Global Education Program

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
$5m to grow evidence-based solutions to improve foundational literacy and numeracy

What's the problem?

While school enrollment has increased in low- and middle-income countries over the past few decades, actual learning outcomes have stagnated or even declined. 9 in 10 children in high-income countries can read by the age of 10, while in sub-Saharan Africa 9 in 10 children cannot, despite a majority completing 4 years of primary school. Improved educational outcomes are associated with improved life outcomes in terms of higher wages.

What are we funding?

Our award will support the Global Education team to fund grantees who are developing and improving highly effective education interventions. These interventions — namely remediation, structured pedagogy, and teaching at the right level — have been shown to improve foundational literacy and numeracy in low- and middle-income countries.

In addition, some of the team’s grantees are providing technical assistance to help countries and large education funders (such as the World Bank and UNICEF) support the adoption of these interventions at scale.

Why are we funding it?

The scale of the problem in foundational literacy and numeracy outcomes is vast. Education is valuable in its own right, but Open Philanthropy’s primary way of comparing support for education with other grantmaking opportunities is through evaluating the income effects of additional years of learning.

Our research on education shows increasing convergence on a handful of approaches, particularly structured pedagogy and teaching at the right level, as having unusually high impacts on learning. The main challenge that we see is achieving these gains at scale. One example of success at scale is Tusome in Kenya, which has reached 7 million children so far. Tusome focused on four interventions to improve literacy outcomes: 

  • Enhancing teachers’ capacity to effectively deliver classroom instruction
  • Improving schools' access to appropriate books and other learning materials
  • Expanding instructional support and supervision
  • Collaborating with other literacy actors throughout all levels of the education system

Follow-up research showed that the percentage of Class 2 children (typically 7-8 years old) meeting benchmarks increased dramatically in English (from 34% to 65% attainment) and Kiswahili (from 37% to 66%). Although the evidence is not from a randomized experiment, which would enable a simpler causal reading, the average scores increased 0.6-1.0 standard deviations on English and Kiswahili learning outcomes. Even allowing for somewhat smaller effects over time, these results show that it’s possible to achieve large gains at scale.

We use a "hits-based" approach in our funding: although relatively few programs achieve the success at scale of Tusome, even a modest increase in the chance of large impacts on learning through this funding justifies making the investment. Grantees funded by the Global Education team are uniquely well-positioned to do this work thanks to their expertise and networks, and they are strongly aligned with Open Philanthropy’s approach to using and valuing evidence.

What would success look like?

We hope to see many different countries begin to adopt highly effective, evidence-based education interventions with help from grantees funded by the Global Education team. Once these interventions are successfully piloted, we hope that major multilateral funders will step up to help countries scale them to millions of students. Over time, we hope to see foundational literacy and numeracy outcomes improve such that many more children in Africa and South Asia are able to read and have basic numeracy skills.