to teachers of first and second grade in the skills necessary to teach the syllabic method to students to enable them read more easily. Teachers also receive additional materials and supplies to enable them to conduct classroom exercises using the syllabic method.

Boys were more likely to report that they had books at home than girls; however, girls were more likely to report liking to read books and reading with a parent or a sibling at home than were boys (Exhibit 24 in Appendix). There were differences in the presence of books at home by region. For example, in Bagoue, half of the students reported that there were books at their homes versus only eight percent of students in Bafing. Across all regions, while few students reported that they had any books at home, even fewer reported that had children’s books other than textbooks at home (Exhibit 25 in Appendix).

We examined students’ proficiency in reading by other characteristics, such as availability of books at home, students who like to read, and students who read at home. As shown in Exhibit 19, reading proficiency was higher among students who reported having books at home than among those who reported that they did not have books at home (17% vs. 9%). The presence of children’s books, even though rare, also was indicative of higher reading proficiency–22 percent of students who reported having children’s books were proficient in reading compared to 10 percent of students who reported that they did not have children’s books at home.

We found that parental involvement, as expected, is associated with higher proficiency in reading. Among students whose parents read with them at home, 17 percent were proficient in reading compared to 8 percent of students whose parents did not read with them. Finally, among students who revealed their preferences to read, 12 percent of them were reading proficiently compared to 9 percent among students who reported that they did not like to read.

The team found that students had particularly large deficits in their reading skills, regardless of their region or gender. The proportion of students who demonstrated reading ability at the threshold level or above was particularly low. The data indicated that the majority of students, regardless of grade, did not pass the proficiency level of reading competencies. This highlights the critical need, across all regions, for literacy-based interventions that can boost reading skills among primary school students.

The following are among the highlights from the data:

  • Very few students can read at grade level: only 5 percent of first graders passed the acceptable reading threshold for their grade.
  • The reading proficiency levels were low across all grades: only 14 percent of second graders, 22 percent of third graders, 11 percent of fourth graders, 6 percent of fifth graders, and 8 percent of sixth graders read proficiently at their grade level.
  • Girls demonstrated lower reading skills than boys across all grades.
  • There were substantial regional differences in the proportion of students who demonstrated grade-level reading ability.
  • There is low presence of books in students’ homes: 22 percent of students reported that there were books at home and only 7 percent reported that they had children’s books at home.
  • One in three students reported that they read at home with a parent or a sibling.
  • Regardless of the low presence of books outside school and low parental engagement in reading, three out of four students reported that they liked reading.


  • Administer the same student reading assessment and survey at midline and endline.
  • Consider observations to complement self-reported data.
  • Plan the qualitative data to complement the quantitative data.
  • Keep detailed project records.