Improving Foundational Learning Outcomes in Kenya, Nigeria, Mozambique and Sierra Leone - Lessons from Ceará State in Brazil

Key Contact
Saamira Halabi
Start Date
End Date
Funding Amount
$ 70,000
Knowledge-providing Countries
Knowledge-receiving Countries


Knowledge exchange and peer learning activities were carried out for education officials from Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria (Edo state & national government) and Sierra Leone seeking to learn from the Ceará state in Brazil. Despite representing different continents and national contexts, the participating governments are encountering similar challenges to those faced by Ceará state in the late 1990s and early 2000 on extremely high levels of learning poverty (proportion of children aged 10 who cannot read an age-appropriate short text). The objectives of the exchange were to better understand how the state of Ceará transformed its education system and dramatically improved its foundational learning outcomes despite limited resources. The knowledge exchange took place from March 27- 31, 2023.

Main topics explored during the knowledge exchange were:

  • What contributes to the success of foundational learning reforms in high learning poverty, low resource settings with focus on reforms around literacy, teacher training, learning assessments, school management and recruitment and incentive schemes.
  • What countries in Africa can learn from a state such as Ceará in Brazil.

A five-day study tour, organized by the Accelerator Program, inspired the African officials to focus on tackling learning poverty as they implement ambitious education reform programs in their own countries and states.



Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Mozambique and Kenya, like most African countries, are facing a learning crisis. In sub-Saharan Africa, learning poverty, defined as the share of children unable to read and understand an age-appropriate text by age 10, is estimated at over 89% by the World Bank. The Accelerator Program is seeking to tackle this trend of learning poverty by working with a subset of governments that are committed to improving their foundational learning outcomes, through a mix of focus, technical support, and contextually appropriate, evidence-based interventions. Representatives of the four governments who visited Ceará were among the first cohort of Accelerator member countries and states.


The state of Ceará improved foundational learning at an accelerated pace in the last decade. Sixteen years ago, 33 percent of second graders in this Brazil’s ninth-poorest state could not read; today that number is only 0.5 percent. In the municipality of Sobral, where the state’s education reform began, literacy rates rose from 52 percent in 2015 to 92 percent in 2021—elevating learning outcomes to some of the country’s highest levels. The mission, supported by the South-South Facility, aimed to disentangle the key aspects that led to this change and that can be adapted in the African countries’ context. It became clear to the delegations that many of the reforms that Ceará implemented were not costly and relied more on the commitment by the policy makers and focus given to the learning results than on financial resources.

Lessons Learned

In the five days of the study tour, traveling across the state of Ceará, it was clear that all key actors (secretariat, principals, teachers) were consistent in their hyperfocus on improving the foundational skills of all the children in the state. The key lessons included:

  1. Starting the reforms in grades 1 and 2 with clear literacy targets is fundamental to achieving quick gains.
  2. Assessment of learning is indispensable to guide the interventions.
  3. In the context of Ceará, using structured materials with guided teaching plans makes teachers more effective in improving learning.
  4. Peer coaching, in-service teacher training, and close relationship between school management and teachers effectively contributes to teachers' quality.
  5. Incentive mechanisms (e.g., financial, awards, recognition) can motivate and improve outcomes.

Beneficiaries / Participants


Permanent secretary

National Director of Planning and Cooperation

National Director of Primary Education

National Director of Management and Quality Guarantee

National Director of Teacher Training

Director General of INDE

Advisor to the Minister

MINEDH Focal Point Project Moz Learning on Diplac

Department Head at DNFP

Department Head at DINEP

Department Head at DNGGQ

INDE Technique



Director General of Education

Director of Education


Sierra Leone

Education Advisor to the Minister

Chair, Teaching Service Commission



Deputy Executive Secretary, Universal Basic Education Commission

Chief Education Officer, Basic Education, Federal Ministry of Education

Deputy Director of Basic Education, Federal Ministry of Education

Chairman of the Edo State Universal Basic Education Board, Nigeria

World Bank Contribution

The knowledge exchange took place within the framework of the Accelerator Program, led by the World Bank and UNICEF with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics, and USAID. The program aims to demonstrate that with focus, the proper technical support, and contextually appropriate, evidence-based intervention, it is possible for governments to improve foundational learning outcomes at an accelerated pace and scale. A priority of the Accelerator program is to encourage member governments to engage in south-to-south knowledge exchanges to learn from each other and other countries’ successes. Ceará offered an ideal model for participating countries to learn from.

Moving forward

Overall, the participants were extremely satisfied with the lessons they learned during the study tour in the state of Ceara. The knowledge exchange presented the delegates with solutions they indicated that they will be implementing in their own countries and states. They highlighted the following as the key take-aways for them to address in their own countries:

  • Giving autonomy to states, municipalities, and particularly schools for them to be able to adjust to specific needs.
  • Supporting teamwork between teachers and supporting staff.
  • Using assessment data regularly and effectively to improve teaching practices and take corrective action when needed.
  • Cultivating a well-prepared, motivated teaching force through continuous professional development and incentives; providing school-based teacher training.
  • Recruiting school leaders based on merit.
  • Reimagining education finance to provide incentives to local authorities and other stakeholders.
  • Giving attention to student absences with strong follow-up.
  • Strengthening special needs education by including special caretakers in addition to assistant teachers, as well as sign language interpreters where needed.
  • Introducing technology and evidence-based learning materials into the classroom; ensuring that all students have their own textbooks for reading, numeracy, and all other subjects.


Mrs. Eyitayo Salami, Chairman of the Edo State Universal Basic Education Board said she came away from the visit “with not just learning but action points.” She was planning to explore linking incentives to goals the same way Ceara has: “How do we tie all the reforms that we have initiated into an incentive that makes our reforms take off to the point that we can see the results that we actually want to achieve”.  

Mrs. Joy Ene Onoka, Nigeria’s Deputy Director of Basic Education, added to the lessons that the Nigerian delegation will take back. While Nigeria holds annual campaigns aimed at ensuring all children are enrolled in school, the country still faces challenges with out-of-school children. “Today I have discovered that you don’t just call their parents; you go to their homes to look for them, to know why they are not in school, so that is really a lot of follow up,” Mrs. Onoka said. We can also “do more in following up, so that [children] in fact keep on attending schools throughout the year.”  


During the study tour in Brazil (March 27-31, 20230, the African delegation met with Ceará's Vice Governor, the State Secretary of Education, Sobral’s current and former mayors, and other officials; and visited schools in the municipalities of Eusébio, Pires Ferreira, and Sobral.

Ceará State strategies


In the initial discussions with the vice governor, the Secretary of Education of Ceará, and the Institute for Research and Economic Strategy of Ceará (IPECE) the officials emphasized that the key to success is sustained political leadership. This means making education improvement a priority, developing strategies for planning and monitoring, and providing the needed resources.

The key strategy Ceará used to improve their results was an incentive scheme. The state implemented an incentives program for municipal governments, with the financial resources received by the municipalities being conditional on learning, measured by assessments. Other incentive mechanisms complement this policy, such as the state prize Escola Nota 10, which rewards schools that have achieved their learning goals.

During a workshop with the State Secretary of Education staff, the visiting delegations learned about the importance of regular monitoring, not only for the incentive mechanisms, but also for targeted action. Ceará’s government representatives explained how the external learning assessment functions in the state and how these assessments inform curriculum, teaching practices, school management, and student support (especially for low-performing students).

During the workshop, it was also shown that the state’s technical assistance provided to municipal school networks is vital in promoting foundational skills. For example, structured learning materials are publicly available [1]  for all municipalities and are well-aligned with learning standards and targets. The state has also provided a curriculum aligned with the National Standards (BNCC) to guide municipalities. Despite the state’s assistance, full autonomy with results-based accountability is granted to municipalities, which in turn replicate the strategies with their own schools.


Municipal strategies

The African delegation visited three other municipalities with higher performance in IDEB: Eusébio – a city in the metropolitan region of Fortaleza -; Pires Ferreira – a small municipality with 11 thousand inhabitants--; and Sobral – well-known for the successfully implemented reforms. The delegates discussed with the mayors and the Secretaries of Education of those municipalities and visited seven schools in these three municipalities.

One common strategy used in these municipalities is a focused curriculum that clearly states the expected learning outcomes by the end of each grade and is aligned with the state curricula. The structured materials and the teacher's lesson plan are aligned with the curricula, and teachers use them as a basis for their weekly planning. When the mission's delegates visited the schools in these municipalities, teachers reported that they are happy to use structured materials as they are free to use them as needed, so they represent a resource that can be complemented with other materials.

During the visits, it was also possible to see a number of highly motivated and prepared teachers. The in-service teacher training provided by the municipal secretary and the close relationship between school management and teachers contribute to teachers' quality. Another strategy is peer coaching, where the pedagogical coordinator conducts classroom observation and reviews lesson plans before implementation, providing teachers with feedback. Also, teachers receive monetary and social recognition based on their capacity to ensure their students' performance.

Another strategy used by all levels -teachers, pedagogical coordinators, schools' principals, and municipal secretary of education- is the effective use of student assessment. Teachers clearly understand what to assess and the purpose of the evaluations. In some schools, teacher assesses what the students have learned at the end of every week so they can plan the lessons for next week. The schools have several external exams during the year, which the pedagogical school staff uses to target competencies that should be further developed and the students most in need.

Lastly, the municipality of Sobral and Eusébio have a meritocratic selection of principals through a rigorous and transparent process that recognizes classroom practice and leadership skills. There is clarity on what is expected by a principal, including performance targets for the schools and teacher management.   However, the school management is autonomous and accountable. In Sobral, schools also have the autonomy to manage their financial resources, which promotes efficiency gains for both the school and the municipality. The latter focuses on providing pedagogical and managerial support to the schools rather than micromanaging the school budget.




List of Ceará state government and municipal government representatives who met with the African delegation


State of Ceará

Governor of the State of Ceará (acting)

Special Advisor to the Governor

Secretary of Education

Executive Secretary of Cooperation with Municipalities

Executive Secretary of Regionalization and Modernization

Director of Economic Studies, Institute for Research and Economic Strategy (IPECE)

IPECE Public Policy Analyst


Municipality of Eusébio

Eusébio Education Secretary


Municipality of Pires Ferreira

Mayor of Pires Ferreira

Pires Ferreira Education Secretary



Municipality of Sobral

Mayor of Sobral

Sobral Education Secretary