CODE – 2019 SDG Leadership Awards



Industry: Education

Primary SDG Focus



How was your primary SDG focus identified and prioritized in the company’s value chain?

For 60 years, CODE has worked to promote inclusive and quality education for all. In alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), CODE recognizes that obtaining a quality education is the foundation for economic prosperity, peace, and security.

While the global community has made gains towards increasing access to primary education, an estimated 617 million children and youth worldwide are not achieving minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics due to the poor quality of education they receive.

Improving the quality of teaching is the single most important factor in improving educational outcomes. This is why the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals call specifically for a substantial increase in the supply of qualified teachers and more support for teacher education in developing countries.

UNESCO estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa alone requires 17 million qualified teachers to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goal of having universal primary and secondary education available for every boy and girl by 2030.

Working in partnership with local organizations, CODE has helped 10 million children gain access to better quality education by improving the instructional skills of teachers; supporting the publication of high-quality learning materials; strengthening capacity of local educational institutions; and, investing in research. By 2030, CODE wants to ensure that every child, no matter where they live, can learn from well-trained teachers who have the necessary skills – and access to quality, relevant reading and learning materials they need – to deliver the learning outcomes children require to succeed.

How was your primary SDG integrated and anchored throughout your business?

CODE’s mission is to enable student learning by increasing access to qualified educators and locally-relevant learning materials.

CODE effects change by partnering with local literacy and education organizations and stakeholders, including national Ministries of Education, to build capacity to deliver high-quality primary and secondary educational services that are sustainable and scalable. CODE’s staff and the staff of its partner organizations have significant expertise in literacy and education as well as community development principles, to ensure that best practices and the latest research are at the core of every program. In addition, CODE supports the generation of local research in education and literacy through its research initiative Context Matters.

CODE trains teachers already in the classroom, as well as those in teachers’ colleges. In many countries in Africa, less than half of the teachers actively teaching have received any prior training. Through training workshops, these in-service teachers are given the opportunity to participate in professional development and dramatically improve their effectiveness. CODE also works increasingly at the teachers’ college level, supporting their capacity to increase the proportion of teachers entering the classroom for the first time who meet performance standards.

In addition, CODE works across the book chain – with local authors, publishers, illustrators, and distributors – supports the development of culturally-relevant print and digital materials that are designed to support learning and self-empowerment.

Did you employ any innovative approaches in your efforts to implement the goal?


CODE’s four-year Reading Kenya program, funded in partnership with the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada, was innovative for its focus on pedagogy and classroom practice. The program sought to produce quality learning outcomes by marrying high-quality teacher-training with multi-lingual books that support not only literacy but better reasoning, problem-solving and active learning.

Basic reading skills are important but the capacity to fully understand and think critically about what you read drives the achievement of SDG4. Classrooms became thinking spaces and libraries became hubs for resources. Furthermore, the emphasis on gender equality through reading materials that challenge gender stereotypes was also an innovative component of this program.

Our focus on mother tongue instruction (Maa), in addition to instruction in national languages (Swahili and English) was unique and resulted in improvements in literacy. Teacher surveys showed an increased awareness of the importance of using mother tongue to support early literacy, and evidence that more teachers were actively using Maa in their classrooms, thereby allowing children to bridge their home and school knowledge.

CODE supported the development of children’s book in the Maa language. Parents also borrowed the Maa titles to read with their children, supporting whole-family literacy. Seeing themselves and their culture in these books shows Maa-speaking communities that books, and by extension education, are not just for speakers of other languages.

Were any partnerships leveraged or created?

Partnership lies at the heart of CODE’s approach to development through quality education. Working in partnership with locally based organizations ensure the sustainability of the programs and provide a local voice and expertise that ensures the strategies and approaches are grounded in the local context. CODE has developed relationships with local implementing partners and key stakeholders in each of the 9 country where CODE works, including non-profit organizations, Ministries of Education, parent and teacher associations, private sector parts, and other international development organizations.

As an example, in CODE’s Reading Kenya program referenced above, key partners included the National Book Development Council of Kenya (a Kenyan literacy organization), Dupoto E Maa (a local Maasai organization), the Kenya Publishers Association, the Ministry of Education, and the Teacher Service Commission. By working with local partner organizations in this way, CODE helps to build local capacity to ensure that boys and girls have access to high quality primary and secondary education in a way that is sustainable and scalable on a national level.

What communications strategy did you employ to share the initiative with your stakeholders?

CODE’s key stakeholders are found primarily within its 8 African countries of operation, as well as in Canada.

CODE’s Reading Kenya program employed a grassroots stakeholder-engagement communications strategy with local communities and partners in order to ensure participation and the long-term sustainability of the program impacts.

Community meetings were regularly held in the participating districts in which all members of the community were invited to learn about the program, ask questions and offer their input. These meetings were particularly important in the Maasai communities where education, especially for girls, is not consistently supported and sometimes viewed as a threat to their culture and way of life. Program staff monitored the program activities closely and made themselves available to the community members, tribal leaders, parents, and teachers to address questions and issues as they arose.

Back in Canada, CODE communicated with its key stakeholders through public engagement and donor stewardship. Information about the program was disseminated through social media such as Facebook, the CODE website and Twitter. In addition, success stories and key outcomes were shared via the CODE annual report, newsletters, blogs, and speeches at various events such as the Nairobi International Book Fair.

Donors who supported the Reading Kenya program received information through regular narrative reports as well as face-to-face meetings in Ottawa with Global Affairs Canada. In Kenya, CODE also communicated with the Canadian High Commission.

How were KPIs and the levels of success outlined and defined?

The goals of Reading Kenya were to improve learning outcomes for boys and girls and increase the capacity of local partners to deliver quality education. All of the KPIs were identified and developed based on recognized best practices in education and then refined in coordination with our local partners based on the local context.

CODE measured the program’s success by first establishing baselines and then assessing improvements in student and educator performance, the quality and gender-sensitivity of the learning environment established, student access to appropriate learning materials in mother tongue and national languages, and partner capacity to sustain delivery of quality education to students. The data collection and analysis was carried out in coordination with our local partners, building their capacity to monitor and measure performance.

At the end of the four years, Reading Kenya successfully achieved critical deliverables in 70 schools across the three cohorts. For example, 354 teachers had upgraded their teaching competencies; all schools had constructed libraries and reading corners; and 172,133 books had been purchased, published and distributed.

In our final student assessment, the students in program schools outperformed students in control schools on literacy assessments with scores of 20% or higher. There were very significant differences in favour of students in program schools in their Maa scores, in particular. In addition, pre- and post-test results from a sample cohort of teachers demonstrated that educators had changed their practices and attitudes towards mother tongue instruction.

How were reporting and monitoring conceptualized and undertaken?

As in all CODE programs, CODE utilized quantitative and qualitative methods to monitor program activities and outputs. The reporting and monitoring for the Kenya program was conceptualized and undertaken based on CODE’s experience with similar programs in other countries, internationally recognized best practices, expectations from Global Affairs Canada, and the input of CODE’s partners and stakeholders in Kenya.

Before the program was launched, data was collected to establish a baseline against which future data could be compared. In addition, community meetings were held to better understand the concerns of the local teachers, parents and community leaders. During the program, monitoring was conducted per a monitoring schedule. At the conclusion of the program, a third-party evaluator was contracted to assess program outputs and outcomes.

CODE tracked students’ reading and writing skills through literacy assessments and school exam results. CODE also conducted regular in-class observations to monitor teachers’ increase in knowledge and changes in teaching practice. CODE conducted focus groups with students, educators, and community members to collect qualitative data that could better speak to changes in behavior and awareness, especially with respect to gender sensitivity and awareness. CODE tracked key outputs, such as the number of teachers and publishers trained, and the number of books published and distributed.


What were some key lessons learned?


CODE learned through the Reading Kenya program that increasing access to education is not enough. When children attend school, they also need access to relevant reading materials, well-trained teachers, and communities that support boys’ and girls’ rights to education. Student assessments and qualitative data from the program provided strong evidence that curriculum focused on interactive teacher training emphasizing early literacy, mother tongue and active, child-centered learning is a model that works.

A foundation of this success was local ownership of the program and a supportive relationship between local implementing partners, the National Book Development Council of Kenya (NBDCK) and the local Teacher Service Commission (TSC). This could have been enhanced by better engagement with the national level Ministry of Education, which would have encouraged the integration of the program’s principles into nationwide programs. Although this national-level relationship did not develop as deeply as our team would have liked, the decentralized nature of the Kenyan education system meant that the local Teacher Service Commission (TSC) offices were the key players to engage in order to affect change at the local level in Kajiado County. The TSC offices reported on learning from this initiative to their national-level counterparts.

Another key learning focused on the central-role that education systems can play as an entry point for empowering girls and advancing gender equality. The program found that teacher education can be a crucial site of transformation to effectively address the complexities of sexual reproductive health and rights issues.

What were the key impacts and results?

Reading Kenya proved to be a powerful evidence-based intervention that increased the use of Maa in schools, empowered a movement for child-centered, gender-sensitive active learning in classrooms, and encouraged dynamic literate environments for Kenyan children and their families. For example:

  • Students in program schools outperformed students in control schools in all three instructional languages demonstrating literacy scores that were more than 20% higher;
  • Educators demonstrated increased knowledge and application of effective reading and writing instruction strategies in the classrooms;
  • 172,133 books in Swahili, English and Maa were produced and distributed to students in all 70 program schools to support classroom instructional strategies; and
  • Girls in the program reported feeling motivated to pursue their education and to become community leaders. 

The program’s interventions focused on enhancing gender equality were particularly successful. Integrated throughout the program, these activities successfully initiated conversations in schools and communities. For example, in addition to improving their literacy skills in three languages, girls and boys in Kajiado County now also have access to female and male teachers who learned about gender equality in their teacher training and who integrate these practices into their classrooms. They also have access to books written by female authors that support gender awareness. Close to 1,000 parents and community members in program school communities also joined in gender sensitization activities which importantly opened up dialogue between educators and parents on some of the everyday challenges in ensuring all children, including girls, may access a formal education.

For more on the Reading Kenya program results please visit: