Decoding Development: Constructing Early Grade Reading Reform in Uganda, 2009-2023
Jonathan Marino

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Wisconsin-Madison

Primary Discipline

Educational Policy
In recent years, international education development actors have coalesced around a focus on early grade reading, seen as the gateway skill for future schooling success. My dissertation centers Uganda’s experience with this global early grade reading agenda. Over the past ten years Uganda has adopted new reading curricula that emphasize explicit phonics instruction, trained over 30,000 in-service teachers, and all pre-service primary teachers, in learner-centered and phonics-based reading pedagogies, and introduced a new way of comparing literacy outcomes across languages using reading speed. Drawing on the anthropology of policy, sociology of measurement, and anthropology of literacy as analytical frames, I explore the take-up and consequences of these significant reforms. I ask: How are policymakers and practitioners, including those in government, international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society, and schools, appropriating early grade reading reforms in Uganda, and with what intended and unintended consequences? Utilizing a comparative case study design that includes nine months of participant observation in schools and key events, stakeholder and teacher interviews, document analysis, and a teacher survey, I trace interactions among differently situated actors to understand the frictions that emerge when implementing a phonics-based instructional model across linguistic and regional contexts.
About Jonathan Marino
Jonathan Marino is a doctoral student in Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research addresses inequalities in children’s access to early learning opportunities, and in the design and implementation of early childhood education policies in the United States and internationally. He takes an anthropological view of policy and draws on mixed methods to understand how policymakers and teachers carry out their work in complex social contexts. Jonathan’s dissertation, funded by Fulbright-Hays DDRA and Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships, explores the rollout of a donor-funded early grade reading intervention across multiple linguistic communities in Uganda. He also coordinates an ongoing research project on the impact of COVID-19 on public pre-kindergarten programs in Wisconsin through his affiliation with the UW-Madison Center for Research on Early Childhood Education (CRECE). Jonathan grew up in Rockford, Illinois and began his career as a service-learning coordinator for the Chicago Public Schools. He later travelled to Uganda on a U.S. Student Fulbright Scholarship to study refugee access to education at the Makerere University Refugee Law Project. He has worked as a policy analyst for the Council of Chief State School Officers in Washington DC, and as a Save the Children research fellow. He holds an M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Galway and a B.S. in Education and Political Science from Northwestern University.

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