Strengthening Education Systems for Improved Learning (SESIL)

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.

Education Quality Improvement Programme (EQUIP) Tanzania

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).

EQUIP-Tanzania in numbers

  • 9 regions
  • 5,196 primary schools
  • More than 3.2 million children
  • 55,000 teachers


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.


  • In total, more than three million pupils benefited
  • More children received more, higher quality education. The impact was particularly notable amongst the lowest performing pupils
  • Nearly 55,000 teachers received support in improving learning outcomes
  • Despite a 49% increase in total enrolment, a 47% increase in class sizes and substantial levels of teacher and head teacher turnover – girls’ and boys’ performance improved in both Kiswahili and mathematics
  • Girls’ learning outcomes disproportionately improved, possibly due to teachers interacting more equitably with both boys and girls
  • Marginalised children were positively impacted, especially through the School Readiness Programme and construction of satellite schools (see below)
  • Low-cost structures are now in place to support the ongoing improvement of the education system

Our team at Cambridge Education helped to manage the following innovative projects

  • The ability to read and understand text is the most fundamental skill a child can learn. EQUIP-Tanzania has therefore provided a low-cost programme of continuous professional development for in-service teachers (INSET) to improve literacy, numeracy and inclusion.
  • One of the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa, the School Readiness Programme (SRP) provided quality pre-primary education to children marginalised by geographical location and their Kiswahili language skills. Within 16 weeks, children show higher skills than those attending a formal pre-school for at least one year. In total, the SRP reached 542,472 children and trained over 3,000 community teaching assistants – and 83% of centres were still running independently at the end of the programme. A particular success were the 12 story books that support children’s socio-emotional development. Accompanied by a toolkit, they also help the centre to make their own books and other learning materials. The Tanzania Institute of Education has since printed and distributed these to all pre–primary schools across the Tanzania mainland.
  • LGAs and regional authorities managed the construction of a further 251 satellite schools to ease transition of remote children into the system. In 2019, the satellite schools enabled over 42,000 children to enrol and attend school.
  • Parent Teacher Partnerships (PTP) help parents to feel part of their school and improve relationships between schools and the community. This is shown to increase student achievement, reduce absenteeism and restore parents’ confidence in their children’s education. Within a year, 96% schools in Tanzania had formed a PTP.
  • We established a scheme for Income Generating Activities that would increase resources and skills for school improvement. This helped 2,235 schools to partner with local communities and raise a sustainable capital to support its development needs. Students could learn local trades and applied skills at the same time. For example, more than 74% of schools set up small agri-businesses that farmed maize, cotton, sunflower and beans, as well as cattle, pigs and goats.
  • Although EQUIP-Tanzania works at primary level, we saw an urgent need to help girls transition to secondary school. Many girls get married, become housemaids or drop out of the system in that short window. We therefore designed a bridge programme based on mentoring and community learning that helps the girls to discuss issues they face going into adolescence.
  • In a huge nation like Tanzania, regional autonomy and innovation is necessary. We worked closely with the regional and district education offices, often sharing office space. The decentralisation of the majority of programme funds since 2015 helped to support them in leading the improvement of education systems in a sustainable and transparent way. Over four years, £37.2m was disbursed using the model in seven tranches.
  • We helped to develop competency frameworks for teachers, head teachers and whole schools. Head teachers received capacity building on leadership and management in a number of areas including school performance data and school planning. This is backed by the school information system, a digital school-based tool for managing school information that was intended to help strengthen the quality of data being produced across the education system. More than 5,000 tablets were distributed to schools for daily reporting on school matters.
  • Following a pilot, the programme rolled out district education management meetings (DEMs) across the nine regions supported by the programme to bring together head teachers, ward education officers (WEOs), quality assurers and district education departments to identify and resolve critical learning needs.

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

In-Service Training (INSET) Coordinator at Cheyo A Primary School, Tabora Region

Busting the misconceptions around disability in Sierra Leone

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.

Targeting quick wins

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.

Progress within constraints

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.

On the right frequency

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.