EdPolicyWorks Affiliate Faculty, Isaac Mbiti, Has Work in Tanzania Recognized

This article was original posted by Sarah Whelan at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

Tanzania’s elementary school enrollment rate has risen in recent years, but now experts are taking a close look at the quality of education. As Batten Professor Isaac Mbiti found, only one of five third grade students can read at a second grade level and less than a third could pass a simple math test designed for second graders. Possible causes of these discrepancies include teacher absenteeism and financial resources being diverted to places other than schools, as less than 20 percent of grant funds ever reach schools.

Issac MbitiIn 2012, Professor Mbiti and Professor Karthik Muralidharan, of the University of California in San Diego, began working with the organization Twaweza and Tanzanian government partners to develop a study called KiuFunza (“thirst for learning”). KiuFunza’s was created conduct a randomized evaluative study of primary schools in Tanzania. The researchers were instrumental in setting up the project and evaluation plan from the beginning. They encouraged the organization to focus on areas that could be measured. They also introduced systems thinking in the organization’s strategy to uncover “big picture.” While the study was initially designed to end in 2015, Twaweza determined that the study should be extended over a longer time to gather more information.

KiuFunza tested both the administration of a capitation grant directly to schools and offering it as an incentive to teachers whose students passed literacy and mathematic tests based on national curriculum. The direct capitation grants alone double the funding that the schools had received previously. The project involves 350 schools, in 10 districts throughout the country. Schools who received a combination of the two showed significant improvement in quality of education and ability to purchase supplies. The project has garnered praise from the public and the Tanzanian government, who both are optimistic about the early results.

The study provided crucial evidence the government needed, and the collaborative effort in education reform has become the largest of its kind in the country. Mbiti said, “Ten years ago the policy debate was focused on access to education, now it is about the quality of education.”

Not only have Mbiti and the researchers discovered and measured the impact, they have also found ways to keep the process running smoothly. Focusing on a reliable and transparent approach, Mbiti aims to improve education policy in Tanzania. The information he and KiuFunza uncovered aided the national government in their decision to give capitation grants directly to the schools, a decision made in 2014.  For the extended time of the study, they will focus on measuring the long-term impacts of the funds as well as areas for future improvement.

Professor Mbiti is an affiliate faculty member at EdPolicyWorks, a joint collaboration between the Curry School of Education and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. EdPolicyWorks brings together researchers from across the University of Virginia and the State to focus on important questions of educational policy and implications for the workforce.