“Fiscal Implications of Free Education: The Case of Tanzania”

The abolition of fees for secondary school is an increasingly common policy choice by even low-income countries, including Kenya, Uganda and Sierra Leone in recent years. Such policies can have a transformative effect on access, but have enormous fiscal implications. Without careful planning, countries which abolish secondary fees often end up with deeply unequal secondary school systems, with standards of staffing and infrastructure met in urban areas but largely ignored in rural areas.

Tanzania became one of the first low-income countries to abolish fees for lower secondary education (grades 8-12) in 2015. The new Fee-Free Basic Education Policy enabled a large increase in the proportion of students entering primary school, and the proportion progressing to secondary level. Over the next few years more than a million additional lower secondary places will be required to meet the increase in demand. While this is great news, such a rapid expansion poses significant cost challenges. In partnership with the government of Tanzania, we developed a simulation model to estimate the impacts of various policy parameters on the cost of lower secondary education up to 2025.

I wrote a Policy Note to accompany the model, presenting key projections for lower secondary costs, the additional costs of various improvements to school standards currently under discussion, and potential approaches to reduce costs without sacrificing quality of teaching. I presented the model and the Note at the Public Finance and Public Management Workshop, organized by the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, in Accra, Ghana in October 2018. The model is now being replicated for use in Uganda, Ghana, and other low- and middle-income countries in Africa and elsewhere.

Read the Note.

“Moving teachers to Malawi’s remote communities: a data-driven approach to teacher deployment”

Proud to have (online) published my (co-authored) first (working) paper!

The product of more than two years of research, in close partnership with the Government of Malawi, the paper details the political economy factors driving the vast disparities in staffing between remote and more urban schools in Malawi, and the potential of data-driven policies, such as calibrated remote posting allowances, to address the problem. Look out for news of the rollout of new policies in Malawi over the next year or so.

Read the paper.

UPDATE 8th January 2019: The updated paper is now published in the International Journal of Educational Development.

UPDATE 1 August 2020: The paper received the Joyce Cain Award for Distinguished Research on People of African Descent from the Comparative International Education Society. My thanks to the committee!

Tanzania Education Program for Results: Additional Financing

I have been privileged for the last two years to work on the Tanzania Education Program for Results, a highly innovative and terrifically well-designed program of support to basic education. Program for Results (PforR) is the World Bank’s modality for results-based financing, and the Tanzania EPforR was the first PforR in education anywhere in the world. By rewarding the Government of Tanzania for implementing priority programs and reforms, the PforR approach has worked extremely well in aligning donor and government incentives, driving significant change at both central and local level.

In May, the World Bank and GoT signed an agreement for an additional $80 million in financing to extend the program to 2020 and support expansion into new areas of reform, including some very interesting new approaches to school inspections. I worked extensively alongside the Government and colleagues from the Bank and other donors to develop the design for the AF phase [pdf].

Read the project paper, or find out more about the program.

Admitting NGO failure: a (fictional) example

I wrote a piece for WhyDev imagining, probably slightly idealistically, how an NGO could gently but frankly inform its supporters about an unsuccessful pilot project:


At Partners Fighting Poverty, we never stop thinking about new ways to help the world’s most vulnerable farmers. Every year we try new approaches and new projects to help people earn more, learn more and live healthier, safer lives. This innovative approach has led us to some of our biggest successes, such as our unique plough-to-plate value chain financing system.

But when you try a lot of new things, inevitably some will work better than others. And a small number of projects won’t work at all.

I want to take a moment today to tell you about one recent project that didn’t work.

Realistic? Hopelessly naive? Or maybe you think this doesn’t go far enough in the direction of transparency? (That’s what the commenters seem to think.) Read the whole piece over at WhyDev.

The Concerned for Working Children’s new website

I wrote much of the new website of the Nobel-nominated Indian children’s rights NGO The Concerned For Working Children, including this page on child marriage:

Our approach is to empower children to make change in their own communities. Members of organisations facilitated by CWC for the empowerment of children have prevented many instances of child marriage in their villages through campaigning in their own villages.

In 2002, for example, members of Bhima Sangha (the union of working children facilitated by CWC) staged a protest in their village to help their friend Vedha, 11, from being pushed into an early marriage. Despite the opposition of their parents and neighbours, the children marched to the police station and demanded action to stop the illegal marriage. Policemen gave Vedha to the children for protection until after the wedding date, and she stayed with other members in their small training centre. Since Vedha’s case, many children have been saved from early marriage by activism by their Bhima Sangha friends.