Global efforts are underway to improve education quality—to ensure children are not only in school but learning and developing to their full potential. Although many theories exist on the best approaches to improve education quality, policymakers and implementers need evidence on which programs are effective at helping children actually learn while in school. Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) is a research and policy nonprofit that discovers and advances what works to reduce poverty and improve lives. In addition to conducting rigorous research, IPA reviews and consolidates research for policymakers and practitioners. The objective is to distill complex, nuanced, and dynamic research findings into focused and actionable recommendations. This brief summarizes and provides key lessons from multiple meta-analyses and over two-dozen randomized evaluations (both IPA and non-IPA studies) on improving learning outcomes in low-income countries, with a focus on basic education.
We present results from a large-scale randomized experiment across 350 schools in Tanzania that studied the impact of providing schools with (a) unconditional grants, (b) teacher incentives based on student performance, and (c) both of the above. After two years, we find (a) no impact on student test scores from providing school grants, (b) some evidence of positive effects from teacher incentives, and (c) significant positive effects from providing both programs. Most importantly, we find strong evidence of complementarities between the two programs, with the effect of joint provision being significantly greater than the sum of the individual effects. Our results suggest that combining spending on school inputs (which is the default policy) with improved teacher incentives could substantially increase the cost-effectiveness of public spending on education.
In 2015-2017 Twaweza East Africa implemented KiuFunza II, a randomized performance pay trial in the early grades of public primary schools in Tanzania. This trial is part of an experimental program to improve learning introduced by Twaweza in collaboration with J-PAL/IPA.
KiuFunza implemented two different teacher performance pay systems. The first system is called Stadi (levels) and rewards teachers based on the number of students that reach specific proficiency levels. The second is called Mashindano (gains) and rewards teachers based on their students’ test score ranking relative to children with the same starting level.
The performance pay learning impact was studied in a nationally representative sample of 180 schools (60 schools randomly selected into each of the two incentive pay programs, and 60 control schools). The evaluation finds that both teacher performance pay systems improved student test scores. The simpler “levels” system was at least as effective in raising student learning as the more complex “gains” system.
Furthermore, the levels scheme had a more equitable distribution of benefits, improving learning across all initial ability levels.
The authors evaluated the use of conditional cash transfers as an HIV and sexually transmitted infection prevention strategy to incentivise safe sex. An unblinded, individually randomised and controlled trial of 10 villages within the Kilombero/Ulanga districts of the Ifakara Health and Demographic Surveillance System in rural south-west Tanzania. The authors enrolled 2399 participants, aged 18–30 years, including adult spouses. The primary study end point was combined prevalence of the four sexually transmitted infections, which were tested and reported to subjects every 4 months:Chlamydia trachomatis, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Trichomonas vaginalis and Mycoplasma genitalium. The authors also tested for HIV, herpes simplex virus 2 and syphilis at baseline and month 12. Conditional cash transfers used to incentivise safer sexual practices are a potentially promising new tool in HIV and sexually transmitted infections prevention. Additional larger study would be useful to clarify the effect size, to calibrate the size of the incentive and to determine whether the intervention can be delivered cost effectively.