eBASE, effective basic services:Reading Comprehension Local Summary

Reading Comprehension Local Summary

Summary of the research evidence on the impact of Reading comprehension strategies on the educational attainment of school pupils in sub-Saharan Africa


The text below is a summary of the research evidence on the impact of Reading comprehension strategies on the educational attainment of school pupils in sub-Saharan Africa. It is an analysis of individual studies of reading comprehension strategies in sub-Saharan Africa. The information here is valuable for African school leaders, administrators and policy makers. It is even more valuable for parents who maybe 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. This implies the presence and participation of all key stakeholders; the policy makers, the implementers or enforcers of policy and the beneficiaries. 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

Reading Comprehension Strategies refers to the use of different techniques to enable learners understand the meaning of written texts, focussing on techniques a learner can use and take responsibility for themselves. It encompasses techniques that enable learners to contextually comprehend written texts, make summaries, use graphics, develop questioning strategies, monitor their own understanding, and identify difficulties themselves (Higgins, et al., 2016).

Summary of research in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)

Researchers in SSA have critically examined improving literacy through various reading comprehension strategies. There have been a series of experimental studies in the form of randomized control trials aimed at determining relevant strategies for improving the reading abilities in pupils. The majority of these studies were conducted in South Africa.

Interventions aimed at improving reading comprehension in early grades through professional development of teachers and providing materials to students have shown positive outcomes in SSA. Piper (2009) notes that the Systematic Method for Reading Success (SMRS) in South Africa improved outcomes by more than 150% in 4 months. The SMRS involves systematically introducing learners to letter sounds, blending sounds into words, recognizing sight words, learning vocabulary and comprehension skills’ through teacher read-alouds, then reading words in decodable and predictable stories (Piper, 2009). The SMRS has proven successful across West Africa particularly in Niger and Mali. Similarly, an experimental reading improvement trial in the Malandi District in Kenya improved the reading fluency of students in Kiswahili and English language by almost 80% (Crouch, Korda, & Mumo, 2009). Moreover, the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) Programme Evaluation Report for Liberia stipulates that outcomes in reading fluency and comprehension increased by more than 200%, recording effect sizes of almost 0.8 with significant programme impact (Piper & Korda, 2011).

Other studies have explored the importance of technology to improve early literacy skills in SSA. Abrami, Wade, Lysenko, Marsh, & Gioko (2014) examined the impact of interactive, multimedia literacy software (ABRA) on the reading skills of early elementary students in Kenya. They report significant gains in reading comprehension for ABRA students, as measured by standardised literacy test, GRADE. Students in the ABRA programme outperformed their peers in control classes in major end of year exams in English, Mathematics, Social Studies and Science. Using a post-test-only control group experimental design in a study conducted in two schools in the Western Cape province of South Africa, Klapwijk & Du Toit (2009) establish that a blended-learning approach (technology and traditional teaching methods) to strategy instruction improves reading comprehension for learners. It improves computer literacy and multi-literacy abilities.

Following a study of early-grade literacy interventions in some Sub-Saharan African countries (Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Senegal), Trudell, et, al., (2012) conclude, amongst other things, that due to the evidence that successful literacy learning improves learning achievement throughout formal schooling, learning to read and write should be at the heart of primary education curriculum during the early ages. Through an experimental study of 288 English-Second Language (ESL) learners from 24 primary schools in the Free State Province of South Africa, Van Staden (2011) concludes that a combination of direct instructional strategies and reading scaffolding techniques can improve on the literacy and functional academic skills of ESL learners. Van Staden & Bosker (2014) underscore the importance of parental involvement in developing children’s reading skills by highlighting that parental involvement is vital in introducing early literacy activities as a basis of reading literacy for children. The late introduction of advanced reading skills is one of the specific factors associated with poor reading literacy among Grade 4 learners in South Africa. Introducing reading comprehension skills at an early age, including the embedding of reading in all teaching and learning activities, and increased parental engagement at home is therefore recommended (Van Staden & Bosker, 2014).

Through a review of classroom comprehension instruction, Pretorius & Klapwijk (2016) conclude that some teachers may not have clear understandings of reading concepts, reading development and reading methodology. Some researchers note that despite the existence of sufficient evidence on the importance of reading strategies, there is minimal use of strategy instruction in classrooms, suggesting some teachers are reluctant to use these methods (Klapwijk, 2015a; Pretorius & Lephalala, 2011). This can be due to inadequate teacher training because the focus has been on training teachers to teach reading with little attention on teaching comprehension instruction (Klapwijk, 2015b).

The midline report of an impact evaluation of Early Grade Reading Assessment revealed that, the treatment and control groups both fell below the benchmark in all nine subtasks under the pre-reading, initial reading, and reading fluency and comprehension skills, although the treatment group performed slightly better than the comparison group (Nagarajan, 2015). Meanwhile at end line, the Reading comprehension scores for class 1 pupils of the treatment schools was twice as high (21.1%) than their counterparts in control schools (9.8%). This gain in comprehension is attributed to the Primary Math and Reading (PRIMR) intervention The study recorded an effect size of 0.38 (Gathenya, 2014)

Another study investigating the impact of promoting reading comprehension competence among high school learners, found that extensive reading facilitated by reading comprehension strategies instruction led to high achievement in reading comprehension among English as a second language (ESL) high school learners. The same reported that the lack of this strategy, on the other hand, led to low achievement in reading comprehension among ESL high school learners (COLEMAN, 2003).

Another evaluation revealed that the Sepedi language Literacy Program in South Africa had a positive impact on improving Grade 2 learners’ reading skills. Learners in project schools made gains in reading skills from the beginning of Grade 1 to the end of Grade 2 that were 1.5 to two times larger than those of comparison school learners (Phaweni, 2018).


A number of interventions have been implemented to improve reading comprehension amongst learners in some Sub-Saharan African countries. Studies on interventions from some of these SSA countries affirm that reading comprehension strategies (including the use of technology) have large positive outcomes on learners, with some recording effect sizes of almost 0.8 (large positive outcomes). Most of these studies centred around improving reading comprehension in early grade (primary school) and pre-school learners. Some of the studies highlighted the pivotal role of teachers and parents in introducing and facilitating early literacy activities in children at school and home.

However, there are some impediments to effective implementation of reading comprehension strategies, such as the late introduction of advanced reading skills, inadequate teacher training to improve reading skills, and the lack of reading practice materials particularly for children from marginalised backgrounds (Trudell, Dowd, Piper, & Bloch, 2012).

There is need for more evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa to amplify already existing research on reading comprehension strategies. In addition, a synthesis of the available evidence for the continent is a necessity. This would determine the circumstances or contexts within which certain reading comprehension strategies are applicable.

Impact, Security, and Cost of Local Evidence

Overall, the evidence on the impact of reading comprehension strategies shows some strong positive associations between reading comprehension strategies and educational outcomes.

The available evidence is moderate and includes randomized trials, quasi experimental studies as well as observational studies.

Implementing reading comprehension strategies in SSA, particularly the Lake Chad Basin is likely to be moderate.

Search Terms

Reading comprehension strategies, Comprehension instruction, reading assessment, reading skills, language teaching and learning, reading strategy instruction, reading literacy, early grade literacy

Databases Searched


Google Scholar

Research Gate



Abrami, P. C., Wade, A., Lysenko, L., Marsh, J., & Gioko, A. (2014). Using educational technology to develop early literacy skills in Sub Saharan Africa. Educ Inf Technol.

Crouch, L., Korda, M., & Mumo, D. (2009). Improvements in Reading Skills in Kenya: An Experiment in the Malinda District, Washington DC: USAID.

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. Durham Research Online, 56.

Klapwijk, N. M. (2015a). Changing Student Teachers’ views of Comprehensive Instruction through the use of a Comprehensive Instruction Framework. Journal of Language Teaching 49 (1).

Klapwijk, N. M. (2015b). EMC2=Comprehension: A reading strategy instruction framework for all teachers. South African Journal of Education 35 (1).

Klapwijk, N., & Du Toit, R. (2009). Improving Second-language Reading Comprehension through a blended-learning approach to strategy instruction. Mousaion 27 (2).

Piper, B. (2009). Integrated Education Program. Impact Study of SMRS Using Early Grade Reading Assessment in Three Provinces in South Africa. Pretoria: USAID Southern Africa.

Piper, B., & Korda, M. (2011). EGRA Plus: Liberia. Program Evaluation Report. Monrovia: USAID Liberia.

Pretorius, E. J., & Klapwijk, N. (2016). Reading Comprehension in South African Schools: Are teachers getting it, and getting it right? Per Linguam 32 (1).

Pretorius, E. J., & Klapwijk, N. (2016). Reading Comprehension in South African Schools: Are Teachers getting it, and getting it right? Per Linguam 32 (1).

Pretorius, E. J., & Lephalala, M. (2011). Reading Comprehension in High Poverty Schools: How should it be Taught and how well does it work? Per Linguam 27 (2).

Trudell, B., Dowd, A., Piper, B., & Bloch, C. (2012). Early grade literacy in African Classrooms: Lessons learned and future directions. Ouagadougou: Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA).

Van Staden, A. (2011). Putting reading first. Positive effects of direct instruction and scaffolding for ESL learners struggling with reading. Perspectives in Education 29 (4).

Van Staden, S., & Bosker, R. (2014). Factors that affect South African Reading Literacy Achievement. South African Journal of Education, 34 (3).


Dr. Geetha Nagarajan, D. P. (2015). Impact Evaluation of the Early Grade Reading Activity (EGRA). USAID/​Malawi.

Gathenya, D. T. (2014). The Primary Math and Reading (PRIMR) Initiative. USAID/​Kenya.

Phaweni, A. R. (2018). Literacy Program: South Africa. Room to Read.