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Improving Early Grade Reading Instruction through a scalable professional development modality

place South Africa

Fostering reading in home language by strengthening teachers and promoting supportive schools

In South Africa many children cannot read for meaning. This innovation uses a cost-effective and scalable approach to improve Early Grade Reading Instruction, through blended Teacher Professional Development (TPD) and Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). The model provides an alternative for face-to-face training and on-site coaching, proven to be effective but difficult to implement at scale



HundrED shortlisted this innovation

HundrED has shortlisted this innovation to one of its innovation collections. The information on this page has been checked by HundrED.

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Target group
May 2024
By strengthening teachers' knowledge, skills, and attitudes for early grade reading instruction through scalable blended teacher professional development models, every 10-year-old in South Africa can read for meaning in their home language. Informed by research on the innovation, government actors use, scale and insitutionalise these models at district, provincial and national level.

About the innovation

Why did you create this innovation?

The South African government has developed comprehensive strategies to improve reading and has prioritised support to teachers to improve early grade reading instruction in home language. Implementation, however, is hampered by low resources for teacher professional development. This intervention tests the potential of a scalable TPD model, that takes into account the systems available resources

What does your innovation look like in practice?

The intervention is implemented by the Department of Education in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, which is quite uniformly isiZulu speaking. Online professional development materials for Foundation Phase teachers and for school leadership (supportive environment) and the blended TPD approach were developed in collaboration with the department. The TPD model consists of orientation sessions (separate for school leaders and for teachers); self-study by the participants of the modules released in phases; teacher-initiated Professional Learning Communities to discuss how to put the learned into practice; and check-in moments of the PLC coordinators with the district officials in between the release-phases. School Management Teams from the same schools, engage in self-study in a school leaders’ course with limited online check-in sessions with district officials. A Cost-Effectiveness Analysis is used to weigh up the costs and outcomes of the intervention against alternative initiatives.

How has it been spreading?

VVOB has been supporting the Department around PLCs since 2013 and online/blended TPD since 2019. Combining these components in an integrated TPD model was started in the 2021. Currently, the early grade reading instruction intervention is being implemented by district teams in a pilot phase in 2024. During the pilot, over 1300 users were progressing through the teachers’ course; and close to 300 users through the leaders’ course. Further scaling of the intervention by the department in KZN is planned for 2025 and 2026, with adaptions based on learnings from the pilot. All the intervention materials (online courses and facilitation packs) are Open Educational Resources and are accessible to the public through a learning management system that has over 30.000 users in South Africa

If I want to try it, what should I do?

The development of scalable TPD models within the system requires contextual approaches that have the potential to reach target groups cost-effectively and align with the TPD vision and policies of the system. Use approaches that combine support by trainers or officials with school-level support and school-level teacher-driven opportunities for learning such as PLCs.

Implementation steps

Three pillars of the Early Grade Reading Instruction innovation
1. Mapping, development and validation of professional development materials for teachers and school leaders on early grade reading instruction in home language.
2. Improving the quality and delivery of professional development models for teachers and school leaders through blended professional development and support to professional learning communities.
3. Building an evidence-base on effectiveness and cost of such professional development interventions, to inform scale-up strategies.

Spread of the innovation

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