Subscribe to E-Bulletin Donate to CEGA

Does Information Lead to More Active Citizenship?

Development Challenge

Poverty affects over two and a half billion people in the developing world, all of whom live on less than two dollars per day.[1] Many development organizations have embraced improved service delivery as part of their poverty alleviation strategies.[2]   This is especially true for many educational initiatives to improve the school enrollment and attendance rates in Sub-Saharan African countries, where children average only 4.5 years of schooling.  These organizations often employ information campaigns to increase citizen awareness and pressure on the government to improve service delivery,[3] hypothesizing that lack of accurate or adequate information can prevent citizens from advocating for change.  While information and educational campaigns have been linked to greater political action in some studies, the results on their efficacy remain mixed.  The present study seeks to identify a causal relationship between information and civic action to improve education.

Context

The Uwezo Initiative seeks to improve citizen participation in children’s (ages 6-16) educational attainment in East Africa through an information-based educational program. Uwezo – implemented in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya since 2010 – informs parents of their children’s literacy and numeracy skills and provides materials on strategies to improve their child’s learning.  The learning materials include an education-themed calendar, a signup sheet for education-themed text messages, a flyer about how to become involved in education in the community, and a poster of educational strategies for parents.  

This study focuses on Kenya in 2011.  While Kenya has one of the highest average educational attainments in Africa (7 average years of school), it still suffers from institutional corruption and mismanagement of funds, which can undermine educational attainment.  It also has a history of activism in the civic sector, which makes it ripe for the study of political engagement.  

Evaluation Strategy

Researchers leveraged the randomized rollout of the program to evaluate the effects of Uwezo post-treatment.   The study included 25 villages from two districts – Kirinyaga and Rongo. Researchers randomly selected 13 villages where Uwezo was implemented and then identified 12 villages with similar characteristics that did not have the program. To measure any possible spillover effects, researchers also randomly selected households from villages with Uwezo that did not participate in the program. The distribution of households surveyed was as follows: 

 

Treated households

Untreated households

Control households

Total

Kirinyaga

77

105

109

291

Rongo

69

99

91

259

Total

146

204

200

550

Selected households were surveyed to identify private and/or public actions parents took to improve educational outcomes. Private measures included at-home activities (e.g. spending more time reading with the child, steps taken to improve education quality in the months since the Uwezo intervention), and public measures included actions that parents took outside of the home or collectively (e.g. participation in education-related organizations, number of meetings attended, and monetary contributions).    

Results and Policy Implications

The results showed that Uwezo’s information campaign did not affect parents’ behaviors.  To help explain Uwezo’s lack of impact, researchers developed a framework that identifies key conditions that should already be present or provided by an information intervention for it to increase its likelihood of success. They then analyzed whether each condition had been present during the Uwezo intervention (see chart below).

The framework, pictured above, aims to identify both how individuals relate to the content of the information and when they will take action. Among Uwezo program participants, researchers found that while the information parents received about their child’s skill levels was easy to understand, it was not new. Even when parents learned their children were performing poorly, they did not take action, indicating that information alone is not sufficient for parents to take action. 

Researchers then analyzed how individuals’ beliefs and attitudes about their political environment affect how new information is received and acted upon. They found that while parents seemed to prioritize their children’s education, they do not feel individually responsible for making improvements; 83 percent reported it was the headmaster’s responsibility.  Moreover, 76 percent of parents said they would not know how to act to address school problems although this was not the major factor in the failure of the Uwezo program.  Few parents reported having taken political action; only 17 percent had contacted an official, and 21 percent had written letters as part of community groups.  While respondents generally felt able to effect change in their immediate environment, they also expressed concerns that corruption would ultimately prevent actual change. 39 percent of the parents surveyed even feared repercussions if they did speak out against the school system.   

Timeline

2011

[1] World Bank (2010). http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview

[2] World Bank (2004). World development report 2004: Making services work for poor people. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.

[3] Bruns, B., Filmer, D., & Patrinos, H. A. (2011). Making schools work: New evidence on accountability reforms. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Publications.