2014 PSLE Regional Performance

Last month the Primary School Leaving Examination results were announced.  A number of articles reported on the top performing schools and regions (see: Standard VII Results Improve by 6pc) and NECTA has posted a map of pass rates by district to show how performance varies geographically.  While pass rate is the most used statistic when describing examination results, presenting a single number doesn’t give insight into how a population is distributed. One way to graphically display distribution information is a box and whisker plot.  In the simplest type of box and whisker plot, the ends of the whiskers (the lines extending either side of the box) show the minimum and maximum values of the dataset.  The box itself has three horizontal lines indicating the first, second, and third quartiles (Q1, Q2, and Q3), which are the points that divide an ordered set of data into four subsets with an equal number of elements.  The second quartile, which is the horizontal line inside the box, is the median.  For a more detailed description of box and whisker plots check out the Khan Academy Videos on the topic. Below is a box and whisker plot that shows the distribution of school averages in each region of Tanzania.  In the future we’ll make another plot using pass rates for each school, but for this initial attempt it was easier to scrape the averages as they were already calculated and posted on the results page for each school on NECTA’s website (example page). schoolAvgsByReg5   Dar es Salaam, the country’s economic capital and largest city, is clearly the dominant region.  Dar’s performance comes as no surprise; schools in Dar have historically had much better student-to-teacher ratios, educational facilities, and resources.  Still, it is surprising to see how much better the schools performed in Dar compared to other regions.  Dar’s worst performing school has an average that would earn it a rank near the median in almost a third of the regions and in many others it would still have a better performance than a quarter of the schools.  The plot also shows that the Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions, while performing well, did not score significantly higher than the other regions outside of Dar.  These two regions benefit from a number of tourist attractions like Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti, which has resulted in a higher density of NGOs and better road networks.  However, it does not appear that tourism (and the money and development that usually accompanies it) has had a significant effect on primary education, as the results for Arusha and Kilimanjaro are comparable to more remote regions like Kagera and Mtwara.  There are concerns regarding the data used to create this plot.  One concern is that some of the schools had few graduates, in which case a single exceptional student could have a large impact on the school’s average.  Nearly 200 schools had eight test-takers or fewer, including three schools (like Sangasanga) that only had two students take the examinations.  Another drawback of this particular chart is that it includes both government and private schools.  It would be preferable to plot the data from government schools only, as private schools, which are unevenly spread throughout the country, typically have dramatically better scores.  Still, in its current form the chart has the benefit of showing what education opportunities are available in each region.

More Investment Needed at Pre-Tertiary Levels

This September, the government of Tanzania in conjunction with the African Development Bank (AfDB) launched the Technical Vocational Education and Teacher Education (TVET-TE) project in order to increase access to and the quality of technical and vocational education and training (AfDB, Government of Tanzania Launch U.S. $57 Million in Support to Technical Vocational Education and Training Project). Valued at 57 million dollars, the program will improve facilities at 13 institutions and will support increased use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) at 53 schools across the country. The project is part of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training Development Programme (TVETDP) which was launched in 2013. While the initiative is intended to increase the number of skilled workers, the article admits that the project’s impact may be constrained due to the lack of secondary school math and science teachers in the country. As many technical and vocational training programs require a solid foundation in the sciences, the lack of teachers prepared to provide students with this foundation may impede TVET-TE’s efficacy. TETEA understands the need to improve tertiary education (both higher and technical and vocational), but is concerned that focusing on these sectors before resolving problems at the secondary and primary school levels is problematic. The shortage of math and science teachers, for instance, has been a concern of the government’s for over a decade and yet the problem persists. Working to improve the number of trained teachers as well as the quality of instruction (in particular focusing on building teachers’ content area knowledge and understanding of teaching and evaluation methods, developing modern curricula and providing greater access to educational resources) at the pre-tertiary levels is necessary in order to ensure that individuals are ready for tertiary programs. Source: http://www.afdb.org/en/news-and-events/article/afdb-government-of-tanzania-launch-us-57-million-in-support-to-technical-vocational-education-and-training-project-13554/

Elimination of O-Level Fees

Last month, in “Public Commends Planned Scrap of O-Level Fees“, the Guardian reported that the government plans to eliminate fees at O-Level secondary schools. The stated goal of the plan is to make O-Level financially accessible for everyone. While the plan may have been widely commended, there are several hurdles to achieving the desired effect. While eliminating school fees would make O-Level more affordable, there are still many other contributions that some families would find prohibitively expensive. In the Guardian’s article Professor Lipumba is quoted as stating that, “even in primary schools where education is free there is quite a number of contributions.” At the secondary level the contributions are even more numerous. In addition to the prescribed government school fees of 20,000/= a year, every school we are aware of also charges an academic fee that is typically 10,000/=. Then, depending on the school, there can be fees for electricity, maintenance, security, food, paper, and potentially other items, each of which is usually between 5,000/= and 15,000/=. When students join they often have one time contributions for an item or two (or money to purchase them) like a desk, bucket, or hoe. Students in examination years (the second and fourth years) have additional fees for the national examinations, regional mocks, and (for some schools) other practice tests. Clearly the sum of these contributions can be quite large and are often greater than the school fees themselves. Eliminating school fees is a step towards making O-Level universally accessible, but as long as the students have such large manditory contributions there will be a few families who cannot afford to send their students to O-Level. As the article mentions, there is the potential that scrapping the school fees will not result in a smaller financial burden. A decade ago the government eliminated school fees at the primary level and halved the fees at the secondary level. The government promised to provide the schools with capitation grants in order to compensate for the revenue lost through fee reductions, but it has struggled to fulfill its committment. Last year Twaweza reported that between 2010 and 2012 Tanzanian primary schools received less than a quarter of the money they were owed by the government (Capitation grants in primary schools: a decade since their launch, is money reaching schools?). While we have heard that the situation is better at the secondary level, if the government is going to eliminate school fees entirely for O-Level schools it needs to be prepared to fully supply the capitation grants in a timely fashion. The recently announced decision to deposit money directly into school accounts (Yes, Capitation Grants Need Control) is a promising step, but if schools do not receive their money from the government they will likely increase the other required contributions in order to avoid losing revenue. If the elimination of school fees results in an equal increase in other required contributions then there will be no change in the affordability of O-Level. Sadly, even if the government does manage to transfer the required money to every school in a timely fashion there will likely still be increases in other contributions. School officials know that people are used to paying that amount of money and some will undoubtedly raise contributions to increase the revenue at their schools. Hopefully any additional money they require will be used for the benefit of the students

“Big Results Now” Initiative For Education is Underwhelming

In 2013 President Kikwete announced the “Big Results Now” initiative, a US$416 million effort targeted at eight priority areas, one of which is education. The World Bank largely funded the education initiative’s budgetof $122 million. The program has some positives such as cash transfers to families to who keep children in school. It also is shifting away from what is described as educational inputs such as “books and classrooms” (ironically, in the early 2000’s  the World Bank championed the SEDP program which fueled a rise in classrooms at the expense of education quality). The program promises financial rewards for school performance. This idea, controversial in many countries, has some shortcomings. Where will this money go? Will it gentrify the education system? Wouldn’t there be even more of a reason to look the other way when students cheat on their PLSE and CSEE? Or, the easiest solution, just make the tests easier. If you look at the Tanzanian Education National Dashboard there was, for the most part, dramatic improvement in pass rates in nearly every region. It is doubtful that a few months after the program’s announcement such rapid improvements occurred. More likely the CSEE was easier either in content or grading. The money should be targeted at keeping the best teachers. Teachers are the single most important factor on student achievement. Ensuring that they have the financial means to focus solely on teaching every one of their periods should be part of this initiative. Too often teachers skip periods for side businesses or farming. Also too often ineffective teachers are left in the classroom.  While this program brings a carrot of $122 million pumped into the school system there are few sticks mentioned. “This is the Big Results Now in Education program which includes financial rewards for school performance, early grade student assessments, targeted support to lagging students, recognition incentives for teachers, and ensuring that funds reach schools in a timely manner.” Really this program should give Mkuu’s the ability to hire and remove their teachers as they see fit and be responsible for their respective school’s improvement. The Ministry of Education would have the ability to quickly remove underperforming Mkuus. The World Bank is rewarding high performers without reforming low performers. Sources How Tanzania Plans to Achieve Big Results Now in Education http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2014/07/10/how-tanzania-plans-to-achieve-big-reforms-now-in-education Tanzanian Educational Dashboard http://www.necta.go.tz/opendata/brn/index.php?mp=1 Big Results Now in Education: Sector Summary http://www.moe.go.tz/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1717&Itemid=635 Teachers Matter http://www.rand.org/pubs/corporate_pubs/CP693z1-2012-09.html  

Tanzanian Government should Focus on Improving Quality of Education Before Further Expansions

Human rights groups have been campaigning in Tanzania for the abolishment of using the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) as a filter to determine which students will attend secondary school. These groups argue that abolishing PSLE would allow all students to attend secondary school and, as a result, help reduce child labor. While having universal secondary education is a laudable goal, TETEA is concerned that a rapid increase in enrollment at the secondary level would have a detrimental impact on the quality of education provided. The primary reason for TETEA’s concern is that many children finishing primary school are not prepared to continue their education. Based on several years of research conducted by Uwezo, an educational rights organization, student literacy rates at the primary level are abysmal. Uwezo found that almost 15% of Tanzanian pupils in Standard 7 (the final year of primary school) were unable to read a paragraph at the Standard 2 level in Swahili, which is the language of instruction in primary school as well as the country’s lingua franca. Over 30% of pupils finishing primary school were unable to read a paragraph in English, the language of instruction in secondary schools, at the Standard 2 level. TETEA believes that children who have neither mastered the language of instruction of primary school nor demonstrated satisfactory understanding of the language of instruction used in secondary school should not be allowed to progress. Eliminating the PLSE would only limit the ability of the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MoEVT) to determine who has the necessary skills to succeed in secondary school; it would do nothing to ensure that students are learning. Placing students in an academic program for which they are unprepared is not providing educational access. Instead, it may add more strain to an already poorly funded educational system. This hurts those students who are academically prepared for secondary school, as fewer resources (time spent on teaching, books, classroom space) will be allocated to help them continue to succeed. It will also negatively impact those students who are not prepared, as these students will continue to fall further behind and may develop a lower sense of self-efficacy/self-image. While student achievement/learning would not increase, there would likely be a decrease in secondary school national exam pass rates. A similar educational policy change was implemented in 2009, when the MoEVT eliminated the requirement for students to pass the Form 2 examinations before continuing on to Form 3. While more students were retained through Form IV, the number of Division 0’s (those who were unable to score more than 20% in at least two subjects) rose to more than 50% of students. This, in turn, led the government to reconsider its decision, requiring students to pass Form 2 examinations before progressing to Form 3. Focusing on eliminating the PLSE draws attention away from another issue related to student attendance: the ability of students to afford schooling. While they would like to go to school, many students face financial burdens that lead them to drop out and seek employment. Not only are there lost wages associated with school attendance, but there are also a number of additional costs (such as school fees and uniform costs). In order to reduce the financial disincentives for attending school, governments often eliminate school fees. The Tanzanian government eliminated primary school fees in the 2000s in attempts to attain universal primary education. Though it promised to compensate those schools for the lost tuition through capitation grants, it has not kept that promise. According to Uwezo, primary schools receive approximately one fifth of the capitation grants that they are entitled to. If the MoEVT were to make secondary education universal, there might be pressures to reduce or eliminate school fees. Given the government’s difficulty in supporting schools at the primary level, TETEA is concerned that any attempts to abolish school fees at the secondary level would leave many more schools under-resourced. Given the problems associated with rapidly increasing the number of secondary school students (a lack of teachers, books, classroom space, etc), TETEA feels that if the MoEVT does attempt to increase the number of students in secondary school it should do so gradually and ensure that additional resources are allocated to support the increase. Also, the MoEVT should work to allocate more resources at the primary level to ensure that students are better prepared for secondary school. Universal secondary education is a worthy goal to strive for, but it should not be rushed. While an increase in secondary school attendance could reduce the incidence of negative societal outcomes (such as child labor or teen pregnancy), it could also reduce educational quality. Rather than expanding enrollment at secondary schools, TETEA believes efforts should focus on improving the quality of education at primary schools. Achieving universal literacy at the primary level, in both Swahili and English, should be the current aim of government efforts. Only then, and as greater numbers of students are finishing primary school with adequate preparation, should the government begin increasing enrollment at the secondary level.   Sources:

Are Our Children Learning? (UWEZO): http://www.uwezo.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/TZ_Uwezo2012ALAReport.pdf

Capitation Grants in Primary Schools: A Decade Since Their Launch, Is Their Money Reaching Schools? (UWEZO): http://www.twaweza.org/go/sauti-brief-capitation

Let’s Tackle Primary School Leaving Examination (Daily News): http://www.dailynews.co.tz/index.php/features/31338-education-week-let-s-tackle-primary-school-leaving-examination

Rising Illiteracy Should Be Taken Seriously (IPP Media) http://www.ippmedia.com/frontend/index.php?l=37381