Posted on 25 February 2020
Transforming primary education relies on collective resolve throughout the whole system. Lasting change is possible when every person along the chain – from central government, down through regional and local government to head teachers and classroom teachers – buys into the same priorities and takes responsibility for their part in the ‘revolution’.
Uganda has the world’s second-youngest population, yet it faces challenges in delivering equitable and quality education learning outcomes. Nationwide, 33% of primary school pupils are literate while 45% are numerate. Over 50% of teachers are either absent or not teaching when at school, while children receive less than three hours’ teaching every day. Nearly all girls and boys aged 11-14 have experienced physical violence from teachers in school, which can lead to negative lasting impacts on physical and mental health, while fuelling absenteeism.
Uganda’s economy is reliant on agriculture and industry for its drive towards middle-income status by 2040. However, it currently faces a ‘youth bulge’ that signals increased unemployment due to a rise in the number of young people with limited skills and education. The Ugandan government recognised an opportunity to strengthen the whole education system through better use of data to drive effective management, and by ensuring accountability through clear roles and responsibilities at every level.
In 2018, the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) in Uganda launched the Strengthening Education Systems for Improved Learning (SESIL) programme to improve the quality and equity of measurable learning outcomes at lower primary level. Implemented by Cambridge Education, this four and a half-year UK aid-funded programme centres on an approach called M4R (Managing for Results).
M4R seeks to strengthen routine data collection around five drivers for improved learning: Increased time spent by teacher in schools, improved pupil attendance, increased time spent by pupils in learning, improved safety of children in and around schools and improved leadership of schools as places of learning.
Through M4R, teachers, headteachers, district officers and ministry officials explore data collection, analysis and visualisation techniques to help them set up monthly routines for monitoring real-time progress against the five priorities. They are then supported to interpret the results, make decisions aimed at accelerating progress, and track actions taken in relation to the identified barriers. By enhancing information flows and communication between the levels, any issues can then be escalated from school to local government to central government, and vice versa.
“We are focussing everyone in the system on the interaction between teachers and students in the classroom,” explained Charlie Gordon, Technical Team Leader at SESIL. “By providing the means to capture performance data in real-time, each level can take actions based on what the evidence is telling them. We have the diagnostic tools to give the right people responsibility and then hold system actors to account. They are empowered to own the response.”
So far SESIL has supported over 1,800 schools to improve data monitoring routines. The programme has trained over 6,000 headteachers, teachers, school management committees chairpersons and Senior Assistant Secretaries (Sub-County Chiefs) from the West Nile and Eastern Uganda regions to build a common understanding of the M4R approach.
To date, 90% of schools are submitting data on a monthly basis via SMS and over half of the schools are taking actions to improve the performance that they find in the data. All SESIL-supported districts are having monthly management meetings. Already, there is evidence of intrinsic value from reporting and collecting data: effectively shining a spotlight on what needs to change and identifying solutions. In 2020, SESIL will deepen its support to schools and districts to pilot sustainable solutions to improve learning outcomes for all children.
Posted on 24 January 2020
While rates of attendance went up, the results in the classroom stayed low. In 2014, the government recognised an opportunity to raise learning outcomes in schools across selected low-performing states, with a view to scaling the improvements across the whole country. As it draws to a close, we reflect on the achievements of the UK aid-funded Education Quality Improvement Programme (EQUIP-Tanzania).
In 2002, the Government of Tanzania (GoT) introduced free and compulsory primary education, resulting in more than 1.6 million children attending primary school for the first time. The primary school population has since continued to steadily increase. In 2015, the government reaffirmed fee-free education resulting in millions more children entering school.
The question was straightforward: how to improve performance throughout the education system? But the answer was complex. Tanzania needed to transform the level of resourcing, teacher attendance and school leadership training, teacher morale, district stewardship of schools, enthusiasm for education and participation by communities in their schools.
The sheer physical vastness of Tanzania brought practical challenges for central government, not least as families in remote, rural villages struggled to access schools. Pre-primary children often spoke different mother-languages to the national Kiswahili, which meant making a ‘false start’ with their education, from which they might never overcome.
EQUIP-Tanzania was a £85m, UK aid-funded education programme, managed by Cambridge Education, which supported the GoT to improve the quality of learning outcomes in primary schools, particularly for girls. We concentrated on system-led, cost-effective improvements to deliver change in ways that can be replicated at a national scale.
We began implementation in five regions and was expanded to nine regions, covering 5,196 primary schools across 63 Local Government Authorities (LGAs). Our focus was on early-grade learning that directly supports the government's priorities to leave children with a more solid command of the '3 Rs': reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Our key areas of involvement were improvements to teacher performance, school leadership and management, strengthening district management and community participation, as well as performance data, learning and dissemination of results.
Our team at Cambridge Education helped to manage the following innovative projects
We should not see teaching as routine work but we have to make teaching interesting to pupils and girls in particular – in order to promote their talents.
Ms Happiness Nyangusu
Posted on 23 January 2020
Education in Sierra Leone has endured several decades of disruption due to a number of events including civil war, and the more recent Ebola epidemic. A new Free Quality Education programme championed by the government promotes access to school for all children. Everyone is working together to give students the best chance going forward. UK aid supports the government in their efforts and is funding the Leh Wi Lan Programme, which is focused on improving learning outcomes in secondary schools.
These education goals cannot be achieved without overcoming a lot of challenges on the way: in particular, how to address the barriers to education faced by girls, children with disability and other vulnerable students.
As implementation partner on behalf of UK aid, our role is to help engrain good disability practices at schools – starting from a very low baseline. Even small improvements can make a huge difference to the lives of the children. Many are simply unaware that they have poor eyesight or hearing, for example, because regular access to healthcare or other screenings is very rare.
The severe cases are easily recognised, but we have also met many children who suffer from headaches and migraines, or who struggle to concentrate in the classroom, because their families never made the connection to mild short-sightedness or stigmatism. Likewise, children who spoke loudly might be dismissed as unruly, when really, they are overcompensating for poor hearing. Left alone, these children could struggle to achieve the learning outcomes that we are all working towards.
It is a mistake to think that disabilities can only be treated by high-tech gadgetry. Or that only highly qualified medical experts can make a telling intervention. In Sierra Leone, solutions need to be more laagdrempelig, as we say in Dutch: easily accessible with a low financial and social threshold for adoption. Teachers themselves can identify a lot of the issues that emerge in the classroom, and with minimal training too. Of course, we work closely with healthcare services if absolutely necessary. There’s no doubt that an assistive device such as glasses, crutches, or hearing aid can have an incredible impact and improve the life and learning opportunities of the student. But in the absence of widespread opticians and audiologists, we must rely on common sense and pragmatism.
For example, we had several cases where students struggle with eye infections. Their eyes can be swollen and very red. The immediate response is: “Quick! They need technology! They need eye surgery!” But in many cases students simply needed eyedrops or a bit of instruction on how to wash their hands and faces with safe water. Just that simple attention to detail will already make a big difference.
Introducing sophisticated gadgetry – when the programme won’t be there in two years to maintain it – could prove counterproductive. The country is ambitious for change, but it still has one of the world’s least-developed healthcare systems. It is third lowest globally in terms of medical professionals per capita, with just a few accessible hospitals servicing a population of over seven million. Alongside the hardware, we need to improve the software too. In other words, working with the social model of disability to create sensitivity for the student’s situation.
This model works on the theory that children are not disabled by their impairment, but by the people who are unwilling to include them on account of the impairment. Our focus is therefore not to fix children, but to fix the society and environments in which these children have to live every day. We aim to generate a social response to meet the needs of students as best as possible. Teachers and others in the education community are encouraged to look for quick wins – such as moving students to more favourable seating in classrooms, organising students to use buddy-systems for support and devising favourable lesson plans. It’s about creating an environment where the child can fit in.
Our aim is to empower teachers to be responsive to the individuals sitting there right in front of them in class. It’s effectively identifying the difficulties they might have in the classroom and then showing how to deal with those students. It’s about understanding classroom behaviour and encouraging the teacher to recognise the impact if their actions. Again, within the local context, teacher engagement is incredibly difficult, because teachers are often overwhelmed by very big classrooms. Before they can teach, they need to keep lessons under control. Therefore, some of the strategies are not specifically for disability, for example managing communication in the classroom to reach all students, including those with a disability.
To reach students and teachers with positive messages about inclusion at a large scale, we are rolling out ‘radio clubs’, which allow smaller groups to listen to relevant music shows and plays, and interact peer-to-peer. In partnership with a great local studio in Freetown, we commissioned dramas, including episodes on disability. In one show, children are sympathetic with a girl in their village who can’t walk to school, so they decide to build her a small cart – rather than wait for someone to give money for a wheelchair. They become good friends and finish their exams together.
The next generation can help to break the stereotypes and fear around disability, and hopefully educate their families and communities at the same time. For example, traditional healers play an influential role in tribal life. We met children with learning disabilities, such as autism or dyslexia, whose conditions are easily misunderstood through the lens of local beliefs or myths. Children might be segregated in village life as others are fearful of “catching the disability”. These students are told from an early age that “you're not fit for school” or “you’re wasting your parents’ money” by attending. This causes a lot of social tension. We try to create an understanding with teachers and sit with the community to help remove the stigma from the child.
We have shown that the social model can work, but our challenge is to reach everybody in the country. With the project aiming to reach millions of children nationwide across nearly two thousand secondary schools, we are moving as fast as we can. Our low-threshold interventions give us a fighting chance, but we still have a long way to go.