COVID-19 affected all USAID/Philippines projects, perhaps none more so than ABC+. USAID co-developed ABC+ with the Philippine DepEd and Research Triangle Institute International (RTI) to respond to the challenges of early literacy development in mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE). This five-year (2019–2024) project aims to improve early grade reading and emphasizes using mother tongue languages to transition learning in Filipino and English for children in kindergarten to grade 3. It also supports a more solid acquisition of foundational mathematical concepts and skills and aims to improve social and emotional learning. However, just four weeks after ABC+ began implementing its work plan, the Philippines government closed all schools for in-person learning. Schools did not re-open until the 2022–2023 school year. ABC+’s operating context changed dramatically, forcing it to rapidly adapt its implementation strategy.

In the fall of 2022, as schools began to re-open, USAID/Philippines requested CLAimDev to complete a midterm performance evaluation to assess whether ABC+’s results, in the dramatically altered context, supported the underlying activity TOC and to uncover unanticipated or unintended outcomes, positive and negative, as a result of the changed implementation context.

The evaluation used both qualitative and quantitative methods to answer the evaluation questions related to ABC+’s relevance, effectiveness, and sustainability, and used outcome harvesting to reveal outcomes not envisioned by the TOC. The data collection methods included electronic surveys for individuals, KIIs with implementing partners and the DepEd’s central, regional, and division offices to probe system capacity, FGDs, outcome harvesting and most significant change workshops on early grade instruction and delivery and access to materials, and a case study for in-depth analysis of home learning partners (HLPs) and private sector engagement.

  • Relevance

    To what extent does the innovation introduced by ABC+ on improved early grade instruction and delivery, improved access to quality materials, and improved education capacity and commitment to manage and implement interventions supporting early grade instruction correspond with the objectives of the DepEd of the Philippines (priorities, policies, the needs, and the practical requirements)?

    The evaluation results show that ABC+’s work during the pandemic and as schools re-opened in 2022 was closely aligned to the objectives of the DepEd, particularly in learning continuity and recovery. As schools grappled with remote learning and the new demands of education, ABC+ supported schools’ learning continuity programs by producing and distributing millions of supplemental reading materials to support reading practice. ABC+ teacher training also provided teachers with strategies they applied in preparing the modules for learners. ABC+ ensured that instructional materials were distributed on time with the help of stakeholders. Teacher training and materials development continued during the pandemic through online platforms and virtual communication.

    The pandemic heightened the need for teacher training and materials development, and ABC+’s ability to supply these was critical because regular teacher training stopped, and schools did not have adequate resources to support developing the reading skills of remote learners. ABC+’s focus on teaching training and materials development for remote literacy instruction produced the unexpected outcome of a ripple effect of trained grade K–3 teachers training intermediate-grade teachers in their school and early grade teachers in other schools. Another unexpected outcome was that children benefited from having ABC+ reading materials at home. Before the pandemic, children were not allowed to bring home instructional materials. The evaluation team found that the ABC+ materials benefited not only the learners but also their siblings and parents, some of whom were illiterate and learned to read along with their children.

  • Effectiveness

    To what extent did ABC+ achieve its outputs and outcomes in the three IRs on improved early grade instruction and delivery, improved access to quality materials, and improved education capacity and commitment to manage and implement interventions supporting early grade instruction?

    Even in the context of the pandemic, ABC+’s use of an agile program model allowed for positive results. It quickly adjusted to ensure achievement of intended outputs and outcomes. Although ABC+ implemented its planned activities in an alternative format, their delivery still demonstrated fidelity to the program design.
    ABC+ helped learners to read in their mother tongue and in the Filipino language through provision of contextualized, localized, age- and developmentally appropriate supplemental reading materials; training home learning partners to teach their children at home; and teacher training to design and implement early grade instruction using the science of reading, workshops, and monitoring.

    An unintended outcome that enhanced ABC+ effectiveness is the learning recovery plan, which is beginning to show results. ABC+ provided technical support to develop the recovery plan which is contributing to improved instruction and access to quality materials.

  • Sustainability

    Will the achievements in improved early grade reading, math, and social and emotional skills for children in early grades persist after the project’s conclusion?

    Evaluating sustainability during a midterm performance evaluation is difficult, particularly when the context for the first half of the project (school closures and shift to remote learning) differs from the context of the second half of the project (school re-opening and focus on learning recovery). However, a critical indication that ABC+’s outcomes are likely to be sustainable is the resilience built during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic through the commitment of all education stakeholders.

    ABC+ helped created this commitment through its consistent and continuous capacitation of teachers, including monitoring and evaluation using accessible technology; continuous innovations in teaching and learning modalities; and the continuous robust support system provided by various stakeholders to sustain ABC+ program interventions. ABC+ and DepEd collaboration with other government agencies, the private sector, and community stakeholders is an excellent means to achieve continuity of the designed training program (i.e., pre-service and in-service), reproduction and distribution of supplemental reading materials, and improvement of physical infrastructure and facilities.