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Innovative thinking for complex educational challenges

Posted on 10 September 2019

The issues raised in these Think Pieces aims to broaden expertise and knowledge, stimulate dialogue and encourage new ways of thinking to address significant educational challenges facing the region.

Whilst rooted in evidence, these think pieces are not research papers, evidence briefs or literature reviews; instead, they are concise, engaging and provocative pieces that aim to stimulate debate and challenge the status quo.


This Think Piece series, developed in collaboration with Cambridge Education, provides sharp analysis and innovative, pragmatic and at times provocative strategies to address the following ten issues:


1. Girls’ education

2. Pre-primary education

3. Parents and caregivers

4. Teacher performance

5. Curriculum reform

6. Accountability and the Delivery Approach

7. Inclusive education

8. School improvement

9. Learner-centred education

10. Delivering education in emergencies

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Getting the numbers right in Eastern Uganda

Posted on 06 September 2019

“The teachers were not coming every day,” recalls 14-year-old Claire Nandutu. “When we asked the headteacher where the teachers were, she said they were sick. I felt bad when they didn’t come. But when we entered the new term, they started coming back.”

In 2019, the Strengthening Education Systems for Improved Learning (SESIL) programme has supported 900 schools to improve data monitoring routines. Implemented by Cambridge Education, this four-year UK aid-funded education programme works with the government to improve the quality and equity of measurable learning outcomes at lower primary level in Uganda.

SESIL has trained 1,844 headteachers, 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 Managing for Results (M4R) approach.

M4R seeks to strengthen routine data collection around the five complementary core drivers for improved learning: increased time spent by the teacher in school, improved pupil attendance, increased time spent by pupils in learning, children are safe in and around school, and schools are effectively led as places of learning.

The participants were taken through data collection, analysis and visualisation techniques to help them set up routines for monitoring progress. They were supported to interpret the results, make decisions aimed at accelerating progress, and track actions taken in relation to the identified barriers.

Impact at scale

In the 2018 Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE), Sironko district was ranked 109 out of 120 districts. Out of its over 4,500 candidates, 1.96% attained Division One while 67% failed mathematics and there was no pupil that excelled in English. The district leadership attributed this poor performance to lapses in school inspections and monitoring.

“For learning to take place it must be monitored and SESIL has several activities that ensure this,” explained Moses Nambalee, the District Education Officer (DEO) in Sironko. “You think teaching and learning are going on when it's not. But if someone goes there to check on what is happening and verify that an activity is going on, then learning will happen,” he added.

SESIL also introduced a diagnostics process that helps schools, districts and local government stakeholders to understand the causes of entrenched problems. They are then empowered to own the response.

The new methods included monthly line graphs that identify daily trends in teacher attendance and time-on-task. These were proposed as an alternative to the previous tabulated attendance charts used by the schools that were compiled annually, making it difficult to track performance in real-time.

“SESIL has impacted teachers positively,” said Sister Hellen Akongai, headteacher at Nampanga Primary School. “They now arrive on time by 8am in the morning. There was also a challenge around timetable compliance. But with the training that we received, teachers are now being monitored to adhere to the time table and engage pupils more.”

Nampanga recently registered an average of 95% teacher attendance. “Teachers are improving,” added Sister Hellen. “They know that if they don’t do it, the graph is waiting.”

Enterprising mother and daughter benefit from GESS cash transfer

Posted on 21 August 2019

Cash transfers are direct payments made to girls regularly attending school. The girls use the money to buy things they need for their lessons or support their family, helping to remove some of the barriers that prevent them from regularly attending school. In its first five years, GESS distributed cash transfers to 295,000 girls.

Nyayo is now in her fourth year at Loyola Secondary School in Wau, having received GESS cash transfers in 2016 and 2017. After she had spent some of the money on soap and sanitary towels for herself, Nyayo had a small amount left to invest into a bakery business for her mother, Marta.

Nyayo has seven siblings and had seen how much her mother struggled to scrape together enough money for all of their school fees. The small amount of money that Nyayo was able to give her mother, allowed her to bake and sell bread. With the profit from this, Marta was able to buy more flour and bake more bread, eventually earning enough to build a stand outside her house where she could also serve tea. “Before that I was not earning anything. When school opens, the profit that I have saved, I used to support the children.

Marta’s enterprising spirit has inspired Nyayo. “I am looking forward to finishing my examinations. I would actually invest the money. I can use the money to do some short courses. I could do computer course or some other small trainings that can help me. They say that ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop’, so these courses will keep me busy in the holidays.

Marta added, “I want to say that I have not been to school – I have only read little. Now I am struggling to send all of my children to school. I want to tell other children that they should not leave school. School is good. School is the future. I hope that all girls can go to school, study hard and leave with good jobs. I want them to be governors, to go abroad, to have big dreams, to be the President! When I was young, I had the plan of becoming a lawyer because I love politics. I love when women are being empowered and they’re in some top, top positions.

Although Marta was not able to fulfil her dream, she still wants to help to empower girls by telling everyone about the importance of giving their daughters an education. “I can also do something to support girl child education like GESS is doing here.

There are many barriers preventing girls from going to school in South Sudan, but GESS research shows that the financial barriers are the greatest, and that apparent social barriers often have a financial basis – in the case of early marriage, girls are seen as a source of wealth through a dowry. Cash transfers help to remove these financial barriers and GESS specifically targets girls in upper primary and secondary schools – those most at risk of dropping out.