Before starting any new intervention, we must measure whatever it is we’re trying to change. Getting this baseline means we know the situation when we started and can see if there’s any improvement later on.
After arriving in Gondar, before getting off to any of the schools, monitoring was therefore where we started work. A version of the ‘Library and Literacy’ project has been run further south in Africa, where it was monitored by Mark Smith of SEDFA. We inherited ideas on monitoring from him, including looking for changes in; library use, number of books, child literacy rates, teaching methods and library facilities and activities.
This is a comprehensive package that should ensure we have data somewhere in the ‘Goldilocks zone’ of monitoring. Too close to the change you are making and your measured improvement will be meaningless (such as measuring the numbers of posters in a classroom before and after a project to supply classrooms with posters), too abstract and you won’t see a change (measuring well-being in the local community before and after a re-roofing project).
For me, the most exciting measurement we’ve been taking was recording children’s literacy rates. Although my enthusiasm perhaps wasn’t quite as fresh after seeing if we could coax the a “cat” out of the 129th, it was great to see where literacy levels were, wonderful to see the odd brilliant pupil and really useful to have valuable baseline data to be able to measure a tangible change as a result of the project.
It is very difficult to measure a ‘culture of reading’, or the value placed on reading (although interviews and numbers of books taken out of the library will give you a clue), but we can measure literacy rates. They won’t measure the ultimate aim of Link’s projects – to create better educated pupils with better prospects who’s work will benefit their country, but it’ll go a long way to deciding if the project is worth expanding and repeating.
Something our baseline data unequivocally showed, was that work needs to be done. Not a single child in the Bishoftu region got a comprehension question right. Very few managed in Gondar. Few across the country knew the sounds of English letters, and hence even fewer could blend those sounds to form words. The more ingenious ones guessed at unfamiliar words, reading ‘son’ as ‘eight’ if they’d spotted the word ‘seven’ before it. They didn’t get extra credit, though perhaps they should?
We’ll measure the same children’s literacy (some from intervention schools, some from control schools) again in February and June. If the project’s working, we’ll see higher literacy levels in our project schools compared to our controls. I don’t doubt the project at all…but if you’ve got a spare toe, keep it crossed for Link Ethiopia.