The Management of Teachers in Primary Schools: Using Phone Calls for Oversight

Lead Research Organisation: Tufts University
Department Name: School of International Affairs


Despite improvements in school enrolment over the past 20 years, 781 million adults worldwide are still unable to read and write in any language (UNESCO 2015). In Niger, the subject of this study, less than 30% of the population is considered to be literate (IMF 2013).
While a substantial body of research has focused on increasing school participation, there is still considerable debate about how to improve learning in a cost-effective way. One constraint that has consistently emerged is teacher absenteeism: In West Africa, teacher absenteeism rates range between 27-40% (TI 2013). Empirical research in economics has found that teacher monitoring can lead to improvements in teacher attendance, with mixed results on learning (Guerrero et al 2013, Duflo et al 2012, Cilliers et al 2014).
The growth of mobile phone technology throughout sub-Saharan Africa has the potential to affect the relationships between teachers, communities and education service providers in remote rural areas. By allowing governments to communicate with remote areas on a regular basis, mobile phones can improve the management of teachers' attendance. Mobile phones can also allow the community to provide feedback to education providers, thereby increasing community engagement.
Under a current DFID-ESRC grant, our research team is conducting a randomized control trial in Niger that provides mobile phone-based "monitoring" and pedagogical support to community teachers in the context of an NGO-implemented adult education program - whereby teachers, students and village chiefs are called on a weekly basis. A prior study showed that these simple weekly phone calls could increase adult students' reading and math skills by .12-.15 s.d. as compared with the standard adult education curriculum (Aker et al 2019). It is somewhat striking that this simple intervention led to changes in learning outcomes, especially without any financial incentives for teachers. During our current work, we learned that similar challenges confront the primary school system in Niger; limited budgets, long distances and teacher contracts often make it difficult for the Ministry and school directors to monitor and provide support to teachers. It is estimated that 49% of primary school teachers miss any school in a month, often between 1-3 days (Malam Maman 2016).
This proposal seeks to explore new but related avenues in our existing research in three ways. First, we will pilot the mobile phone-based approach in a different educational context, namely primary schools. Second, we will seek to understand what types of mobile engagement - i.e., calling the teacher only, as compared with calling the teacher, school director, village chief and parents - are the most effective in reducing teacher absenteeism and increasing learning. And third, we will seek to better understand the mechanisms through which phone calls could affect teachers, students and communities by carefully measuring teacher attendance and motivation, student attendance and learning and parental involvement.
This research contributes to the existing literature in several ways. First, the intervention uses a relatively low-cost technology that does not require specialized software. In addition, it expands upon existing studies on teacher performance, but without providing a financial incentive (Guerrero et al 2013, Cueto et al 2008, Glewwe et al 2010, Muralidharan and Sundararaman 2011, Duflo et al 2012, Muralidharan et al 2014, Cilliers et al 2018). Our research will also speak to the literature on community participation and learning outcomes (Jimenez and Sawada, Banerjee et al 2010, Beasley and Huillery 2016).
This research will be achieved through a unique collaboration between governmental, university and research firm partners in Niger and the US.

Planned Impact

There are four primary direct beneficiaries of this research: primary school students, school directors and teachers, parents of primary school students and the village chiefs. The primary school program will directly target approximately 5,000 students in the targeted grades, allowing them to acquire basic French and math skills. Approximately 180 primary school teachers and directors will receive phone calls support, as well as 84 village chiefs.
Indirect beneficiaries are other teachers in the school, as calling the school director, village chief and parents can also have spillover impacts upon their attendance and effort. Other indirect beneficaries are non-called parents in the village, who may benefit from having a more engaged and motivated school director and teacher.
There are five sets of stakeholders who will also benefit. The first is the Ministry, the primary implementing partner. This research will inform the Ministry of Formal and Primary Education (IRP) about the effectiveness of its primary school curriculum, as well as the impact of mobile phone calls on director and teacher attendance, motivation, effort and student learning. Since the Ministry has primary schools in most villages of over 200 households, it is likely that it will replicate the approach in other regions if successful. The Ministry has expressed interest in testing these approaches with primary school teachers and directors in other regions, as well as secondary school. As the primary school curriculum in Niger is similar to other curricula in francophone West Africa, this research could benefit programs in those countries.
A second stakeholder is the University of Abdoul Moumouni, particularly the collaborating professor (Dr. Malam) and graduate students. Dr. Malam will co-author one of the academic papers, and we will jointly conduct impact evaluation workshops for UAM faculty and students. Project data will also be available to graduate students for their theses.
A third set of stakeholders is donors, international organizations and private sector enterprises interested in learning about technology-related adult and primary education programs, such as USAID, DFID, JPAL, UNESCO, the World Bank and VotoMobile.
A fourth stakeholder is Sahel Consulting, the team's data collection partner. Sahel will be involved in all aspects of planning and implementing the surveys, as well as participate in the UAM impact evaluation workshops and exchange visits, thereby increasing their capacity to conduct impact evaluations within Niger for other organizations.
A final set of stakeholders is researchers in the fields of economics, international education and information technology. This research will provide additional evidence on the impacts of information technology on learning and welfare and hopefully stimulate further research in this area.
Engagement and impact with these groups will take place through our written project outputs (papers, policy briefs), blog posts, annual stakeholder meetings, impact evaluation workshops, final policy conference, dissemination workshops with teachers and village chiefs, conference presentations, film and exchange visits. These activities are described in more detail in the "Pathways to Impact" document. The first stakeholder workshop in Niger will include the PI, MNFE, Sahel and UAM, and will review the research questions, research design and data collection plan, set out the work plan and identify roles.


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Description While using information technology (mobile phones) to monitor teachers' attendance increases their presence, this is not the only input to learning. In particular, the appropriateness of the curriculum and teacher quality are important issues to address, yet particularly challenging. In such a context, information technology can help.
Exploitation Route We have a preliminary paper, and have presented this at three conferences. That being said, it took us some time to input the attendance data (which were log books that had to be entered by hand), and that was just finished. We therefore need a bit of additional time in order to clearly formulate the potential policy ramifications. We should have this by summer 2024.
Sectors Education

Description We have presented the interim results to the Ministry of Primary School education. They have started using attendance registers as part of their normal data collection, and have recognized the importance - and ease - of doing pedagogical support via mobile phones (calls and WhatsApp), which was started throughout this research. They continue to use the WhatsApp group that we helped to create to share information, debates, etc about problems facing teachers in primary schools. We have also produced a short film, which will be shown to the Ministry and to the villages and schools in Niger. Finally, we have presented this work at IFPRI and will present at CSAE.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education
Impact Types Economic

Policy & public services

Title Attendance registries 
Description Taking attendance is a challenge in most countries, and is even more challenging without attendance records. We worked with the Ministry to develop attendance books, which are large books with removable pages that allow the school director to take attendance. We then printed this books. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The directors have noted that this greatly facilitates their work, and the teachers have noticed this. 
Description Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We showed the film that we had made about primary school education in the village in Niger.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023
Description Presentation at the CSAE Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This was a presentation of our work at the CSAE conference at Oxford in March 2023
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023