AIGHD researcher helps improve Tanzanian education policies

If we want better results from the aid we give to low-income countries, we need to give aid in smarter ways, according to a recent publication in the Quarterly Journal of Economics (QJE is the highest ranked journal in Economics).

Youdi Schipper, senior researcher at AIGHD, recently co-authored Inputs, Incentives, and Complementarities in Education: Experimental Evidence from Tanzania. In the article, Dr. Schipper and his co-authors examine the effects of two contrasting financial interventions: first, sending unconditional grants to schools (paying for inputs); and second, paying teacher incentives conditional on student learning (paying for outputs). The teachers were paid more if more students passed independently administered tests.

“It is not so much about how much aid we give, but rather that we find the right combination of grants and incentives that help maximize local resources,” said Dr. Youdi Schipper, lead coordinator of the project.

“It is surprising that a small incentive (under 3% of annual salary on average) that is conditional on measured learning outcomes can have a sizeable effect on the skills that the children in their classrooms master. Many people assume that we must also have trained the teachers, but we did not. This is really a motivation effect,”

It will come as a surprise to no one that money alone cannot solve the problems of low-income countries. However, researchers have struggled to pinpoint exactly what type of interventions these countries need to develop faster. This is particularly true in the education sector, where most funding comes in the form of unconditional payments for school inputs, which alone have shown no positive impact on student learning. According to the authors of the article, governments and donors spend over one hundred billion dollars annually on education in low income countries. Yet, students fail to meet their learning objectives throughout primary and secondary school.

Dr. Schipper and his colleagues sought to understand if simply giving more money to schools leads to better student learning, or if incentivizing teachers leads to improved outcomes. They tested the impact each of these variables on student learning, and then they looked at the combined effect of grants and teacher incentives by doing a large-scale randomized experiment across 350 schools in Tanzania.

They found that grants alone do not improve student test scores while teacher incentives help to marginally improve test scores.

However, grants and teacher incentives had a stronger combined positive impact on student scores – much greater than the sum of the separate effects of the two interventions – demonstrating that combining grants to schools and programs that give teachers more incentives may be the way forward.

“The learning effect of providing school grants for typical school inputs such as books, blackboards, and paper is zero. This finding confirms what has been found in many other studies in various settings. We show that such “business as usual” policies will not help students learn more if other constraints are not addressed.”

These results indicate that grants alone are not enough but improved teacher incentives could substantially increase the cost-effectiveness of spending on education. The Tanzanian government is already implementing and trying out new policies, in the light of these research findings.

“The Twaweza school grants program innovated by sending money directly to school accounts, rather than via district offices as was the normal practice. Even though we show that the grants by themselves will not lead to better learning outcomes, it is a significant improvement in terms of transparency and equity. In 2016, the Government of Tanzania started sending school grants directly to school bank accounts in the whole country. This is one of the interventions we studied experimentally and our work helped inspire the policy change. Now every school gets the same amount per pupil and head teachers know when they can expect the grant.”

A new program with teacher incentives has also been launched.

“The incentives idea and research findings have recently resulted in a collaboration between the Tanzanian Education Ministries and Twaweza East-Africa, the civil society organisation that I work with. Since the start of 2019, we have been jointly implementing a teacher performance pay experiment in early primary grades. With the fast expanding school population in Tanzania there is a growing need to improve value for money in education and this approach can hopefully help.”

Potentially, this research will pave the way for reformed education policies on a bigger scale in the future.

To access the publication click here.