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Strømme Foundation’s Speed School Program in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger
Evaluation report

Tewodros Aragie Kebede

Fafo-report 2018:27

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Forskningstema: Sahel og Afrika sør for Sahara

Forskere på Fafo: Tewodros Aragie Kebede

The Speed School program is designed by West African education experts in partnership with Strømme Foundation in 2004. It is a nine-month intervention that provide access to education for out-of-school children (OOSC) aged 8-12 and enable them to enroll in a local school to complete their primary education. It consists of a condensed curriculum covering the first three years of primary education, and teaching is provided in a temporary school to groups with an average size of 25 learners. Upon completing the program, children are able to enroll in grade 4 of formal primary schools. Children are taught to read and write in their local language during the first two months, and then continue with an accelerated curriculum in French. The pedagogical approach was designed to encourage children to actively participate in classroom, with instructors providing intensified learning support.

This report presents the findings, conclusions, lessons learned and recommendations of an evaluation of the Speed School program implemented by Strømme Foundation in three West African countries: Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The evaluation is commissioned by Strømme Foundation with financing from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).

Utgitt: 2018 Id-nr.: 20676

Executive Summary

This report presents the findings, conclusions, lessons learned and recommendations of an evaluation of the Speed School program implemented by Strømme Foundation in three West African countries: Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. In 2004, West African education experts designed the Speed School program in Mali, in partnership with Strømme Foundation (SF). The program is a nine-month[1] accelerated learning program that provides three years’ worth of primary education to children who have never been to school or who have dropped out of school and wish to reintegrate back into the formal education system. The course follows a condensed primary school curriculum, with the aim of transferring successful graduates into the fourth grade of formal school. A unique feature of the program is that children are taught to read and write in their local language during the first two months, and then continue with an accelerated curriculum in French. Since the program’s beginning in 2004, more than 150,000 out-of-school children have completed the program.

The main purpose of this evaluation, commissioned by Strømme Foundation, is to document the long-term impact of the Speed School program and assess the return on investment that the program offers with the aim of improving program efficiency and effectiveness (value for money). The evaluation further serves to develop recommendations for adjustments that will improve the program as Strømme Foundation enters into a new strategic period.

Key findings

Overall, the Speed School program has provided access to education for children that were out of school in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. During its current strategy period (2014-2018), Strømme Foundation, in collaboration with local implementing partners, has provided access to education and enrolled 61,900 out-of-school children in its Speed School centers. Through Norad provision, the program has enrolled 23,634 out-of-school children and has exceeded its expected target of enrolling 20,650 children.

The Speed School program has provided opportunities for out-of-school children to return to the formal school system and continue their education. The program has a 90 percent efficiency rate in terms of the number of students who initially enrolled in the Speed Schools and then became eligible to transfer to formal primary schools. The limited percent of inefficiency (10 percent) is due to drop out from the Speed Schools.

Gender equality is an integral aspect of the Speed School program, ensuring that 50 percent of its enrolled students are female. In the context where achieving gender equity in education is challenging, the program managed to reach close to its target, where 48 percent of enrolled children were female. This is slightly higher than girls’ enrollment in formal primary schools (47 percent in 2016[2]) across the three countries. This achievement was made possible through promotional efforts in intervention communities and recruitment of girls into schools. During the initial phase of Speed School establishment, Strømme Foundation and its implementing partners worked extensively with community and religious leaders to create awareness on the importance of girls attending school. Girls’ enrollment was complemented by the employment of female instructors[3] in the Speed Schools, where 40 percent of the 1,154 instructors during the 2014-2018 strategy period were female. Among students who graduated from the Speed Schools, 69 percent of girls are currently in formal primary schools in Niger, while this percentage is 49 and 57 percent in Burkina Faso and Mali respectively.

Previous studies on the impact of the Speed School program using a randomized control trial in Mali (IPA[4], 2014) have shown that boys and girls start at different levels in French and mathematics. Such initial discrepancies affect future performance and the studies called for teaching mechanisms that pay particular attention to the needs of girls in mathematics. The studies identified the need for innovative teaching methods that address gender-differentiated starting points when enrolling students in the Speed School.

An area of challenge for the Speed School program is to ensure that its enrolled students are in the target age group of 8-12 years old and that they are out-of-school children. Survey data collected for this evaluation showed that nine percent of the sampled children were still in school and did not meet the out-of-school criteria when they joined the Speed School. Key informant interviews made with school officials suggest that children older or younger than the targeted age group were enrolled in the Speed School centers. In some instances, this was due to the lack of documentation (e.g. birth certificates) to clearly determine the age of the children at the time of enrollment, while in other cases implementing partners and community members misidentified the age of their children in order to benefit from the perceived better quality and cost-free Speed Schools.

Using survey data collected for this evaluation, among those students who were reintegrated into the formal primary school in 2015, 53 percent are currently in school. Referring to the individual countries, 33 percent of children are currently in school in Niger while this figure is 56 and 71 percent in Burkina Faso and Mali, respectively. The low figure in Niger appears to be related to older children dropping out of school, pervious drop out history, and gender and associated challenges. After reintegration to formal schools, both demand and supply side issues caused the majority of students to drop out. Demand side causes of non-attendance included lack of interest, family objections, and problems with the child’s health. Child labor was often mentioned as a reason particularly when it comes to domestic work for girls and farm work for boys. Marriage and domestic work explains a large proportion of female dropouts, while boys often drop out to seek income generating activities in off-farm activities such as mining. On the supply side, the lack of nearby schools, poor school infrastructure, lack of qualified teachers, lack of discipline and abuse at school are common reasons cited by the sample of Speed School graduates.

Across the three countries, analyses on the effect of the Speed School program showed that households who have children that attended the Speed School program have a higher percentage of children (aged 7-13) currently attending formal school (55 percent) compared to those households that didn’t have children in Speed Schools. This demonstrates the longer-term impact of the Speed School program to be a 5 percent increase in school enrollment among households whose children passed through the Speed School program.

While the longer-term effect of the Speed School program is encouraging, the percentage of out-of-school children in sampled intervention communities remains around 50 percent in the three countries[5]. About 42 percent of households in the sampled intervention communities have children within the age range of 8-12 years old that are not currently attending school. In these contexts, the Speed School program remains a relevant program and plays an important role in reducing the number of out-of-school children.

Strømme Foundation’s exemplary approach of active mobilization of local communities has been the key factor for the success and cost efficiency of its Speed School program. Communities played important roles in supporting the recruitment of learners; and the contribution of land, labor and materials for the construction and maintenance of educational facilities, and the provision of accommodation for Speed School instructors. The communities’ contribution has been instrumental for the establishment of Speed Schools at scale.

The recruitment and selection of Speed School instructors were conducted in a manner that does not affect the formal primary schools negatively. The instructors are recruited from the communities with certain transparent criteria; and receive periodical training, supervision and follow up that ensures the quality of the education provided in the Speed School centers. This evaluation found various examples through qualitative interviews where, after the closure of the Speed School centers, some instructors further developed their careers as educators and obtained employment in the formal school. As such, the program is contributing to the much-needed capacity development of the education sector in West Africa.

The Speed School program is implemented through active participation of the local education authorities and teachers and head teachers in formal primary schools. Although the extent of participation varies across different communities, the local authorities play a significant role in the identification of intervention areas, the monitoring and supervision of the Speed School centers, and the evaluation and accreditation of the Speed School students. Teachers and head teachers in primary schools generally receive transferred students from Speed Schools in a supportive manner. These actors play an important role in reintegrating Speed School graduates and ensuring greater acceptance and ownership of the Speed School program.

Strømme Foundation has been effective in its engagement with educational authorities, including the development of a curriculum for the Speed School program that is in line with the national curricula. The intervention covers key learning areas relevant at the primary level, adheres to standardized guidelines in its Speed School programming, and conducts assessments that allow the reintegration of Speed School students into formal primary schools by recognizing students’ completion of learning at Speed Schools.

The average total expenditure for establishing and running one Speed School center over a 10-month period during 2014-2016 was 3,431 US dollars at the level of an implementing partner. Taking into account the actual number of enrolled students in the 650 established Speed School centers through the provision of Norad funding during this period, the average cost per enrolled child over a 10-month period was 132 US dollars. Communities contribute to establishing a Speed School by providing materials and labor required for the construction of classrooms. An innovative aspect of the Speed School program is community mobilization efforts that keep capital costs to a minimum making the program cost efficient. These efforts also enable the program to be implemented on a large scale. The cost of enrolling one out-of-school child in a Speed School is 0.4 USD per day, much lower than the poverty line of 2 USD per day. The economic profile of the families of the Speed School graduates demonstrates the program’s equitable reach to the poor and often marginalized households in the three countries. With economic reasons often cited as the underlying reasons for dropping out or never attending school, the program contributes in reducing inequalities of opportunities for out-of-school children. The Speed School program appears to provide high value for money given that program-level administrative costs are kept low.

Key recommendations

Within the broader goal of achieving sustainable effects, SF should revisit its decision-making and implementation processes in the selection of program intervention areas. These processes should include systematic examinations of high potential impact areas, spatial overview of intervention areas and the maintenance of its programming standards, such as the presence and capacity of primary schools within 5km of intervention areas.

SF could develop better implementation mechanisms and processes that ensure adherence to the set criteria for recruitment of out-of-school children in intervention communities. Such mechanisms should ensure recruitment is grounded in verifiable information and include mechanisms of accountability.

Based on several years of experience in Speed School programming, SF should be in a good position to consider engaging with not only the reintegration of out-of-school children into formal schools but also the factors that have led to children dropping out or their exclusion from participating in school in the first place. This would entail embarking on interventions aimed at addressing the fragile and weak education systems in West Africa. With SF’s increased focus on a holistic approach, improved synergies between SF’s existing thematic program areas such as community-managed microfinance and capacity building may need to occur around the shared goal of supporting children to stay in school.

SF should engage in the overall improvement of the education sector and promote the development of enabling conditions to ensure quality education that increases learning outcomes for all children while addressing the reduction of the number of out-of-school children. Partnerships and collaborations with other international and national actors would be relevant to focus on more concerted efforts. Addressing an aspect of weak education systems, such as the lack of qualified primary school teachers, SF could consider encouraging instructors it employs in its program to enter into the formal school system as assistant teachers, without transgressing the national teacher training structures. This support could include facilitating certifications and providing trainings by coordinating with national training institutes and the ministries of education. The experience Speed School instructors could gain would be relevant in helping them to advance and become full-fledged teachers in formal school systems. This would in turn contribute to increasing the number of qualified teachers in formal primary schools, ensuring the sustainability of SF’s efforts.

While SF reports on standardized indicators on outputs and outcomes based on the program’s results framework, there is potential for gathering and utilizing relevant data in a systematic manner. Given the scale of its interventions, opportunities for program-level learning are immense. Improved data collection, organization, and utilization at various levels of the program’s results chain could facilitate more learnings. Such data may include students’ background information at the time of recruitment (e.g. reasons for non-attendance of school, school enrollment rates), their attendance and their end-year assessment data. Such data could be systematically organized, analyzed and used for program-level learning, as well as to assess results against the theory of change, and to identify areas of improvement in programming.

While commending SF’s previous attempts in using digital technologies, improved systems that allow timely updates of information should be deployed in its programming activities. Well-developed digital technologies can be used to collect data while thematic programming activities are underway in the intervention communities. Data on the retention and progression of reintegrated children in primary schools and learning outcomes can be gathered at a minimal cost. Such data could inform advocacy efforts towards relevant stakeholders in order to strengthen the education systems

 

[1] One additional month is used for training the Speed School instructors. The actual learning program is 9 months, making the total program period 10 months.

[2] Using data from UNESCO Institute of Statistics: http://uis.unesco.org/en/home#tabs-0-uis_home_top_menus-3

[3] It is important to note that we refer to the Speed School ‘teachers’ as instructors throughout this report because they have not had formal teacher training. When the word ‘teacher’ is used, we are referring to a person who has had formal teacher training, such as the teachers at the formal schools.

[4] Studies by Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) (2014, 2018).

[5] Using data from UNESCO Institute of Statistics: http://uis.unesco.org/en/home#tabs-0-uis_home_top_menus-3