Sunday, December 9, 2012

Clowns to the Left, Jokers to the Right

Stuck in the middle with you....

Every week, the World Bank in Tanzania in collaboration with The Citizen on Sunday share data from official surveys and pose to the public a couple of questions on current events.  This past week, the discussion was about education in Tanzania versus that in Kenya and Uganda.  As usual, the consensus was that although much improved in recent years, education in TZ is still subpar when compared to its neighboring East African counterparts.  Why this situation persists and what can be done to resolve it are questions very much still up in the air.

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 skillsIn 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 ArushaIn these districts, students in Standard 7 scored on average 97-98 percent in Math, 88-91 percent in English, and 97-98 percent in Kiswahili when being tested on a Standard 2 exam.

In contrast, schools in Chunya, Kibondo, and Tunduru reported Math scores ranging from 50 percent (Chunya) to 78 percent (Kibondo, Tunduru), and only obtained a dismal 44-47 percent in English,  and 75-83 percent 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 cycleAlready in Standard 3, students in Iringa Mjini perform twice as well in Math as those in Kibondo (82 percent versus 40 percent – again, based on a Standard 2 exam), almost five times as well in English (61 percent versus 13 percent), and more than 2.5 times as well in Kiswahili (83 percent versus 33 percent)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 educationThe share of children who passed the 2011 Certificate of Secondary Education Examination (CSEE) is between just 2 percent (e.g. Simanjiro and Mbulu districts) and 24 percent (Makete). 

What could explain these variations in learning outcomes?  A major explanation is found in the current distribution of resources across districts and schoolsAs 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 point difference in test scores of students in Standard 7).

Other factors are obviously at playThese include:

1.) The quality of financial management in the local education system and/or the school.

2.) Teacher productivity.  Teacher absenteeism is a widespread phenomenon, with 20 percent of teachers in rural schools and 36 percent of teachers in urban schools reported missing during an unannounced visit.

3.) Family involvement in the children's educationThis too is a very important determinant of success or failure in school.

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

1.) 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?

2.) Should the government increase teacher salaries depending on school performance?

3.) To what extent are variations in education outcomes explained by factors outside the school system, such as poor nutrition and health?

4.) Are parents discriminating against their daughters in access to secondary education?  If so, why?

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