Government as a vehicle for service delivery
Not just good policy, but actually delivering on it.
Governments have a major role to play in delivering change in education, but too often they struggle to turn good policies into real action. This is particularly the case in low and middle-income countries, where States run the majority of schools but also face a crippling lack of resources. Yet some of the biggest success stories in international development come when governments follow a simple framework, think of building a school or rolling out a vaccine. The last two decades alone have seen unprecedented progress on improving access to education: the number of children enrolled in primary school in sub-Saharan Africa rose by 75% between 1999 and 2012, whilst 95% of Indian schoolchildren now have free access to a school within half a mile of where they live. As our work in Uganda’s education system shows, even in resource-restrained environments, government can be an effective vehicle for service delivery.
However, States often struggle to address more complex development issues in education. Simply mapping successful blueprints or best practices on to state institutions that lack the underlying functionalities to actually implement the strategy, feeds into a mismatch between the real capacity of a government to deliver and the expectations put on them, often by external donors. This drives a policy paralysis, where good policies sit on shelves, unimplemented. This is important. Education does not wait: policy and implementation need parallel sequencing to be truly effective. And with millions of education service-users at risk, the scale of the opportunity to do things differently is too serious to ignore.
An effective system requires more than just effective policymaking.
This is starkly apparent in the current state of teacher development in Uganda. Education is foundational to a country’s development, associated with poverty reduction, improved health outcomes and quality of life. The Ugandan government has achieved incredible success in improving access to education, especially through its introduction of Universal Primary Education (UPE), and has initiated solid structures in the system to support its greatest asset: teachers. The Teacher Development Management System (TDMS), for example, assigns in-service Centre Coordinating Tutors (CCTs) to a network of schools in their local area, to engage teachers in continuous professional development. An intuitive structure of ongoing support.
And teachers should be at the top of education policy-makers’ agenda. Evidence shows that teachers are the biggest determinant in a student’s learning and achievement;[i] underlining the fact that teachers are one of the largest components of Uganda’s labour force and absorb upwards of 80% of the national education budget. Yet teachers are demotivated; absent for an estimated two to three days per week; and lack access to consistent and quality professional development[ii] – all contributing to student learning levels that see just 13% of Primary 3 level Ugandan students with Primary 2 level literacy and numeracy skills.[iii]
Too often the response to these challenges involve top-down reforms, mapped onto the system that either only work partially or are simply not implemented at all: a policy paralysis that helps drive low results. The reality, unfortunately, is of a ‘limping TDMS’ where CCTs are too few, under-trained, and expected to support clusters of over 70 schools with too little resource (the bikes, fuel, or time) to physically reach them. Consequently, teacher professional development is at a critical point in Uganda.
Government: an effective vehicle for service delivery?
Good policies do exist however, and there is a lot we can learn from governments who have been able to deliver on them. In Punjab, Pakistan for example, in a complex education system that serves over 97 million enrolled students, the government successfully collects data from over 60,000 schools on a monthly basis in a low-tech affordable way, driving informed decisions that have transformed the performance of their schools. Back in Uganda, several organisations have also been working to leverage the system structures that do exist, working through and with government to support teacher development.
STIR Education has been supporting the Ministry of Education – both nationally, but also through 65+ District Education Offices – to embed its model directly in the Government system. A model that prioritises improvements in teacher intrinsic motivation, driven by teacher autonomy, mastery, purpose and collaboration. By building the capacity of districts to create opportunities for dedicated teachers to set high expectations of themselves as professional teachers, and, most crucially, of their learners; STIR’s approach to teacher professional development has seen reduced teacher absenteeism; increased time spent teaching on task; and early signs of impact on learner outcomes in the classroom. By working both in the system (with the human resource and roles that exist at district and national level – such as CCTs and district leaders) and at systemic scale (aiming to expand its programming aligned with government demand, to work with every school in Uganda within five years), approaches such as STIR’s show the effectiveness of government as a vehicle for improved service delivery.
The Varkey Foundation has also been working with the Ministry of Education since 2013 to deliver an instructional leadership programme for head teachers, tutors and pre-and in-service teachers in schools and teacher training colleges. The programme which covers basic universal skills around instructional leadership, supports head teachers to build on their leadership and motivation skills, as well as enabling classroom, pre-service teachers and college tutors to use a range of strategies to engage students in active learning. The Varkey Foundation model of delivery works with District Education Officers and CCTs to saturate districts and sub counties, enabling teachers to form networks of support that should, over time, create a systematic change in the way teachers are trained.
Whilst these examples show successful partnerships can exist to drive delivery with government, there is still a long way to go. Vast gaps in the policy itself plague the system, not to mention an implementation gap that undermines the capacity of government to deliver on outcomes that improve the lives of its citizens. So how do we reduce this capability gap and get back to basics: governments generating solutions themselves (policy) and then ‘making good’ on these solutions in line with their capacity to deliver?
Generating good solutions – the policy side of the bargain
We know that education polices, however well-crafted, cannot be effective without a teacher. We also know that teachers likely teach the way they are taught. Bearing this in mind, it is imperative that governments invest heavily in good quality initial teacher training: the stage in a teacher’s education journey – building teacher motivation & competency before they even enter the classroom – that lays the foundation for quality practice.
Whilst key policies to develop an effective teacher trainee are in place,[iv] challenges still exist in producing teachers with the pedagogical skills and content knowledge to teach, and teach well. This is especially apparent with Initial Teacher Training in Uganda, where teacher trainees are often selected on academic criteria rather than appropriate capacity, receive little to no training in the use of ICT as a pedagogical tool – and when they do, the courses are often disconnected from the realities of teaching practice in the classroom. Within this context, good policies on the integration of smart technology into the education space holds the potential to change the way teacher training is delivered, received, and ultimately impacts learning.
The Varkey Foundation will be launching the first interactive distance-learning project in East Africa using technology to facilitate live interactions between trainers in studios in Kampala, with multiple remote technology-enabled classrooms in West Nile, northern Uganda; a model attempting to directly overcome some of the structural barriers to delivering quality teacher training. This is currently not enshrined in policy, yet the potential benefits to policy changes such as these are not limited to the classroom. Harnessing the existing, or developing the necessary new, technical expertise in-country could facilitate the growth in connectivity and technical infrastructure across sectors; streamline monitoring & evaluation as well as administrative work around education delivery; increase efficiency; and bridge the gap between policy-making and practical implementation that currently exists.
Policy alone is not enough. Governments must also deliver. Even if these changes were made – policy-making was redirected to maximise the systems’ existing technology, include new smart technology; and harness its biggest asset: the teachers themselves – all too often the system ends up looking beautiful on paper, yet doesn’t exist beyond the realm of theory.
A growing knowledge base is emerging on how to improve system delivery (the actual implementation of policy), and some interesting thinking is being generated on how to provide Mwelekeo (the Swahili word for direction) to governments looking to deliver outcomes for their citizens. By partnering with governments at an inflection point – a catalytic moment in the agenda or momentum surrounding a particular policy priority – the direction can be created at both national, but also in decentralised administrative structures, to deliver outcomes: reframing the problem to empower governments to find domestically-driven solutions to domestically-identified needs. In other words, how can we first improve the process of problem-solving: equipping system leaders with the key mindsets and skills (changed behaviours); the direction and focus; and the recognition required, to tackle real development problems such as the state of teacher professional development in Uganda?
Inflection points are critical and require three foundations to be in place: disruption in the context, i.e. government recognition that something isn’t working and needs to be changed. This might be supported in parallel with alignment to external agencies (who often provide the financial support to act), but must be driven by domestic agendas. Secondly, a willingness to both question why previous attempts haven’t worked, and a commitment to do things differently, within the ‘fit’ of the domestic context. Finally, the power of agency needs to be mobilised around this new approach by top leadership – an authorising mechanism in place that enables the “do-ers” – for example CCTs and resources at district level – to act in new ways, taking policy out of the realm of theory and into the world of reality. By focusing on people – local government professionals who are identified, recognised and rewarded as a progressive coalition of motivated and dynamic drivers of system improvement – this network can become a powerful testing platform for domestic governments to innovate; a protected space for ideas being generated by the domestic agenda for change.
So What Happens from Here?
Embedding this approach into the government system itself – avoiding the copy-and-paste syndrome – could potentially enable a sustainable end-game to be constructed from the outset that see’s governments able to tackle ongoing challenges, and drive continuously improving outcomes for their citizens. Uganda shows that governments still have a role to play in providing good service-delivery in education, when it both works in tandem with civil society, but also drives its own domestic agenda of problem-solving. There is a huge opportunity to both look at filling the gap in policy around Initial Teacher Training and professional development, but then also challenging the “status quo” on how those policies are actually delivered. If we apply this Mwelekeo, this new direction, to the existing Teacher Development Management System – TDMS –we might just see the ‘limping’ structure start to blossom, and opportunities for the implementation of good teacher development policy fulfilled.
Charlotte Oloya leads the Varkey Foundation’s Uganda office. She has over 12 years’ experience working with and managing projects in charity organisations across Africa and in the United Kingdom including working with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Northern Uganda.
Emily Akers is a consultant, specialising in delivery and global education initiatives. She has worked with delivery units in the governments of Uganda and Ethiopia; and was the Founding Country Director of STIR Education, Uganda.