Persistence and Emergence of Literacy Skills: Long-Term Impacts of an Effective Early Grade Reading Intervention in South Africa

Developing countries strongly emphasize enhancing foundational reading skills, with the expectation that such improvements will catalyze the development of new cognitive abilities and lead to improved life outcomes. However, the relationship between early educational gains and later-life achievements remains theoretically complex and evidence is lacking, particularly from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This paper examines the long-term impacts of an early grade literacy intervention that was implemented in South Africa in Setswana language from 2015 to 2017. A unique feature of our study is the longitudinal tracking and assessment of the same group of students over a 7-year period, extending up to 4 years post-intervention. We find sustained improvements in Setswana oral reading fluency, indicating the lasting impact of the intervention. Moreover, treated students exhibited enhanced Setswana and English written comprehension skills, signifying the emergence of new skills. Grade progression also improved, potentially reducing dropout rates, and facilitating transitions to secondary education. This study contributes to the limited literature on the long-term causal impacts of early literacy investments in LMICs, suggesting potential for enduring educational benefits and improved later-life outcomes.

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