Social and economic effects on primary pupils’reading achievement: findings from Southern and East Africa

Type Working Paper
Title Social and economic effects on primary pupils’reading achievement: findings from Southern and East Africa
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2010
This study goes beyond the well-established link between pupils? socio-economic status (SES) and
their achievement in school through investigating what material resources in the home and social
influences give primary school students an advantage in learning to read. This is done through
investigating the pupil characteristics that correlate with reading achievement in the second wave of
data collected by the Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality
(SACMEQ) in 2000-2. The study focuses on six low income countries (Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique,
Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia) and four small middle income Southern African states (Botswana,
Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland). The variables investigated are divided into four themes: pupil
individual background (e.g. gender, school location, frequency of use of language of instruction
outside of school); living conditions (e.g. access to water and electricity, number of meals eaten in a
day); educational resources and support for learning in the home (e.g. access to books and interest
of adults in education); and social influences (e.g. parental education, peer influence).
Some well-known associations between pupil background factors are confirmed, such as the
advantage of speaking the language of instruction outside of school, progressing through primary
school without repeating a year, being well-nourished and having parents with post-basic levels of
education. With respect to these variables, the study offers a nuanced understanding of these
dependencies and some of their interactions within the East and Southern African region.
Interactions between gender and location revealed complex patterns of dependency. Individual
repetition and the peer effect of having large numbers of repeaters in a school has a greater impact
in the small Southern African states than the larger low income countries. Children who ate less than
two meals a day were very strongly disadvantaged. Resources available to learners in the home that
support reading and writing, such as books, artificial lighting and, in some countries, a table, were
associated with higher achievement. However, other indicators of SES that are not useful in reading
and writing, such as quality of building materials used in the home and access to water or electricity,
were either insignificant or had only a very small effect in a limited number of countries.

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