Several international surveys have recently shown that the great challenge levels are still very weak knowledge of primary school students in developing countries. For example, in India, a study found that 35% of children in the 7-14 age group can not read a paragraph, nearly 60% can not read a simple story and only 30% are able to calculate a basic division. After a clear focus on the global number of children covered by education, as clearly reflected in the Millennium Development Goals, it seems clear that we have to worry more about the quality of primary education in the developing world.
What do you do to improve the quality of primary education?
Unfortunately the answer is neither simple nor unique. However most researchers in the field of development economics (in which I include myself), international institutions at the forefront in the struggle for development and many governments around the World seem to agree on a plan out to get the answers.
Firstly you need to diagnose. Without detailed data (microeconomic), quantitative and factual about school performance, we can hardly improved. For example, the Global Survey on Absenteeism, led by the World Bank, unannounced visits sent to a group of schools representing six countries (Bangladesh, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Peru and Uganda). The survey found that teachers lack in these countries on average 1 in 5 school days. So it was diagnosed the urgent need to fight absenteeism of teachers in these countries. Probably many would know the extent of the problem, but it only became a reason for action after conducting a survey and objective. That is to say that only against facts is that there are no arguments.
Secondly we must experiment. You need to identify possible solutions to solve the problems diagnosed and try them. However, what works in India to address teacher absenteeism, may not work in Uganda. The solutions are not really unique. We have to know what works for the particular context in which we are interested. Fortunately we have available methods of impact assessment with quantitative rigor that allow us to experiment without high cost but with maximum reliability. These methods are changing the face of policy development.
One example. Absenteeism of teachers is especially prevalent in India. In the context of temporary teachers in primary schools in a region of that country an innovative idea was tested. The idea was to pay teachers according to the number of days that were proved that they had been at school with students a minimum of X hours. The agreement was a very little pay to teachers if they were a few days spent with students, and a larger payment if they spent more days with students. But how can you prove that a teacher spent X hours with your students? It is not easy but technology helps: each teacher was asked to take off a digital photograph with date and time to the beginning and end of each work day with their students. This system was implemented in 57 schools. Other 56 schools very similar were chosen to serve as a start comparison group. The absence of teachers clearly decreased and performance tests in children has increased markedly (57 schools in the ‘treated’ with the new incentives system when compared with the other 56). Lesson taken: incentives with monitoring work in combating absenteeism of teachers. More: these incentives have positive effects on academic performance of students!
Thirdly and lastly we must take the good ideas whose impact is demonstrated. In other words, we must make the scale-up of ideas that work.
And in Angola?
Angola can follow this sequence.
- Diagnose meticulously (and factually).
- And take good ideas for implementation.
This is the international best practice.
Angola is changing every day at a vertiginous speed. Their rulers face a unique opportunity to significantly raise their levels of education provision. This is also the opportunity to make educational policy based on evidence. Nobody knows what are the solutions, good ideas for education in Angola. We must invest in knowing, without fear of possible answers. These responses are too valuable: they will chart the future of the new generations of the country.
Written by Pedro C. Vicente, Scientific Director of the Center NOVAFRICA and Associate Professor of Economics at the Nova School of Business and Economics