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Education Technical Brief: Early Grade Reading Assessment in Fragile Contexts – Challenges and Considerations

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Education is an enabling basic human right and a key component of humanitarian action as it provides immediate physical, psychological and cognitive protection during crises and is a major contributor to individual, community and societal resilience. Communities, parents, and children themselves prioritise education to build their future, even in the most challenging humanitarian contexts. Challenges to education provision are exacerbated in situations of crisis, directly affecting children’s safety and wellbeing while they are the most in need to receive basic literacy and numeracy skills to give them opportunities to access information, health, income, equality and wellbeing benefits associated with education.

Concern’s support to education began in 1972 and since 2003, Concern has been focusing on primary education, specifically the early grades (1 to 3). Due to Concern’s increasing focus in emergency contexts, Concern also supports non-formal education activities to help children transition into formal school systems. Concern is providing direct support to schools and non-formal learning spaces at the community level to increase access to quality education for children in hard to reach areas and those affected by conflict and crisis. In our humanitarian action, we respond to the right to protection but also to the right to education. This may include the establishment of Temporary Learning Spaces, provision of Non-Formal Accelerated Learning Programmes including Basic Literacy, Numeracy and Psychosocial Support. Improving foundational literacy and numeracy skills in young children is a priority of Concern’s.

Concern aims at improving the lives of extremely poor and vulnerable children in a sustainable way by increasing access to high quality primary education and supporting wellbeing.

The increased global focus on measuring improvements in learning outcomes has been incorporated into Concern’s programmes for many years, shifting from proxy-indicators to monitoring the actual improvements in children’s learning by applying tools such as the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA). Using tools to measure learning outcomes, Concern seeks to assess children’s reading levels and monitor their improvement throughout the course of an education programme or a school year. This informs the progress and quality of the programme and provides information on the learning needs of the children within the context in which we are working to allow a tailored approach to teacher training and literacy and numeracy instruction. Concern especially values the EGRA as a tool to inform programme quality in hard to reach and conflict affected areas as, especially in these contexts, it is crucial to ensure that Education does not only fulfils its protective role but also enables children to learn effectively.

The Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA), designed in 2006 by Research Triangle Institute (RTI) is an individually administered oral assessment of the foundation skills for literacy acquisition in early grades. Children are asked to identify letters, letter sounds, familiar words, decode non-real words, read a simple passage and answer questions about what they read. It is administered digitally using the Tangerine platform where possible.

While Concern has been using the EGRA tool for ten years, the use of the tool in fragile contexts still poses a number of challenges. Contexts of conflicts and fragility are complex and unpredictable, due to a lack of reliable information, fast changing environments, possible and sudden insecurity risks along with the significant number and complexity of stakeholders. That makes it complex to plan interventions or assessments, limiting the access to schools, restricting travel, and increasing the need to readjust interventions due to security context and flow of population while working with children living in extreme poverty. However, measuring improvements in learning remains crucial to ensure interventions are effective and children are not only protected but also empowered and given basic literacy, numeracy and life skills to access markets, health information, social and political networks and to further demand, exercise and enjoy all other human rights.

The following guidance was developed to provide Education teams working in fragile and conflict-affected states with practical guidance for administering Early Grade Reading Assessments. The content was developed to respond to country level needs and requests for technical support within a range of low income and crisis affected contexts in which Concern works. The guidance builds on the learning from Concern over the years and aims at supporting teams preparing, planning and factoring in possible risks and ensuring sufficient flexibility to carry out EGRAs.

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