Despite Uganda’s striking gains in student attendance — 96% of children of primary school age attend primary school — learning outcomes remain very poor (UNICEF, 2015). One possible reason that has generated lots of attention is the high rates of teacher absenteeism in Ugandan public schools. Recent studies have shown that more than one out of four teachers are absent on any given day (Chaudhry et. al. 2006; World Bank 2013).
This pilot study sought to test whether changing teachers’ expectations (that they will not be disciplined or face career consequences) would reduce absenteeism. The researchers randomly assigned 160 public primary schools across two districts to receive one of two interventions, either separately or together: 1) structured meetings with teachers to discuss professional norms and absenteeism, and 2) showing teachers a recording of elected district leaders discussing their own professional effort and behavior.
Before intervening, the average teacher attendance rate in the sample is 75%, and around a quarter (27%) of classrooms where pupils are present have no teacher. Two months after the intervention, teachers from schools that both participated in the meetings and saw recordings from their district leaders, increased their attendance by 8 percentage points. Five months after the intervention, teacher attendance in treated schools ranged from 2 to 6 percentage points higher.
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