Reflections on the Policy Making and Reform in Africa Conference held in Accra, Ghana on May 14-15, 2012.
By Emmanuel Ekuri, Sabbatical Fellow
This Evidenced-based Education conference was informed by the need to share scientific evidence on what works to improve school participation and school effectiveness. This academic event jointly organized by Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Lab (J-PAL) and the Ghana Education Services (GES) brought together leading researchers, senior policymakers from African governments and representatives from international development organizations, foundations and NGOs.
The conference featured discussions on the importance of using scientific evidence to guide policy and sharing evaluations of innovative education programs that have proven to be highly effective. Below I share with you some key lessons and ideas for future interventions discussed at the conference.
- Inexpensive, school-based deworming treatment improves health and school attendance in the short term, improves productivity in the long term and even benefits untreated neighbors and siblings.
- Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) are cost effective in improving attendance and enrolment at the secondary level and reduction in Teenage pregnancy and marriage rates
- Provision of information on returns to schooling increases attendance at secondary level, especially for girls
- Role modeling is effective. Villages with more female leaders reduces early marriages, while increasing school participation
- Remedial instruction focused on lowest-performing pupils (pupils’ tracking) is effective in improving learning outcomes. Spending focused time on basic skills with the lowest level of learners improve literacy and numeracy. Pupils’ tracking rather than class size therefore matters.
- Community members with limited training (Teacher Community Assistants) can be effectively used to improve children’s literacy and numeracy, when they are given the right tools to target their lessons to the lowest achieving pupils
- Both nutrition and psycho-social stimulation are highly effective at improving developmental outcomes – cognitive development, receptive and expressive language; but after the age of 16, the effects of stimulation persist for cognitive development as well as academic achievement, while the benefits of nutrition disappears.
- Community monitoring can be effective when communities have credible authority over teachers
- Use of Cameras for monitoring are useful in reducing teacher absenteeism but not cost effective
- Computers are effective in improving learning when interactive and targeted at the learning level of the student, but are not cost-effective
- Scaling up an intervention that has proven effective in a different context can better be achieved by designing “policy pilot” that tests the effectiveness of the program among a subset of the desired target population to (a) minimize the risk of committing large funds to an ineffective program; (b) test the tweaks to the program based on context-specific factors
- Active engagement of policymakers in “policy pilot” can be of immense benefits to the program success because they can learn valuable lessons about how the program needs to be implemented and which specific features of the program are necessary to make it successful
- Effectiveness of interventions is context specific, and policy and practice should be implemented accordingly
- When properly designed, randomized evaluations can provide insights to whether a program works and why it works.
Future interventions could be meaningfully articulated along 2 dimensions:
- Replication: Replicating successful models in different contexts is necessary to quantify the extent to which programs work under varying circumstances.
- Combinations with Follow-ups: Research that tests various combinations and approaches along with long term follow-up, could yield amazing results.
Watch out for the next blog on impact evaluations utilizing randomized controlled trials (RCT) designs, also discussed at the conference.