Primary education management in Madagascar

Primary school education in Madagascar has been plagued by underachievement and low levels of literacy and numeracy. To address the problem, in 2005 the Madagascan Ministry of Education partnered with J-Pal, an anti-poverty NGO, to trial interventions at different levels of educational management, from district administration to individual primary schools.

The challenge

The academic performance of school-age children is very low in many developing countries. Successful efforts to expand access to education in the developing world have not always translated into actual improvements in pupils’ skills and learning. Only 64.5 percent of adults in Madagascar are literate, and literacy rates are similarly low in the school-age population.

“Top-down approaches can provide administrators with the tools necessary to better monitor their schools, but this assumes that they have the incentive to do so." [1] Equally, encouraging local accountability – a more bottom-up approach – may also be a useful means of improving educational outcomes, but only if it can be determined which factors are the most influential and beneficial.

The initiative

“In September 2005, with the assistance of the World Bank, Madagascar introduced Amélioration de la Gestion de l’Education à Madagascar [Improving Education Management in Madagascar] (AGEMAD)." [2] The programme implemented a new approach to managing primary education and was designed to achieve the following indirect objectives:

  • Increasing the performance of primary school pupils.
  • Improving school attendance.
  • Reducing the numbers of pupils who repeated school years.
  • Increasing pupils’ test scores.

More specifically, it was designed to streamline the administration of the education system:

  • “Explain to district heads, sub-district heads, school principals, and teachers their responsibilities, and provide them with materials and procedures to accomplish their tasks. [3]
  • “Promote supervision and follow-up at key positions in the administrative hierarchy.
  • “Facilitate school-community interactions and promote accountability for results through the use of school report cards.”

AGEMAD was rolled out on a trial basis in 3,774 primary schools, spread across 30 public school districts in all the geographic areas in the country. There was a specific focus on those schools that had the highest rates of pupils repeating school years. It used two kinds of intervention:

  • District-level interventions – by providing operational tools to monitor school-level implementation.
  • School-level interventions – through regular parent-teacher meetings. Certain tools allowed parents to coordinate on taking action to monitor service quality and apply “social pressure” to teachers.

AGEMAD was tested through a two-year randomised control trial (RCT), where the control group used a top-down approach to primary school management and the control group did not.

The public impact

Student attendance in the control group increased by 4.3 percentage points as against the comparison group average of 87 percent, although teacher attendance and communication with parents did not improve.

In terms of education outcomes, the interventions improved school attendance, reduced repetition of school years, and raised test scores. This applied in two subjects – Malagasy (the national language) and mathematics – although the gains in learning at the end of the evaluation period were not always statistically significant.

What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.

Legitimacy

Public Confidence Weak

There is little evidence of public confidence directly related to this initiative. However, there is evidence that the Madagascan government was unstable at the time the scheme was launched in 2005.

In 2001, the presidential elections were disrupted and in 2009 there was a bloodless coup. “Madagascar was buffeted by continuing social and political unrest in 2004. [4] In 2004, army reservists demanded better compensation for their efforts during the country's political crisis in 2002. A series of grenade attacks which resulted in numerous injuries and arrests are believed to be linked to growing frustration over continued economic problems.”

Stakeholder Engagement Good

There were a number of Madagascan stakeholders involved in AGEMAD. The pilot phase was conducted with the involvement of technical staff from the Ministry of Education, district administrators and other administrative staff, and schoolteachers and school directors at the primary schools involved. It also involved an external NGO, the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-Pal) and its researchers.

Political Commitment Good

The Madagascan government was committed to the project, principally through the Ministry of Education. Some 200,000 operational tools and 11,000 guidebooks were distributed to the stakeholders, and some 10,000 report cards were produced for school directors and sub-district and district administrators by the Ministry of Education, using school census data.

Policy

Clear Objectives Good

The objectives of AGEMAD were to streamline the administration of the education system and, as a result, to improve pupils’ educational outcomes (see The initiative above for the detailed objectives).

Evidence Fair

The pilot phase showed some positive results, such as a rise in attendance and a reduction in pupils repeating school years, both by statistically significant amounts. However, those interventions that were limited to district and sub-district levels were largely ineffective, which was probably due to weak mechanisms for monitoring and control and to the lack of a true leadership culture among those involved.

Feasibility Fair

The pilot study was conducted by the Ministry of Education in partnership with J-Pal, an NGO which was very experienced in conducting RCTs and had a number of competent researchers.

To frame the strategy for scaling up, a randomised experiment was carried out over two school years in collaboration with the Ministry of Education in 3,774 primary schools in 30 public school districts. Hence as per the pilot results, it is feasible to collaborate with 3774 schools by the support of Ministry of education, so human resources constraints and fiscal constraints were evaluated.

The results after two years of evaluation suggested that the new management practice improved – and achieved better results for pupils – when it was combined as a package of school-level interventions reinforced by interventions at the district and sub-district levels.

The AGEMAD pilot established the feasibility of a wider, nationwide roll-out.

Action

Management Strong

There is a well-defined, hierarchical management structure. “Each district administrator manages an average of 14 sub-district administrators, and each sub-district administrator is responsible for about 10 school directors. [5] Each school director manages three teachers and 177 students on average.”

A separate team was hired and trained to implement the AGEMAD interventions. This approach was also the best way to adhere to the strict requirements of the experiment for implementation and data collection.
“Some 200,000 operational tools and 11,000 guidebooks were distributed to the actors, and some 10,000 report cards were produced for school directors and sub district and district administrators by the Ministry of Education using school census data.” [6]

Measurement Strong

The AGEMAD programme consisted of three distinct interventions, each one directed at a particular level of administration. “Each intervention provided ‘tools’, that is methods and materials, that were designed to help various employees of the Ministry of Education (district heads, sub-district heads, school principals, and teachers) do their work and, ultimately, improve educational outcomes." [7] The tools were allocated as follows:

  • To district heads – a teacher transfer master sheet, a pedagogical supplies form, and a class observation grid.
  • To sub-district heads – pedagogical supervision and support forms and report cards on the performance of, and the resources for, each school in the sub-district.
  • To school principals and teachers – lesson planning forms, records of student 10 attendance and learning, and reports to parents and school directors.

These tools gave participants at each level the resources they needed to supply accurate and complete data for use in the measurement of AGEMAD.

Alignment Good

The technical staff of the Ministry of Education developed tools to streamline and tighten the workflow processes of all the actors along the service delivery chain, focusing on measures to make explicit the functional responsibilities of teachers, school directors, and district and sub-district administrative staff. There was evidence of cooperation at all levels of the Ministry of Education (the ultimate employer of all the internal stakeholders, e.g. school principals and administrators as well as technical staff).

There was collaboration between the Ministry stakeholders and those working on the pilot from J-Pal.