Learning note 13| A twist on performance theory

Evidence from around the world shows that teacher effort has an impact on learning outcomes; one of the most basic measures of teacher effort is teacher presence. In Tanzania, teacher absence from classrooms is a non-trivial problem. The Service Delivery Indicators study (2014) found that 14.4% of teachers absent from school, but moreover, that 46.7% of teachers were absent from classrooms. A set of surprise school visits conducted in 2016 suggested the trends are not changing. 

Recognizing the central role teachers play in learning achievements of pupils and the magnitude of the problem of teacher absenteeism in Tanzanian classrooms, Twaweza Tanzania has for the past four years (2013-2016) implemented a teacher motivation intervention based on a cash-on-delivery model (COD). The initiative, termed KiuFunza, aims to measure the impact on student learning of COD incentives for teachers in Standards I-II-III of public primary schools.

KiuFunza measures student skills pay teachers for improved performance based on these skills, and provides feedback to teachers about their performance. It does not train teacher on what or how to teach, nor does it provide any additional teaching resources or inputs into school management. It basically trusts that teachers are able to impart basic skills and competencies (through Standard III), as long as they are motivated to do so.

The narrative around this design has been contested from the start. At Twaweza, we encounter this every time we present KiuFunza publicly: there is much discomfort with the individualized nature of the COD design, and concerns are raised that such an approach is detrimental to the group cohesion and morale at school-level. Indeed, in exploratory studies conducted by Twaweza on the topic of management of education at district-level, and specifically around teacher absenteeism in schools, the dominant narrative that emerges is one of collectivism, not individual action and individual rewards.

There is strong preference for sharing of responsibility for under-performance (e.g. there are valid reasons why teachers are absent; parents are as much to blame as teachers for poor learning outcomes, etc.); one could almost term this a form of “collective paralysis” where no actor is willing to be at the forefront of demonstrating change in behavior, partly perhaps because doing so would expose others and therefore potentially threaten the wellbeing of the entire group.

But KiuFunza works. It has been implemented in 180 government-run, primary schools across 10 districts in Tanzania. Districts and schools were sampled randomly so that results are nationally representative. The first phase (2013 & 2014) trialed the direct delivery of capitation grants to schools (which was subsequently adopted by the government as policy in January 2016) and cash on delivery for teachers – separately and in combination. This phase found a significant positive impact on learning outcomes from a combination of teacher incentives and direct delivery of capitation funds.

The second phase built on this to trial different models of incentive systems since the capitation grant delivery model has already been adopted by the government. After two years of treatment (2015 and 2016), findings show that the impact is equal to one-third of a year of schooling, added to the business as usual learning progress (without incentives).

For an initiative to be adopted throughout the system, we need to know not only whether it works, but also how and why it works. To understand better the mechanisms of how an individual-performance based initiative KiuFunza interacted with the school’s collective, we conducted in-depth qualitative research in the 10 schools participating in KiuFunza in the Mbozi district in Tanzania. 


Mbozi district was purposefully chosen from among the districts implementing KiuFunza, because it ranked as “middle-performing” in terms of overall COD bonuses earned in 2017 (Kindondoni was the district with highest amount of bonuses earned, while Mbinga earned the least), and because KF schools within Mbozi presented a range of performance (i.e., it has teachers with low achievement of COD bonuses, as well as some of the highest-earning COD teachers). The methodology was narrative interviews with teachers and head teachers. 


What do teachers say about KiuFunza? Teachers are unequivocal that KiuFunza is positive. At an individual level they have more financial security which reduces their stress and positions them to be a better teacher. KiuFunza focuses everyone in the school on the child and creates a positive feedback loop of whole school improvement.

What reasons do teachers give for KiuFunza being effective? Teachers explain that the financial security that they receive from the bonus enables them to think about tomorrow, to spend more time teaching, and to focus on their students as individuals. A few teachers explicitly stated that as a result of the bonus, they stopped taking work outside of the school. Moreover, KiuFunza was trusted because it was seen as not biased (rewards based on observable outcomes), and because it delivered (the bonuses were paid out).

What did teachers do differently as a result of KiuFunza? Teachers speak of adopting different ways to assess students’ learning by giving them regular tests to gauge their abilities. The results of these assessments provide teachers with data to differentiate their teaching between students depending upon their individual needs and capacities. In the face of limited teaching resources teachers are improvising and adapting material from their environment, so that they can vary their teaching stimuli and techniques. 

A positive feedback loop of whole school improvement has been established. Teachers speak of developing solutions and performance-oriented culture. The school uses limited resources more effectively, and students focus, study and achieve. 

Read more about the findings here

This brief was first presented at the RISE Stakeholder meeting in Dar es Salaam, March 2018 



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Authors: Kate McAlpine



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