Newswise — NAIROBI, Kenya— Primary school literacy rates in Kenya can be improved through the Primary Mathematics and Reading initiative, according to a journal article by researchers at RTI International and Florida State University.

The study, published in the July 2014 issue of the International Journal of Educational Development, found that the Primary Mathematics and Reading (PRIMR) initiative increased oral reading fluency, reading comprehension and the proportion of children who could read at a set benchmark within one year of implementation.

The initiative is led by Kenya's Ministry of Education, Science & Technology, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the British Department for International Development, with technical leadership from RTI International.

"While primary-level education participation is high in Kenya, literacy outcomes remain poor in the country and the sub-Saharan Africa region as a whole," said Benjamin Piper, Ph.D., chief of party of the PRIMR initiative and co-author of the article. "Our findings show that focused interventions such as the PRIMR initiative can have significant impacts on literacy outcomes."

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), countries in sub-Saharan Africa have the lowest youth literacy rate in the world.

PRIMR is a three-year program focused on improving reading and mathematics in grades 1 and 2 by aligning learning materials, classroom instruction and teacher practices with current research, offering continuous instructional support and feedback, and providing basic instructional materials for teachers and English and Kiswahili books for students.

The study examined the program's effect on literacy outcomes in formal government schools and low-cost nonformal private schools serving slum communities in Kenya, and how the effect differed by language.

Researchers found that students who participated in the initiative were approximately two times more likely to read at the benchmark than students who did not participate in the initiative. The first-year impact of PRIMR was observed to be larger in nonformal schools than in formal public schools.

The findings also indicate that the PRIMR interventions led to modest improvements in children's reading comprehension. The program had a greater impact on Kiswahili reading comprehension than on English reading comprehension, in both grades and both school settings.