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Widespread school safety issues, including school-related gender-based violence, have been linked to lower attendance and retention rates. While some evidence suggests SRGBV may affect learning outcomes, few scientific studies have explored that link in Sub-Saharan African countries. The performance and impact evaluation of the Literacy Achievement and Retention Activity (P&IE LARA) provides much needed information on intervention impacts and the potential links between SRGBV, retention and learning. Exploring the causal pathways and impacts of SRGBV on retention and learning is critical for future interventions.
LARA is a 5-year (2015-2020) USAID-funded initiative to improve reading skills for 1.3 million primary school learners in 28 districts in Uganda. LARA works through the Government of Uganda toward two results: (a) improved capacity to deliver early grade reading in three local languages and English, and (b) improved retention in primary grades (P1–P4), through reduced SRGBV resulting in safer schools, both contributing to an overall aim of improved reading skills.
NORC at the University of Chicago designed a mixed-methods evaluation combining a cluster randomized controlled trial (CRCT) and qualitative methods. Data collection includes: early grade reading assessments (EGRA); student, caregiver, teacher, and head teacher surveys; a school safety inventory tool; classroom observations; and focus group discussions with caregivers, students, and teachers. Surveys include instruments for primary school learners, teachers and head-teachers. SRGBV measures included learner characteristics, disabilities, distance to school, attitudes toward gender norms, protective assets, and exposure to emotional, physical and sexual violence by school staff, peers, relatives, community members or strangers in the past year, and ever. A team of 24 psychosocial counselors accompanied each data collection team, providing one session, information on assistance and referral. The team further monitored child protection responses for a period of two months following baseline and midline data collection.
The SRGBV baseline data show that strong gender inequitable attitudes prevail in school. Learners disclosed the highest levels of physical violence in school, followed by emotional and then sexual violence. Focus group discussions also revealed that incidences of sexual violence are primarily against girls, and perpetrated by men teachers and boys. Finally, even though learners know whom to report to when they experience violence in schools, few expressed knowledge of any child protection referral mechanism or services outside of school.
After two years of program implementation, NORC at the University of Chicago is evaluating the impact of LARA. We are collecting SRGBV, student reading performance, and attendance data this year. We will present our approach to SRGBV measurement, referral system, and evaluation findings to date.