The introduction of free primary education has raised primary school enrollment in many developing countries. For a number of reasons including budget constraints, increased enrollment has often not been matched by increased numbers of government-salaried teachers. The resulting overcrowding of schools, as well as the influx of new students with little or no preparation, poses new challenges to policymakers. One method of lowering the pupil-teacher ratio, versions of which have been used by many governments, is to hire low paid local contract teachers in addition to government-salaried ones. Empowering the local community to monitor teachers' performance may also increase teachers' effort and students' learning, but there are concerns that these teachers may be less experienced and therefore less effective.
In the past decade, Kenya has made rapid progress towards the goal of universal primary education. Due in part to the elimination of school fees in 2003, primary school enrollment rose nearly 30% between 2002 and 2005, and currently an estimated 76% of eligible children are enrolled in primary school. This creates new challenges, as increased enrollment has not been met with increased numbers of teachers. Two years after the introduction of free primary education, first grade classes in sample schools had an average of 83 students. Classes were also largely heterogeneous: students differ vastly in age and school preparedness.
ICS, a Dutch NGO which operates heavily in this area, provided 140 schools with funding to hire a local contract teacher to address classroom overcrowding. The contract teachers were paid approximately one-quarter of the salary of regular civil service teachers, but had the same educational qualifications. In each school, ICS held a meeting with parents and teachers to explain program rules regarding the hiring of an additional teacher. School committees hired the contract teachers and were free to replace or keep the original contract teacher based on performance. In the first year of the program, the contract teachers were assigned to grade 1. A new grade 1 section was created, thereby reducing class size for first graders by 33 to 50%. In the second year, the extra teachers moved to second grade with the same group of students. Another 70 schools did not receive funds to hire a contract teacher, and served as a comparison group.
In half of the 140 funded schools, called "non-tracked schools," first-grade students were randomly assigned to the section taught by the contract teacher or the section taught by the regular civil service teacher. This resulted in a mixture of preparedness levels in both sections. In the other half of the 140 funded schools, called "tracked schools", students were assigned to sections based on their level of preparedness, and the contract teacher was randomly assigned to either the higher- or the lower-preparedness section. Finally, half of all funded schools (half of non-tracked and half of tracked schools) received training on local school committee oversight of the contract teacher.
Results and Policy Implications
Providing school committees with funds to hire an extra teacher on a short-term contract had a generally positive effect on learning, as measured by test scores. Contract teachers were present in school more than their civil-service counterparts, and their students scored higher on exams. However, the impact depended heavily on how the program was implemented. Training school committees to monitor teachers in conjunction with hiring contract teachers increased program effectiveness. Dedicating one class to help those students with weak academic preparation substantially improved test scores for all students.
Hiring supplementary contract teachers can be part of the solution to Kenya’s teacher shortage. To get the most out of these teachers, implementation details matter. The biggest gains come when local school committees are empowered to effectively monitor these teachers and when extra classes are structured so as to target instruction to students’ initial achievement level. All in all, this is a highly cost effective way to cut absenteeism and promote learning in developing countries.