By Chelsea Downs and Kizito Omala
Launched in 2016, the EASST Policy and Partnerships Grant provides a new opportunity for EASST Fellows to foster new connections with policy makers and CEGA partner institutions within East Africa. These small grants are competitively awarded to fellows to facilitate their involvement with scale-up activities, policy convenings, or the creation of new working relationships with relevant stakeholders to expand the reach of impact evaluations. Kizito Omala, who completed his EASST fellowship in 2015 and is now a full-time Lecturer with Makerere University at the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, was awarded the Policy and Partnership Grant to assist J-PAL Africa to scale up the Teach at the Right Level (TaRL) intervention with the Ministry of Education in Uganda. A former teacher in the Ugandan school system himself, Omala is deeply dedicated to bettering education systems to enhance children’s learning-- he is currently engaged in another EASST funded research project which investigates the effects of mandatory transfers of teachers on teacher absenteeism.
J-PAL’s TaRL intervention emerged in response to widespread research that demonstrated that over half of students in grade 5 cannot read at grade 2 levels, and an even greater proportion cannot perform basic math functions. TaRL targets this by assessing students abilities and grouping them by their learning level, rather than by their age group, which has been found to significantly improves test scores. With additional research pointing to similar findings in Kenya and Ghana, “teaching at the right level” has revealed itself as having high potential to address several key education problems in various African countries. However, it remains necessary that scale-up efforts take into account evidence about the local context.
Through the grant, Omala was able to assist J-PAL Africa in investigating whether TaRL would be an effective scale-up in Uganda. Omala was able to forge several connections for J-PAL Africa with the Ministry of Education, RTI, the National Curriculum Development Centre, and other key players in the Ugandan education space. He assisted with designing a sample-based survey, and prepared a joint presentation of TaRL evidence with J-PAL Africa to Ugandan Ministry of Education officials, which yielded approval for preliminary discussions with stakeholders and piloting of this survey. Later this year, a participatory workshop is planned for key stakeholders in Uganda to arrive at a consensus of the teaching and support models that could be piloted across selected districts based on an experimental study design in preparation for the TaRL scale-up.
The Policy and Partnerships grant has also funded EASST Fellow Jayne Tusiime to design an impact evaluation of the Community Health Extension Workers (CHEWs) program, launched by the Ministry of Health in Uganda (future developments to follow). The competition has been recently relaunched, and the EASST team is confident that these grants will facilitate strong local connections and enhance CEGA’s efforts to ensure that rigorous research will eventually inform policies that affect the lives of vulnerable populations in East Africa.