Insight Note

RISE in Tanzania: Research Overview (Technical)

The Tanzania team proposes using an education reform adopted by the Government of Tanzania to explore system effects and relationships.

Lead Researchers: James Habyarimana (Georgetown University), Deon Filmer (World Bank), Jacobus Cilliers (Georgetown University), Aneth Komba (University of Dar es Salaam), Isaac Mbiti (University of Virginia), Kitila Mkumbo (UDSM and Twaweza), Ken Opalo (Georgetown University), Shwetlena Sabarwal (World Bank), Youdie Schipper (Amsterdam Institute for International Development and Twaweza), Richard Shukia (University of Dar es Salaam), Andrew Zeitlin (Georgetown University)

Key Institutions: Georgetown University Initiative on Innovation, Development and Evaluation, Twaweza, the University of Dar es Salaam, and the World Bank


The education reforms in Tanzania came about after a rapid decline in student achievement in the county: a 2011 study found that only 30% of students could read a basic Kiswahili story and do basic math. Between 2006 and 2012, the pass rate for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) declined from 70 to 31 percent, and the pass rate for the Certificate of Secondary Education Examination (CSEE) declined from 89 to 34 percent. To stem and reverse this trend, nine specific government initiatives aimed at fast tracking the improvement of the quality of education service delivery are introduced via BRNED.

The team views the systems-level theory of change underlying the reform initiatives under five mechanisms: (a) changing accountability environment, (b) building a coalition to enact and sustain the reform, (c) motivating teachers, (d) re-orienting the education system to focus on learning outcomes and (e) improving school financing and management practices.

Taken together, the initiatives present a plausible theory of change for improving learning outcomes:  strengthening incentives to produce learning outcomes, boosting teacher morale, increasing the focus on basic and remedial education, and providing schools with managerial and physical inputs needed to respond. As evidence thus far has suggested, individual initiatives focused only on single inputs or outputs have mostly been insufficient to improve learning outcomes. The reform initiatives provide an excellent springboard to take a systems-view on education in Tanzania because the reforms were jointly and simultaneously implemented by an array of stakeholders, drawn from both state and non-state institutions.  These reforms engage actors at various levels:  parents and voters, head teachers, teachers, and district and regional administrations. The suite of reforms provides each of these stakeholders with stronger incentives and improved means to achieve results.

Such an ambitious reform entails not only a shift in resources but also a change in the responsibilities between different stakeholders in the school system. Going beyond the new allocation of resources, the impact of the different policies will not necessarily be equally shared across schools and pupils. Thus, equity concerns arise and it is important to measure if different types of children benefit differently from the reforms. To this end, the team proposes to collect detailed demographic and socio-economic data during the household surveys, as well as school facilities and access to resources during the school surveys. 

In short, their research program aims to answer the following two questions at the heart of systems reform:

1) Does the education reforms pivot to learning-outcome-based incentives yield improvements in learning?

2) How did incentives for political actors create opportunities for the launch of such a system-wide reform, and how do elements of the reform itself contribute to sustained momentum?

More specifically, the reforms fall under four themes that will be studied individually:


  1. Official school ranking: rank all government primary and secondary schools, classify performance in a stop light system and disseminate the information.
  2. School incentive scheme: annual monetary and non-monetary incentives for most improved schools.


  1. Teacher motivation: monetary and non-monetary incentives for primary and secondary school teachers.

Basic training

  1. National 3R assessment: add an early learning assessment under the 3R assessment program with randomly selected schools.
  2. 3R teacher training: implement teacher training programs in 40 out of 136 low-performing districts.
  3. Student teacher enrichment programme (STEP): train teacher on how to identify and support low performing students.

School management and finance

  1. School improvement toolkit: train head-teachers of primary and secondary schools on best practices in school management.
  2. Capitalization grants: Timely disbursement of sufficient grants and equalization of funding per student per district

The team will use the rich existing datasets from Tanzania, including household surveys (Living Standards Measurement Study and the National Panel Survey) for 2008-2015, and school surveys (Service Delivery Indicator survey) for 2011 and 2014. Student outcomes data will come from nationally representative datasets tracking literacy and numeracy, as well as two modules from the World Bank’s SABER instruments (Early Child Development and Engaging the Private Sector). They will also engage in primary data collection via surveys to track key outputs and deliverables of the initiatives, the impact on learning, and intermediate outcomes, such as accountability relationships.

Table 1: Summary of reform initiatives, our research questions, evaluation strategies, and data collection

        Data Source

Programme/ Question

Research Method Source of Variation Parents Teachers School Admin Existing
1. Pressure to perform: (A) school ranking and (B) school incentive scheme
(A) Ex ante incentive effects DD and RDD Beliefs; exposure to information; distance from cut-off Exposure, beliefs, attitudes, behaviour Exposure, beliefs, attitudes, effort Exposure, beliefs, management, expenditure, resources, enrolment and transfer Exposure, beliefs, attitudes, behaviour NECTA, SDI, Uwezo
(B) Ex post reward effects RDD Performance Attitudes, voting behaviour       Vote share
2. Political economy (A) Electoral pressure and results Matching & qualitative methods Local support for CCM Representation on school boards     Behaviour Expenditure (PETS)
(B) Relationships of accountability between local and central government Qualitative methods            
(C) Shaping and sustaining reform Observational Outstanding claims   Attitudes towards government; effort      
3. Teacher morale (A) Pay outstanding salary claims Matching & qualitative methods Phased in roll-out and unequal implementation   Exposure, knowledge, practice   Exposure, knowledge, practice  
4. Back to basics (A) 3R and (B) STEP teacher training Matching & qualitative methods Phased in roll-out and unequal implementation     Exposure, management, expenditure, resources Exposure, knowledge, practice Expenditure (PETS)
5. School management and finance (B) Timely release of school capitation grant Observational & qualitative       Expenditure, receipt of grant   Expenditure (PETS)

Note: See data section for detailed explanation of each data source

Source: Tanzania technical proposal