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Citizen awakenings: early grade reading sustainability for sustainable development in Senegal

Wed, April 17, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Bay (Level 1), Bayview B

Group Submission Type: Refereed Round-Table Session


Having a literate population – one composed of citizens who can read and write – has long been proven to have a direct link to a country’s economic development (Benhabib, J & M. Spiegel, 1994; Blaug, 1966). Research has also shown that it is more important to have as many people as possible in a country be solidly literate than just a minority elite; median literacy scores for a population are a greater predictor of economic growth than the percentage of the citizens with high literacy scores (Coulombe et al, 2014).

Furthermore, many also believe that all human beings have a right to be literate, and that the ability to read and write benefits more than a nation’s gross national product, as UNESCO has stated: “Literacy is a fundamental human right and the foundation for lifelong learning. It is fully essential to social and human development in its ability to transform lives. For individuals, families, and societies alike, it is an instrument of empowerment to improve one’s health, one’s income, and one’s relationship with the world.” Or in the words of one school inspector in Senegal: “teaching children to read is an act which has multiple benefits: educational achievement and exposure to different points of views which lead to critical thinking needed for active citizenship” (Lecture Pour Tous, 2018, Inspection de l’Academie de Kaolack).

Yet the question raised by the Comparative and International Education Society in 2019 remains: “what kind of development is promulgated through literacy”? 193 countries have endorsed literacy as a part of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” for which a primary indicator is the proportion of children in grades two, three and at the end of primary who achieve at least a minimum proficiency level in reading. UNESCO’s Director-General (2015) has also made the case for literacy “as a foundation for cohesive societies and sustainable development.”

To achieve the goals both of broad-based literacy across a country’s citizenry and of sustainable development to which this literacy is to contribute, it is critical to examine what kind of literacy is being promoted and how it is being achieved and sustained at scale. This panel presents applied, conceptual and empirical research related to these questions from the case of Senegal, whose government has recently launched major reforms to achieve early grade literacy at large scale via the Lecture Pour Tous program supported by USAID.

These questions are critical to the field of comparative education and international education development, particularly given the size of current donor and government investments in early grade reading, national and global efforts to achieve the SDGs, and the relative lack of theoretical and other examination of the deeper questions of citizenship related to literacy.

As will be emphasized in the first of this panel’s presentations, a strong foundation in reading and writing during the first three years of school is a critical factor for the success of a child’s learning throughout school and life (Stanovich, 1986). Furthermore, scientific research has shown that children learn better and faster in their first language (UNESCO, 2008); they better understand the vocabulary in written text and through shared dialogue they understand what a teacher says and are more at ease in a classroom Global Campaign for Education (2018). The Senegalese experience piloting the use of national languages in schools since 2009 has produced results (see for instance Klaus, 2015) that reflect the international evidence base for using mother tongue for early grade reading in particular. Now, results from recent early grade reading assessments (EGRA) show that there is much to do to expand the use of new methodologies and materials using national languages to achieve the kind of broad-based literacy sought now in Senegal. The first paper will present applied, empirical and conceptual research on the Senegalese experience, including challenges and strategies for achieving the goal of helping all Senegalese children realize their full potential.

The second paper will present the conceptual framework of the “research-policy-practice nexus” that the Lecture Pour Tous is helping to support in Senegal, and data from recent empirical and applied studies feeding into this framework to inform the Ministry of National Education’s efforts to increase early grade reading outcomes at large scale and to sustain the reforms needed to maintain these gains. The research and policy reforms presented include work on teacher mobility, teacher practice, and new data informing the stabilization of Senegal’s bilingual education model.

The third paper will present the latest applied research from the Senegalese experience of rapidly scaling up early grade reading reforms, and particularly the unique case of the Senegalese government’s experience expanding reforms through direct government-to-government funding and minimal technical assistance in one region alongside its more collaborative implementation of reforms in six other regions. There is a sense of urgency in Senegal to make monumental gains in early grade reading and to do so using national languages, valorizing Senegalese identities and helping to empower citizens who will then be equipped to define sustainable development for themselves.

All panelists are Senegalese educators: one providing the perspective of Senegalese civil society and the national publishing sector and the others providing the perspective of technical leadership within the Ministry of National Education. The discussant, from USAID/Senegal, will provide the perspective of the major international donor investing in these reforms and the importance of the applied learning it seeks to generate from these efforts. Panelists will indeed offer new learning to increase the international evidence base on these issues and the chair, as leader of the Lecture Pour Tous program for USAID, will seek to stimulate a community conversation that will contribute to ongoing early grade literacy reforms in Senegal and around the world.


Benhabib, J & M. Spiegel. (1994). The role of human capital in economic development Evidence from aggregate cross-country data. Journal of Monetary Economics. 34:, 143-173.

Blaug, M. (1966). Literacy and Economic Development. The School Review, 74(4), 393-418. Retrieved from

Coulombe, Serge and J-F Tremblay and Sylvie Marchand. (2004). “Literacy scores, human capital and growth across fourteen OECD countries.” Statistics Canada Catalogue number 89-552-MIE200411.

Global Campaign for Education (2018). The importance of mother tongue education.” Retrieved from:

Klaus, R. (2015). EMiLE Senegal: Case study. Dakar: TrustAfrica. Retrieved from:

Stanovich, Keith E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 360-407

United Nations. (No date.) Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 4. Retrieved from

UNESCO. (September 8, 2015.) “Message from Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO on the occasion of International Literacy Day.” Retrieved from

UNESCO. (2008). Mother tongue matters: Local language as a key to effective learning. Paris: UNESCO. Retrieved from:

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