Reading Development in LMICs: Insights from rural Côte d'Ivoire

Reading Development in LMICs: Insights from rural Côte d'Ivoire

First Author: Kaja Jasinska -- University of Delaware
Additional authors/chairs: 
Ben Zinszer; Fabrice Tanoh; Joelle Hannon-Cropp; Hermann Akpe; Axel Blahoua; Elise Kouadio
Keywords: developing country, educational neuroscience, Neuroimaging, French, Learning to read
Abstract / Summary: 

30% of youth and 41% of adults in sub-Saharan Africa are illiterate, and millions of children in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) struggle to learn to read (World Bank, 2018).
Despite this literacy crisis, researchers understand little about how children’s access to quality education in LMICs impacts reading development. We examined reading development in children at high-risk of illiteracy, focusing on children in rural farming communities in Cote d’Ivoire. Specifically, we measured language, reading development, and activation in brain networks that support skilled reading. 839 primary-school children aged 6-14 years (1st, 3rd, 5th grades) completed language (French, local language: Attie/Baoule/Bete/Abidji) and literacy assessments (EGRA). Additionally, 67 children completed a print-speech task while undergoing fNIRS neuroimaging (reading and listening to words, pseudowords, false fonts/vocoded speech). Most children were unable to read. However, phonological awareness in French (b=0.33, p<.01) and the local language (b=0.34, p<.01) positively predicted reading outcomes. Children with the poorest reading ability (<20% letter identification accuracy) showed greater activation for false-fonts vs. words in left IFG, suggesting the reading circuit is not yet fully sensitive to orthographic and lexical information, even by 5th grade. Crucially, this pattern of activation differs from younger children at comparable reading skills as reported elsewhere in the literature (e.g., Chyl et al. 2018). Understanding how the developing brain responds to high-risk environments and poor quality education can help researchers identify neurodevelopmental periods when targeted educational interventions can have maximal impact on learning outcomes.