Teacher absenteeism remains a serious challenge to the quality of primary education in Uganda, with estimated rates of absence as high as 27 per cent.
Evidence from other countries suggests that a monitoring scheme, combined with bonus payments, could reduce absenteeism, and improve education performance. However, it is unclear what form this scheme should take.
Automated monitoring via cameras or punch cards is expensive and has been subject to sabotage. Local monitoring by head teachers is cheaper and has the potential added value of providing useful information to government for planning purposes but there is a risk of collusion, especially when financial rewards are at stake. Monitoring by beneficiaries, in this case, parents could be attractive, although it is an open question whether parents are able and willing to take on this role.
Against this backdrop, this project seeks to address two key questions. First, can local monitoring schemes improve teacher attendance and, ultimately, student learning outcomes? Second, since the reports submitted by local monitors have the potential to improve the efficiency with which the government allocates resources across schools, how do alternative monitoring schemes affect the quality of the monitoring reports?
The study takes place in 180 rural government schools in six districts in Uganda. At the start of the study, 40 schools were randomly assigned to a control group. Of the remaining 140 schools, 90 were randomly allocated to one of four simple local monitoring schemes.
These schemes differ along two dimensions: the identity of the monitor and the stakes attached to the report. In some schools, head teachers have been asked to undertake the monitoring and reporting. In other schools, monitoring and reporting are the responsibility of parents on the school management committee. At the start of the study, all of the nominated monitors were trained to report teacher attendance via SMS on a mobile phone. In some schools, a monthly bonus of UShs 60,000 (about USD23, or 30 per cent of a monthly salary) is paid to any teacher marked as present in every ‘qualifying report’ that month, whereas in other schools there is no financial bonus attached and qualifying reports are simply collated and re-broadcast via SMS. The remaining 50 schools were assigned to a pilot of more complex schemes where multiple monitors must mark a teacher as present to trigger a bonus payment.
These local monitoring schemes are being assessed against two criteria: cost-effectiveness in inducing higher teacher attendance, and quality of reporting, both in terms of the frequency and reliability of reports.