Despite improvements in school enrolment over the past 20 years, 757 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). Some governments have shifted to community teachers, who are hired on short-term contracts renewable upon performance. Yet oversight remains a challenge, especially in countries with high transport costs and weak institutions. In a previous adult education program in Niger, community teachers missed 1/3 of their classes (Aker et al 2016).
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 and NGOs to communicate with remote areas on a regular basis, mobile phones can improve monitoring of teachers' attendance. Mobile phones can also allow the community to provide feedback to education providers, thereby increasing community engagement. And finally, mobile phones could be used to provide more frequent "long distance" pedagogical support to teachers.
Our research team ran a randomized evaluation in Niger between 2014-2016, which showed that a mobile phone monitoring intervention in the context of an adult education program - whereby teachers, students and village chiefs were called on a weekly basis - significantly improved students' test scores (Aker et al 2016). Although the intervention did not include financial incentives for teachers, mobile monitoring increased teachers' attendance and motivation. At the same time, teachers often asked for pedagogical support, which the monitoring team was unable to provide.
This proposal builds upon this initial research in five ways. First, it will expand the program to more villages in order to test the intervention at a larger scale. Second, the research will test different types of mobile monitoring - i.e., calling the teacher only, as compared with calling the teacher, the village chief and students - to determine which approach is the most effective in increasing teacher performance and learning. Third, the program will assess the potential for using mobile phones to provide pedagogical support to teachers. Fourth, our research will seek to understand how education and technology affect intra-village dynamics, as well as the dynamics between the teacher, community and education service providers. And finally, these interventions will be piloted in a small number of primary schools in order to understand whether the dynamics of teacher monitoring and support are different in a primary school setting and with governmental institutions.
This research contributes to the existing literature in several ways. First, the intervention uses a low-cost technology that does not require specialized software. It also builds upon existing research on teacher performance by including pedagogical support and omitting the financial incentive. Finally, our research will focus on adult education programs, a highly neglected entry point for education interventions.
This research will be achieved through a unique collaboration between governmental, non-governmental, university and research firm partners in Niger, the US and Europe