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Despite gains in enrolment, learning levels in Zambia remain low. Large, heterogeneous classrooms mean that students who miss basic skills never have the chance to catch up. Programmes which tailor learning to the level of the child can help solve this problem. Zambia’s Ministry of General Education with financial support from, UNICEF, in conjunction with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and VVOB is launching a Catch Up programme, which is modelled after interventions proven to be effective in countries like India and Ghana through randomised evaluations. Technical assistance is also being provided by the DFID funded Zambia Education Sector Support Technical Assistance (ZESSTA) team. The programme will begin with a pilot in 2016 and 2017 and, if successful, will scale at a later stage.

The Ministry will pilot and potentially scale the Catch Up programme based on the Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) pedagogical approach, which aims to improve the basic literacy and numeracy skills of primary school pupils by grouping them according to ability and providing them with instruction tailored to their learning level. Pratham, a large education-focused NGO based in India, has developed and refined this pedagogical approach over the last two decades. Pratham partnered with J-PAL to evaluate the approach and has worked with them to scale it up in various states in India after the results of the evaluation demonstrated that TaRL improved pupils’ learning.

From India to Zambia

Zambia’s Ministry of General Education is committed to ensuring that all Zambian children are able to attend school, stay and learn. However, recent bi-annual national assessment survey trends indicate a fall in learning outcomes. In 2014, 65% of Grade 2 pupils were unable to read a single word correctly in their own language. Grade 5 results showed a declining trend in performance, especially in Maths and English. Zambia has revised the education curriculum, which now includes teaching in a familiar language up to Grade 4, and began its implementation in 2014 as one of the measures to address this.

To further ensure that learners who have fallen behind in literacy and numeracy are able to catch up to grade-appropriate levels, the Ministry will be implementing a pilot Catch Up programme targeting all learners in grades 3 to 5 in selected schools in the Southern and Eastern Provinces of Zambia. The Zambia Ministry of General Education plans to pilot the Catch Up programme beginning in November 2016. Four districts will be targeted: Monze and Pemba Districts in Southern Province and Katete and Chipata Districts in Eastern Province.

Testing two models

The pilot will test two slightly different programme models:

  • Intensive one-month: in Eastern Province, selected schools will regroup pupils in grades 3-5 by reading and numerical ability for an entire month. All learning will focus on teaching numeracy and literacy skills.
  • One hour a day: in Southern Province, schools will re-group pupils by ability rather than grade for a concentrated one hour of literacy teaching during one school term, and a mix of literacy and numeracy teaching in the next school term (alternating days).

VVOB provides training and support monitoring

VVOB was selected as the preferred partner to provide training and ongoing support to monitors throughout the course of the pilot of the Catch Up programme. VVOB will organise teacher training and undertake school monitoring and mentoring visits. Additionally, VVOB will be a key communication link between schools, zonal, district and national staff. VVOB will train monitors and mentors to support in the implementation and monitoring of the pilot and will also support government monitors in training and mentoring teachers. Parents will also be supported in the monitoring of the programme. VVOB will manage, collate and quality assure the data collected at school and district level, organise regular monitor meetings and hold refresher training and wrap-up sessions.

VVOB is excited to be part of this new multi-stakeholder partnership in Zambia and is looking forward to assisting in taking the Catch Up programme to scale, based on the results of the pilots.
VVOB staff have also travelled to India as part of a learning visit to get deeper insights into how the TaRL programme is being implemented through Pratham in India with technical support from J-PAL’s South Asia office.