New Project to Improve Learning on a Large Scale Launches Research in Tanzania

©Arne Holne/World Bank

Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) - a new initiative aimed at conducting high-quality research to build evidence to enhance children’s learning levels throughout the world - announced that it will begin work in Tanzania.

The £4.2 million, six-year undertaking in Tanzania is the first of six research projects launched in countries throughout the world in order to shed light on ways to address a global learning crisis.

Countries around the world have been remarkably successful in making progress toward universal primary schooling, but in many places, learning levels are poor, or have declined. As a result, even when children finish many years of schooling, they still lack basic maths and literacy skills. The RISE agenda emphasises the need to make changes that can provide children with the education they need to be successful adults in their local, national, and global communities.

“The fact that nearly every child is in school represents an enormous victory for humankind,” said Lant Pritchett, RISE Research Director, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, and a professor of the practice of international development at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “Now that they are there, let’s continue that momentum to make sure that every child in school is learning.”

In Tanzania, a team of 12 experts from Georgetown University, the University of Dar es Salaam, Twaweza, the World Bank, and several other prominent research institutions will conduct an extensive research project that examines the effects of policy reforms that the Government of Tanzania is undertaking in an effort to improve learning for students in its primary and secondary schools.

In 2014, the Government of Tanzania announced a large, multifaceted reform programme to address the country’s educational crisis. In the first phase of the research project, the team will focus on analyzing the reach and impacts of this reform package. In the second phase, researchers will design a research agenda around the identification of opportunities for, and bottlenecks to the efficacy of the current reform efforts. During this phase, the team will work alongside the government and donor partners to provide experimental evidence on a second generation of interventions aimed at improving student learning outcomes.

Basic reading and math skills have plummeted in recent years, even though Tanzania has increased investment in schooling, and has made striking progress toward achieving universal primary education.

The RISE Country Research Team - which includes expertise in education, economics, psychology, political science and public policy - aims to understand:

  • How were far-reaching education policy reforms possible?
  • How can reforms be sustained?
  • Are the reforms effective?
  • How can Tanzania’s experiences inform ways of improving student learning in other countries?

“Tanzania offers an interesting case study of reform that is relevant to other countries also planning to undertake ambitious reform,” said James Habyarimana, a key team researcher, and a Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.

The project will examine the combined effects of a wide variety of interactive reforms intended to engage parents, voters, teachers, head-teachers and administrators at all levels, including:

  • Creating and publicising school rankings.
  • Offering annual incentives for the most-improved schools.
  • Offering incentives to motivate teachers.
  • Providing teacher training to help identify and support low-performing students.
  • Providing principals (headteachers) with financial and management training.

“Taken individually, the initiatives might not be sufficient to improve learning outcomes on their own, but, taken together, they present a plausible theory of change,” said Deon Filmer, another key team researcher, and lead economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank, where he was recently named as the co-director of the 2018 World Development Report, which, for the first time, will focus on education. “Ultimately, from the Tanzania experience, we hope to gain understanding that can lead to meaningful improvement in learning, which is central to enhancing human welfare and reducing poverty throughout the world.”

“The Tanzanian government has made education a priority, which makes the RISE undertaking particularly timely”, said Kitila Mkumbo, key research team member and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Government of Tanzania.

 "Previous education projects in Tanzania have usually addressed a specific entity in the education sector,” he said. “Due to its multifaceted and systems-based approach to studying education problems, the RISE project is uniquely placed to examine how various initiatives and support systems in education in Tanzania can be galvanised to promote learning outcomes for children – and, at the same time, to sustain high enrolment and completion rates."

Launched in 2015, RISE is supported by £27.6 million in funding from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), which has dedicated £21 million to high-quality research in up to five countries, and £6.6 million to support expert advice and management; and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), whose commitment of A$9.85 million (£5.1 million) has allowed RISE to incorporate a sixth country.

“This exciting, dynamic and diverse research programme will measure the impact of reforms on the quality of education service delivery,” said Dr Rachel Hinton, head of education research at DFID. “We look forward to seeing the outcomes of this research, particularly around whether the learning-outcome-based incentives yield improvements in learning.”

RISE is managed and implemented through a partnership based in Oxford, UK, between leading international development consultancy Oxford Policy Management, and the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. Research is led by Professor Pritchett and a team at the Center for Global Development, a non-profit think tank based in Washington, DC.