Testing Pakistani Children on Reading for a Brighter Future

MSI completed the largest baseline early grade reading assessment (EGRA) in Pakistan.

The global education community has focused primarily on getting children into school. Although progress is being made against the Millennium Development Goal of primary school enrollment, development practitioners are also focused on the quality of that education.

While regular testing occurs in the U.S. to measure progress in learning, the challenges of assessing learning are even more compounded in a country like Pakistan, with insurgency and infrastructure.

Despite these hurdles, USAID/Pakistan embarked recently on an ambitious reading baseline using the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA), a tool developed by the USAID and the World Bank. The findings will be used by USAID to help counterparts in Pakistan, including the Ministry of Education, determine how best to meet reading needs and what investments need to be made. USAID/Pakistan has an ambitious five-year national education project focused on improving reading skills of primary school students.

MSI completed the baseline assessment, the largest ever conducted. Our team tested 31,472 students in grades 3 and 5 from 1,120 schools in 40 districts, which spread across all eight provinces, areas and territories of Pakistan. MSI was responsible for all aspects of this assessment, from design to field work to analysis. MSI’s approach was built on the foundation of partnership, flexibility and local buy-in. The assessment team was comprised of a strong partnership between MSI, School-to-School International, and five local research organizations.

The EGRA assessment was part of the MSI-implemented Pakistan M&E program, which covers the $4 billion portfolio spanning 100 projects. This project monitored and evaluated to improve effectiveness and sustainability of development efforts in Pakistan, as well as to increase the efficiency and performance of all USAID partners.

Building the Skills of Local Partners
Our team trained 512 Pakistani test administrators in an intense week-long training. Some of those trained graduated to becoming quality control officers for the EGRA.

MSI also coached local partner organizations through developing the best systems to deal with setbacks and problems from data collection. For each of these data collection groups, the EGRA assignment was their largest project ever.

As a result, each of these organizations now has a greater capacity to handle data collection assignments.

A Nimble Approach
The EGRA ran up against major natural and other obstacles — an earthquake, a worker’s strike, a flood and schools in distant areas. These obstacles required our team to be nimble so as to react and adjust to whatever problems arose.

For the data collection, we combined SMS and other technologies to minimize risk while gaining reliable data. This process ensured that the data captured accurately reflected what was recorded in the field.

Local Government Buy-in
From the beginning, we involved each provincial and district government in the process. We took at least one local official from each school district with us for a day of data collection so they would be familiar with the process. As a result, when we presented our findings, officials were familiar with the process and were vested in the results.