Time for high quality education for all?


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Let's think together: Every week the World Bank team in Tanzania wants to stimulate your thinking by sharing data from recent official surveys in Tanzania and ask you a couple of questions. This post is also published in theTanzanian Newspaper The Citizen every Sunday.

Education is key. As foundations go, there is none more important than this one – in achieving progress as well as in sustaining it.

Since the introduction of free primary education in 2001, Tanzania has achieved significant progress in improving access to basic education. Primary school attendance of children aged 7 to 13 years increased from 54 percent in 1999 to almost 80 percent in 2010. Yet Tanzania also still has one of the lowest primary-to-secondary transition rates in sub-Saharan Africa (at just 41 percent in 2009), with girls being particularly disadvantaged. In addition, standardized assessments have revealed that the quality of education is insufficient to provide students with the most basic numeracy and literacy skills. In 2011, Tanzania scored much lower than Kenya or Uganda in these assessments.

Not only does Tanzania still lag in terms of educational outcomes compared to neighboring countries but also the quality of education varies tremendously depending on where you live in the country:

- The best performing schools are found in the urban centers, such as Iringa Mjini, Bukoba Urban and Arusha. In these districts, students in Standard 7 scored on average 97-98 per cent in math, 88-91 per cent in English and 97-98 per cent in Kiswahili when being tested on a Standard 2 exam.
- In contrast, schools in Chunya, Kibondo and Tunduru reported math scores ranging from 50 per cent (Chunya) to 78 per cent (Kibondo, Tunduru), and only obtained a dismal 44-47 per cent in English, and 75-83 per cent in Kiswahili. Many Standard 7 students in these districts hence have not grasped even the Standard 2 curriculum.
- Disparities in learning outcomes emerge from the very beginning of the education cycle: Already in Standard 3, students in Iringa Mjini perform twice as well in math as those in Kibondo (82 per cent vs. 40 per cent – again, based on a Standard 2 exam), almost five times as well in English (61 per cent vs. 13 per cent) and more than 2.5 times as well in Kiswahili (83 per cent vs. 33 per cent). These children may only be a day’s drive from each other, but they are worlds apart in terms of the quality of education they receive.
- And inequalities are not confined to primary education. The share of children who passed the 2011 Certificate of Secondary Education Examination (CSEE) is between just 2 per cent (e.g. Simanjiro and Mbulu districts) and 24 per cent (Makete) (see http://developmentseed.org/tanzania-bank/#performance for further details).

What could explain these variations in learning outcomes? A major explanation is found in the current distribution of resources across districts and schools. As expected, districts with more resources and teachers (per student) are also more likely to deliver better education services and therefore outcomes. However, there is some limit to this logic since one additional teacher in an already well-served district will likely have a lesser impact on service delivery than one more teacher in an under-served district.

But money alone cannot explain cross-district variations in school performance. The districts of Ruangwa and Kilombero, for example, report approximately the same level of public (recurrent) spending per capita on primary education yet exam results in 2011 are much better in Kilombero than in Ruangwa (with an 8 percentage points difference in test scores of students in Standard 7). Other factors are obviously at play. These include:

- The quality of financial management in the local education system and/or the school.
- Teacher productivity. Teacher absenteeism is a widespread phenomenon, with 20 per cent of teachers in rural schools and 36 per cent of teachers in urban schools reported missing during an unannounced visit.
- Family involvement in the children’s education. This too is a very important determinant of success or failure in school.

These huge variations in school performances within Tanzania raise several questions:

- Why do schools in some districts appear to be doing so much better than others, even with the same resources? What are the key ingredients of success for these schools? School-level management? Teachers’ work ethics?
- Should the government increase teacher salaries depending on school performance?
- To what extent are variations in education outcomes explained by factors outside the school system, such as poor nutrition and health?
- Are parents discriminating against their daughters in access to secondary education? If so, why?

Note: The statistics above are based on the 1999 Reproductive and Child Health Survey, the 2010 Demographic and Health Survey, the 2011 UWEZO Learning Assessment, the World Bank’s Education Statistics Database, the National Examination Council of Tanzania (NECTA) and the World Bank’s 2011 report, ’Service Delivery Indicators: Pilot in Education and Health Care in Africa‘. Data from these sources are publicly available and results can be replicated. 

Camara Obeng
December 05, 2012

Policies are effective when they are informed by research; this is one piece of research finding that can inform the debate currently going on in Ghana ( Free senior high school education), though belated as we go to the polls on Friday morning to elect president and parliamentarians. My prayer is that Ghanaians will be smart enough to see through this promise that is likely to harm our cherished educational system forever. Fellow Ghanaians, there is nothing like free lunch; let's vote for quality and not quantity.
God bless!!!!

December 07, 2012

Here in kenya there is an upsurge of secondary school from 2003. In day secondary a student pay about 6000Ksh($71) per year then the government pay for her tuition. These have make even poor household to be in a position to educate their children. The benefit of an educated person cannot be underrated.An educated person is more likely to engage herself in service oriented job thus creating more jobs opportunity to others.

Ward Heneveld
December 18, 2012

The posting by Waly Wane on quality of education in Tanzania asks "Why do schools in some districts appear to be doing so much better than others, even with the same resources?" A study by local educators in Singida in about 2005 found that two important variables were whether the monthly stipends arrived on time and whether the school had at least some well-qualified teachers. I heard later that using this information the region moved in about three years from being in the last three in exam results to being in the top third of regions, albeit at the bottom end of this group. If true, these changes requiring little cost undoubtedly contributed to a seriousness of purpose that may have been lacking beforehand.

I've seen this seriousness in a town in Brazil where everyone in the town's schools was committed to children attending school every day. When I asked one school head what she did if a child didn't show up, she looked at me like I was an idiot and said "we go to his house to get him." Closer to home, the rural primary school in the town next to mine in northern Vermont got the best testing results in the state last year, and the school head was Vermont's "Principal of the year". When this principal talks she exudes an expectation and a confidence that ALL her students will learn. This hit home to me when I met a woman I know who serves lunches at this school in the supermarket and she exuded the same passion and conviction about learning that the school had has.

There's a lot to be said for paying more attention to attitudes towards what we expect from learners and to how seriously we take our responsibilities. Could it be that our reliance on research analyses and right policies obscures this visceral aspect of helping young people learn?

dr. james sika
August 04, 2014

the quality of education becomes a mirage especiality if conflict between access and quality lingered in countries. as we improve access, their is increased for education also, quality may suffer.various ration guiding quality may be weakened due to increased enrollment.

Benson Phiri
July 01, 2014

In Malawi, education is highest in one of the remotest districts (Rumhpi)and lowest in one of the tourist districts down south (Mangochi), thanks to the missionaries (christian)! The missionaries introduced education first before the Word.