eBASE, effective basic services:Phonics Local Summary

Phonics Local Summary

Summary of the research evidence on the impact of phonics on the educational attainment of pupils in sub-Saharan Africa


The text below is a summary of the research evidence on the impact of phonics on the educational attainment of pupils in sub-Saharan Africa. It is an analysis of individual studies of phonics on educational attainment in sub-Saharan Africa. The information here is valuable for African school leaders, administrators and policy makers, as well as parents who may be thinking of better ways to improve on the educational attainment of their children.

Effective Basic Services (eBASE) Africa developed this summary using available research evidence while also taking into consideration prominent themes arising from key informant interviews (KII) and focus group discussions (FGD), particularly FGD with teachers and students. The research evidence in this summary is acquired from a detailed and replicable search protocol used on a wide range – listed below – of research databases for related studies in low- and middle-income countries in general and sub-Saharan Africa in particular.

Definition of strand

Phonics seeks to develop skills in learners such as hearing, identifying and using phonemes or sound patterns. This enables learners to understand the relationship between the sounds and the written spelling patterns (graphemes) representing them. Phonics underscores the need to acquire the skills of decoding new words by sounding them out and combining or blending’ the patterns of sound spelling (Higgins, et al., 2016).

Why is this strand important?

One of the fundamental purposes of schooling is learning how to read and phonics enables learners to decode words, which develops their reading abilities. This strand can guide teachers and parents in adopting efficient strategies for improving the phonemic and phonological awareness, fluency and comprehension of learners. Furthermore, it orientates teachers on how to teach phonics to children and adults in a manner that develops their reading skills.

Summary of research in Sub-Saharan Africa

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the impact of phonics has not been substantially investigated. A study in the Tshwane District of South Africa to determine areas wherein Grade 1 English Second Language (ESL) learners experience difficulties in auditory skills and listening comprehension reveals that their standardized test scores were poorer when listening tasks were linguistically more demanding (Anderssen et al., 2019). Finding that ESL learners experience challenges with layers of auditory and listening comprehension strategies, this study suggests there is a need for targeted interventions and curriculum support, such as through a speech language therapist.

Amadi & Offorma, (2019) and Amadi, (2020) in two quasi-experimental studies investigated the effects of two phonics instructional modes on ESL learners’ achievement in reading, and the effect of synthetic phonics instruction on Nigerian ESL learners’ interest in reading. The findings revealed that synthetic phonics (method of teaching where words are broken up into the smallest units of sound (phonemes)) significantly improved pupils achievement in reading compared to analytic phonics (common approach to teaching of reading that starts at the word level,not the sound level), and that synthetic phonics is more significant in enhancing pupils’ interest in reading.


Within the Sub-Saharan African region, the impact of phonics on learning outcomes has not been the focus of existing research. A study in South Africa reveals difficulties for ESL learners with more demanding listening tasks and the need for targeted interventions through speech-language therapist.

Other quasi-experimental studies in Nigeria reveal that synthetic phonics significantly improves pupils’ achievement and interest in reading compared to analytic phonics.

However, due to the limited evidence base, there is need for further research on phonics interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa to determine the impact on learning outcomes.

Impact, Security, and Cost of Local Evidence

The evidence suggests positive association between phonics and educational outcomes. The evidence base is however very limited, hence the need for more robust studies.

The cost of implementing phonics in SSA, particularly in the Lake Chad basin is likely to be moderate.

Search Terms

Phonics* OR audile* OR auditory* OR aural* OR hearing*

Databases Searched

EBSCO (ebooks, ERICS, Education Administration Abstract, Education Abstract)
Campbell Collaboration
Global Partnership for Education
Hand Search


Amadi, E. A. (2020). Effects of Synthetic Phonics Instruction on Nigerian English as a Second Language Learners’ Interest in Reading. Sapientia Global Journal of Arts, Humanities and Development Studies.

Amadi, E. A., & Offorma, G. (2019). Effects of Two Phonics Instructional Modes on English as Second Language Learners’Achievement in Reading. Studies in English Language Teaching.

Anderssen, K.-L., Kritzinger, A., & Pottas, L. (2019). Auditory skills and listening comprehension in English second language learners in Grade 1. South African Journal of Childhood Education 9 (1).

Higgins, S., Katsipataki, M., Villanueva-Aguilera, A., Coleman, R., Henderson, P., Major, L., … Mason, D. (2016). The Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit.’, Manual. London: Education Endowment Foundation.

Malacapay, M. C. (2019). Differentiated Instruction in Relation to Pupils’ Learning Style. International Journal of Instruction 12 (4).