by Constantine Manda, Senior Research Analyst at Twaweza, and EASST Visiting Fellow during Fall, 2012.
Twaweza, an East Africa-wide NGO headquartered in Dar es Salaam, recently polled a nationally representative sample of adult Tanzanians through their mobile phones (the survey is called Sauti za Wananchi, which means the Voices of the People in Kiswahili) on their views of the state of primary school education. The survey finds that most parents, despite being informed of low performance of their children, have low expectations that their children actually can perform well in basic literacy and arithmetic tests. Specifically, only about a third of parents think three-quarters and more of children should be able to pass a simple Grade 2-level arithmetic and literacy test.
This is against the backdrop of poor governance structures that allow about 1 in 10 teachers not being present in class on a given day across Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, according to the latest Uwezo report. In Tanzania, only a third of teachers show up for work the whole day, against 38 percent who do not show up at all according to the Sauti za Wananchi survey data.
All of this begs the question what works in education in East Africa (and elsewhere)?
University of California –San Diego (UCSD) associate Professor and the Center for Effective Global Action faculty affiliate Karthik Muralidharan has written about this recommending that governments refocus the agenda away from inputs necessarily, but toward learning outcomes. There are other pedagogical recommendations in his piece, including most importantly the idea of teaching to the level of the student, rather than ‘completing the textbook’. Lastly, his piece also highlights governance issues around the school management of teachers and school resources.
In an experimental intervention across 21 districts, across 350 primary schools in Tanzania, Prof. Muralidharan along with the University of Virginia’s Isaac Mbiti, in collaboration with Twaweza, are testing two things:-
Research translation into policy is difficult, and the criticism that context matters when extrapolating results from Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) notwithstanding, the story of Tanzania’s government changing policy course is important because the experiment can help inform how such a policy can and should be implemented in practice.
Moreover, this announcement allows Twaweza, along with other relevant stakeholders to rally around this policy change to push for some of the things rigorous evidence has found, not only in Tanzania, but globally. The idea that government should focus on learning outcomes rather than inputs has been echoed across the political spectrum. It is time that Tanzania, and East Africa in general, to begin to refocus their education agenda along these lines. Governance structures at the school need reconfiguration to make teachers more accountable for the learning outcomes of their students and incentives for performance matter a great deal.
With greater impact evaluation of education interventions in Tanzania, and across other East African countries, there will be increasing evidence of what works in education. If Tanzania, and other East African countries, are to transition out of the low income and onto the middle income rung of development, human capital investments are important, and nowhere is there a greater bang for one’s buck than in early childhood education.