Youth Volunteers Can Contribute to Significant Reading Gains
Evidence from the HYVALL project in Senegal
The Harnessing Youth Volunteers as Literacy Leaders (HYVALL) project in Senegal was a two-year education program financed by USAID. The program was designed to assess the impact of continuous tutoring in literacy by community youth volunteers, for students considered to be at risk for poor literacy development. 395 local volunteers were trained in the application of literacy activities and 6,260 students participated in project activities.The program tested a theory of change which posited that weekly support to students by community volunteers using structured lesson plans and appropriately leveled reading materials would result in significant gains in literacy for these students. The evaluation explored the potential links between specific elements of the intervention and student reading gains, specifically:
- volunteers' fidelity of implementation of tutoring sessions and home visits,
- students' home-reading activities and attendance at HYVALL sessions, and
- community members' perceptions of their roles in children's literacy development.
A sample of 600 students was randomly selected from 19 of the 30 HYVALL schools and their identified "comparison" counterpart schools (10 intervention and 9 comparison) at baseline. The study was designed to longitudinally track these students to measure their gains at the end of the intervention period. Just over a half of the sample (332 students, 205 intervention, 127 comparison) of the original baseline sample participated in the endline testing; the remaining 268 students were not tested at the endline because they had gone onto secondary school and could not be tracked.
Overall, students who participated in the HYVALL intervention exhibited dramatically larger gains in their fluency and reading comprehension from baseline to endline than their comparison group counterparts (p<.001). These results suggest that an intervention like HYVALL, which gives students opportunities for reading instruction outside the school setting (increasing time on task), provides regular one-on-one tutoring and mentoring, and encourages parents' involvement in the reading development of their children, can lead to significant student improvement in reading.