Numeracy at Scale: Introducing a New Study on Successful, Large-Scale Numeracy Interventions


The Learning at Scale study was designed to identify existing programs with demonstrated impact on foundational learning outcomes at scale. These programs are typically in short supply in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and where they do exist, there has been limited research into how they can be used to inform other programs. The goal of Learning at Scale is to draw on the successful approaches and characteristics of these programs to provide policymakers and development practitioners with evidence-based strategies for improving instruction (and student outcomes) across contexts. This research is being led by RTI International and is part of the Center for Global Development (CGD) education research consortium, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

A focus on numeracy 

Throughout the United Nations’ Transforming Education Summit in September, it was clear that improving foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN) outcomes has become an important part of the policy and planning process for many donors, implementers and policymakers in LMICs. Much of the work in recent decades, however, has been focused more on foundational literacy, and less on numeracy. While this literacy focus has been essential for generating evidence on how to improve reading outcomes at scale in LMICs, there remains a dearth of evidence on successful, large-scale numeracy programs in these contexts.

Studies in high income countries have shown that early math is at least as predictive as reading of later academic achievement in both reading and math. There is also significant evidence about the importance of foundational math skills on high school completion rates and career pathways

Despite this evidence, numeracy outcomes are far lower than they should be in many LMICs—and rapid, sustained (and equitably distributed) improvement is urgently required. The key to this change is understanding how to improve numeracy instruction at large scale. 

Enter phase II of the Learning at Scale study, dubbed “Numeracy at Scale”. 

The selection process

In early 2021, our team undertook a worldwide search for compelling examples of where early-grade math outcomes had been improved at measurable scale. The initial call for programs was posted in January 2021. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was difficult to identify programs that were available to participate in such a study, as they were focusing their efforts on responding to prolonged school closures and other COVID-related impacts.

We then resurfaced the call in early 2022. Initial and follow-up discussions led to the identification of 29 potential programs for consideration. Focusing on programs that had the strongest evidence of “effectiveness” and “scale”, the list was ultimately narrowed down to a final list of six programs. Two of the programs are government-implemented initiatives.

The selected programs constitute six of the most effective, large-scale numeracy-focused programs in LMICs, all of which have rigorous evidence of impact on student outcomes in mathematics. 

Selected Programs for Inclusion in Numeracy at Scale



Lead Implementer


Ganitha Kalika Andolana


Akshara Foundation 

Akshara Foundation 

Nanhi Kali


Nanhi Kali, Educational Initiatives

K.C. Mahindra Education Trust & Naandi Foundation

Early Grade Reading and Mathematics Initiative (RAMP)


RTI International

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)

UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)

Projet d'Appui à la Gestion Participative et Décentralisée de l’écoles (TAFITA)


Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)



El Salvador

Ministerio de Educación de El Salvador, El Salvador


Grade R Maths

South Africa

Western Cape Education Department


Note: RAMP is implemented by RTI International, and RTI is also leading the Learning at Scale research. CGD and RTI have developed processes to ensure the research remains rigorous.

A few reflections

Undertaking this selection process for numeracy programs has led to some reflections (several of which build from our program selection under Learning at Scale): 

1. Numeracy programs remain limited

Because numeracy-focused implementation in LMICs is more nascent than that of literacy, it was difficult to find large-scale programs (at all—let alone those with evidence of impact on student outcomes). As argued in a recent piece in the Financial Times, unless numeracy receives the same level of focus as literacy in low-income countries, we are destined to continue to see numeracy programs and outcomes lagging behind.

2. Unique donor focus on numeracy

Under the first phase of Learning at Scale, we found that the landscape of large-scale literacy programs with evidence of effectiveness was dominated by USAID. As seen in the table above, however, the majority of selected numeracy programs were funded by ‘smaller’ international donors (such as JICA) or local foundations. [Note: Prior to being taken up by the government, ESMATE and R Maths were funded by JICA and local foundations, respectively.] It’s exciting to see this focus on numeracy from these donors but it once again points to numeracy’s backseat position in the early grade development space.

3. Data availability impacted by COVID

Over the past two and a half years, school closures led to changes in program implementation, as well as limited data collection opportunities to measure program impact. Therefore, nearly all of the programs selected for this study were chosen based on evidence generated prior to the pandemic. While rigorous evaluation data has always been important to understand what works, a renewed focus on measuring impacts is essential for the sector to move forward with evidence-based approaches.

4. Government-led programming is on the rise

It’s no secret that transfer of responsibility from external implementers to government actors remains an elusive prospect in most LMICs. When Learning at Scale began, there was little to no evidence of government-sustained programming in these contexts. However, we are now able to identify two effective programs that were initiated by implementing partners, which have been fully taken-up by governments (in South Africa and El Salvador). This is an incredibly promising trend for the development community, which has the goal of ultimately working itself out of a job.

The next step in the Numeracy at Scale study is for us to conduct primary data collection activities (at the school, program and system level) to better understand the essential components of the successful, large-scale numeracy interventions selected for this activity. That effort is currently underway and will continue for the next several months. We are very interested in finding out more about what these programs do in classrooms, how they support teachers, and how they interact with government systems in order to ensure large-scale impact on learning.

We will continue to provide updates to the broader education community through blogs, briefs and dissemination events, as we move forward with this research.

Improving learning at scale is very hard, but we are excited to discover how these six programs did it and to help others learn from them.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.