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New study unveils challenges affecting teacher attendance in sub-Saharan Africa

Evidence to help education systems better support teacher motivation, accountability and conditions

 

(4 November 2020) Important new research on teacher absenteeism in sub-Saharan Africa was launched today at a regional online workshop of national and international education stakeholders organized in Nairobi, Kenya. Time to Teach: Teacher attendance and time on task in Eastern and Southern Africa, provides insights into the drivers of primary school teacher absenteeism, a major obstacle in efforts to address the learning crisis in children of low- and middle-income countries around the world.

Produced by the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, the report synthesizes findings from eight sub-Saharan countries with a focus on the many complex factors that affect teacher time on task across the region. The study provides robust evidence on the challenges faced by teachers and to improve policies on teacher working conditions, accountability and motivation. Reduced teacher time on task is considered one of the greatest challenges toward inclusive and quality education.

Visit the Time to Teach microsite to download the report

“Even before COVID-19, the world was facing a learning crisis. Half of 10-year-olds in low and middle-income countries couldn’t read and understand a simple text and in sub-Saharan Africa the issue is even more acute with 87 per cent of children in that situation,” said Matt Brossard, Chief education researcher at UNICEF Innocenti. “This research identifies promising practices for supporting teachers and improving policies for a more motivated and effective teaching workforce, one of the most important factors for addressing the learning crisis.”

Countries in Eastern and Southern Africa have invested heavily in teacher development and support. Yet, teacher absenteeism is still prevalent in the region. Teachers attending lessons and spending time on task is a prerequisite for learning.

The study moves beyond the traditional understanding of teacher absenteeism and provides critical insights into the factors that underpin the multiple forms of teacher absenteeism and time on task. It also examines how factors vary across countries, school types, gender of teacher and other teacher characteristics. Despite high levels of teacher absenteeism, the study shows that teachers are generally committed to their job. What is crucially needed is strengthening education systems.

“Through the COVID-19 crisis, teachers’ roles have changed with many teachers supporting remote and home learning and all teachers closely involved in ensuring that schools are safe learning environments,” said Abhiyan J Rana, UNICEF Regional Education Adviser for Eastern and Southern Africa. “What is striking, however, is that the key insights from the study – namely that effective and consistently applied accountability, training and support, career development and renumeration systems – remain critical to improve teachers’ attendance and time on task.”

Key Findings of the Study

  • On average 15.5 to 17.8 per cent of teachers in the countries surveyed reported being absent from school or unable to deliver instruction while in school;
  • Teacher absenteeism is higher in rural areas than in urban/peri-urban areas and higher in public schools than in private schools;
  • ‘Moonlighting’ teachers, who hold multiple jobs, are more likely to report being absent compared with teachers who receive income exclusively from the teaching profession, as are volunteer teachers compared with non-volunteer teachers;
  • Across all countries, health, weather and family reasons were the most frequent reasons given by teachers for explaining the different forms of absence;
  • Teachers who perceive their head teacher as actively discouraging absenteeism report being more often at school and spending more time on task;
  • Stronger parental and community engagement in teacher monitoring is also associated with improved teacher attendance;
  • Teachers who receive their salary on time and with relative ease report lower rates of absenteeism than teachers who face delays and difficulties in collecting their pay.

The Time to Teach study covers Comoros, Kenya, Mozambique, Puntland (State of Somalia), Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania (mainland and Zanzibar) and Uganda. Findings are based on data from 180 public and private schools, 3,498 teachers and school administrators and 1,107 students. The research used a mixed methods approach, gathering quantitative and qualitative data from interviews, focus group discussions, a teacher survey and structured observations. A region-wide synthesis report has been produced along with nine country level reports.

“The overarching objective of the Time to Teach study is to enable governments to identify gaps and bottlenecks in improving teacher time on task,” said Despina Karamperidou, lead author of the report. “The persistent focus of the study on the multiple factors affecting teacher attendance, will help mobilize policymakers, citizens, donors and other stakeholders to take the necessary steps to improve teacher working conditions, accountability and motivation, and thereby improve learning outcomes.”

Main Policy Recommendations

  • Strengthen inter-sectoral collaboration to address factors beyond the education system, in particular health and infrastructure;
  • Ensure that head teachers are trained in management and leadership including monitoring and oversight, curriculum implementation and supervision;
  • Boost parental and community involvement to include a monitoring role and strengthening of their representation on school councils and management boards.
  • Remove obstacles to receiving pay including increased pay points in remote areas and establishing a Rota system to ensure schools continue to function at pay collection time.
  • Ensure that teacher training has a strong practical component and is not organized in a way that leave students without a teacher or a substitute teacher.
  • Make distribution of teachers across schools more equitable including incentive strategies to make postings in rural and hardship areas more attractive.

Findings will inform workable solutions and policies at the country level and will help increase opportunities for children to learn and, ultimately, improve their life and work opportunities.

 

Publications

Time to Teach: Teacher attendance and time on task in Eastern and Southern Africa
Publication Publication

Time to Teach: Teacher attendance and time on task in Eastern and Southern Africa

There is a learning crisis. Fifty-three per cent of children in low- and middle-income countries are in ‘learning poverty’, i.e. they cannot read and understand a simple text by the end of primary school age. In sub- Saharan Africa, the learning poverty rate is 87 per cent overall, and ranges from 40 per cent to as high as 99 per cent in the 21 countries with available data. Teachers attending lessons and spending quality time on task is a critical prerequisite to learning. However, in sub-Saharan Africa, teacher absenteeism ranges from 15 to 45 per cent. Teacher absenteeism and reduced time on task wastes valuable financial resources, short-changes students and is one of the most cumbersome obstacles on the path toward the education Sustainable Development Goal and to the related vision of the new UNICEF education strategy: Every Child Learns. Whilst the stark numbers are available to study, and despite teacher absenteeism being a foremost challenge for education systems in Africa, the evidence base on how policies and practices can influence teacher attendance remains scant. Time to Teach (TTT) is a research initiative that looks at primary school teacher attendance in eight countries and territories in the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) region: the Comoros; Kenya; Rwanda, Puntland, State of Somalia; South Sudan; the United Republic of Tanzania, mainland; the United Republic of Tanzania, Zanzibar; and Uganda. Its primary objective is to identify factors affecting the various forms of teacher attendance, which include being at school, being punctual, being in the classroom, and teaching when in the classroom, and use this evidence to inform the design and implementation of teacher policies.
Time to Teach: Teacher attendance and time on task in in primary schools in Kenya
Publication Publication

Time to Teach: Teacher attendance and time on task in in primary schools in Kenya

Teacher absenteeism constitutes a significant barrier to achieving quality education in many low- and middle-income countries globally, where teachers’ school absence rates range from 3 per cent to 27 per cent. In Kenya, where primary education has made remarkable improvements in recent years, teacher absenteeism remains a foremost challenge for the education system. In 2102, the World Bank estimated the average rate of teacher absenteeism from schools across the country at 15 per cent and the average rate of teacher absenteeism from the classroom at 42 per cent. A 2016 study conducted in 4,529 Kenyan primary schools found that on average, one in ten teachers was absent from school and that half of all schools had a teacher absenteeism rate in excess of 10 per cent. While the stark numbers are available, the evidence base on what factors, policies and practices affect teacher attendance in Kenya remains scant. Time to Teach (TTT) targets this knowledge gap. Its primary objective is to identify factors affecting the various forms of primary school teacher attendance and to use this evidence to inform the design and implementation of teacher-related policies. Specifically, the study looks at four distinct forms of teacher attendance: being in school; being punctual; being in the classroom; and spending sufficient time on task while in the classroom.
Time to Teach: Teacher attendance and time on task in in primary schools in Uganda
Publication Publication

Time to Teach: Teacher attendance and time on task in in primary schools in Uganda

Teacher absenteeism constitutes a significant barrier to achieving learning outcomes in many low- and middle-income countries, where teacher school absence rates range from 3 to 27 per cent. In Uganda, primary education has achieved several milestones resulting in significant gains, including over 90 per cent literacy rate throughout the different districts, 94 per cent of the teaching force trained, and ongoing commitment from the Ministry of Education and Sports towards enhancing the provision of education. Uganda has also achieved gender parity in primary school enrolments, which in 2016 was at 84.1 per cent for girls and 83.3 per cent for boys. There are, however, ongoing challenges that put pressures on current gains and future goals. UNICEF Uganda estimates at least 60 per cent of Uganda's teachers are not present in the classroom at half of all public schools. Regional observations indicate teacher absence is a much larger issue in Uganda than other neighbouring countries, and that their subject knowledge is lower, comparatively. The Time to Teach (TTT) study seeks to support the ministry in its efforts to strengthen teachers’ role in the school in order to increase their time on task. Its primary objective is to identify factors affecting the various dimensions of primary school teacher attendance and to use this evidence to inform the design and implementation of teacher policies. Specifically, the study looks at four distinct dimensions of teacher attendance: being in school; being punctual; being in the classroom; and spending sufficient time on task while in the classroom.
Time to Teach: Teacher attendance and time on task in in primary schools in Puntland, State of Somalia
Publication Publication

Time to Teach: Teacher attendance and time on task in in primary schools in Puntland, State of Somalia

Teacher absenteeism constitutes a significant barrier to achieving national educational goals in many low- and middle-income countries, where teacher absence rates range from 3 to 27 per cent. While there is no data available from Puntland, State of Somalia (hereafter Puntland) on teacher absenteeism trends, regional cases suggest this is a chronic problem facing many schools throughout Africa, with an average of 15 to 45 per cent of all primary school teachers absent from the classroom on any given day. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education is beginning to increasingly prioritize the role of the teacher in the provision of effective time on task, and thus, has taken measures to deter teacher absenteeism. The Time to Teach (TTT) study seeks to address this knowledge gap. Its primary objective is to identify factors affecting the various dimensions of primary school teacher attendance and to use this evidence to inform the design and implementation of teacher policies. Specifically, the study looks at four distinct dimensions of teacher attendance: being in school; being punctual; being in the classroom; and spending sufficient time on task while in the classroom.
Time to Teach: Teacher attendance and time on task in in primary schools in Rwanda
Publication Publication

Time to Teach: Teacher attendance and time on task in in primary schools in Rwanda

Teacher absenteeism constitutes a significant barrier to achieving quality universal education. There is mounting evidence that teacher absenteeism is a challenge in low- and middle-income countries around the globe. The rates of teacher absence in these countries varies between 3 to 27 per cent. Within these average national prevalence rates, it is suspected that absenteeism may be higher in poorer, rural areas. Due to a dearth of research on teacher absenteeism, the consequences of this phenomenon are not fully evident. However, it is clear that countries are losing valuable resources they channelled into their education systems. This study moves beyond the conventional conception of teacher absenteeism—that of absence from school—to include other forms of absenteeism. The reasoning behind such a broad framing is that increasing evidence shows that school attendance does not necessarily equate to other forms of presence, including punctuality, being in the classroom, teaching for the proper duration, and teaching effectively.