This paper considers what multilevel modelling approaches to analysing large scale cross-national surveys of education quality can tell us about the capabilities that support primary school children in learning to read. The impact of pupil background characteristics on achievement in reading towards the end of the primary cycle in sub-Saharan Africa is investigated via an analysis of the second wave of data collected by the Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality (SACMEQ) in six low income countries and four lower middle income small states. The findings on various pupil background, social and economic wealth-related factors associated with disadvantage/advantage are interpreted using a capability approach. Hence, the study goes beyond reiterating the well-known relationship between socio-economic status and rurality with learning outcomes to identify what it is that primary school pupils in East and Southern Africa can or cannot do that influences their acquisition of literacy.
International Journal of Educational Development (2010) [doi:10.1016/j.ijedudev.2010.06.006]