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Can public rankings improve school performance?

This report was originally published by the Centre for Education Economics

“Developing” countries (those below the $12,000 per capita income threshold for rich countries) make up 36 per cent of the world economy, but 83 per cent of world population, and 87 per cent of the world’s school pupils. Identifying and tackling the matrix of factors that contribute to the massive waste of human and social capital implicit in these figures is one of the great reform challenges of our times.

Taking into its purview the state of education provision across developing countries from Asia, to Africa, and South America, the volume offers descriptive analyses; causal studies investigating large-scale system reforms and new pedagogical approaches; and, going beyond test scores, studies of the effects of schools on socialisation and social mobility.

In this year’s CfEE Annual Research Digest, Aidan Eyakuze comments on the Tanzanian government’s “Big Results Now” high-stakes accountability reform, find test score improvement despite some gaming of the new performance tables;

Two themes have recently dominated the public debate on education in Tanzania. The first was prompted by a steep decline in the rankings of historically high-performing public schools in Tanzania (ACSEE 2018). In 2018, many of the schools which in the past had ranked near the top in terms of exam results were languishing towards the bottom of the national league tables. One girls’ school, in particular, came in for some deeply critical, almost insulting criticism.

What happened to these schools? Can their disastrous performance be reversed? If so, how? The second was the issue of parental contributions to improving the quality of primary education. In the context of a well-publicised government policy of fee-free basic education, any suggestion that parents might contribute to the cost of school meals) were met with strong pushback from both cash-strapped parents and vote-conscious politicians. Headteachers faced summary dismissal for even calling meetings to discuss parental contributions. Ministerial clarifications on this issue – school administrators can solicit but not compel voluntary parental contributions and must obtain permission from local government authorities to do so – were timid.

The result: more confusion. These two papers speak directly to these two pressing issues. And they both suggest that the solution lies in providing salient information to those who take the decisions that make the biggest difference to children’s learning outcomes: school headteachers and parents. The first paper by Jacobus Cilliers, Isaac Mbiti and Andrew Zeitlin (2018) uses evidence from a major Tanzania education reform programme called “Big Results Now” (BRN) to answer the following question:

‘Can public rankings improve school performance?’

To find out more, read the full commentary and report here.

Read more: basic education tanzania

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