Are private schools better than public schools? Is either type of school more likely to have better teachers? And can the training to produce those teachers be done in a non-traditional (and inexpensive) way?
For two and a half months, these have been some of the questions at the forefront of my work supporting a randomized control trial on low-cost private schools across Kenya. The study, which began in 2015, is moving into mid-line data collection in the fall. I joined to assist in developing and testing the survey tools which will be used in this next phase of the project, which will include teacher and principal surveys and classroom observations in over 800 schools.
During my time here, I’ve visited and piloted tools in over 20 schools and observed teachers and students in classrooms at all levels of pre-primary and primary education. I’ve had a chance to see new models of training teachers in action and to gauge teacher opinions and subject-level expertise.
But my time hasn’t been spent on trying to answer these questions of what the differences between different types of schools are, and if they perform better for their students. It’s been spent trying to develop the right questions, which has turned out to be a more involved and iterative process than I expected. When I started, I assumed that the economists leading the project had their own hypotheses set to lead the development of these questionnaires. But while they had a few, they also expected me to come up with additional theories on how the schools would differ, how that would show up in the data, and how to capture it in a questionnaire.
I had already spent time in schools in prior jobs, but the more time I spent in the classroom, the more it became clear that there was a long list of potential variations between different types of schools, and a longer list of potential reasons why they differed. Does it matter if teachers are warm and friendly with their students? Does the school structure matter, or is a nice classroom just a bonus? Does more autonomy in the classroom give license to teach to students’ needs, or set-up for poor accountability?
When I wrap up my role in the project this week, I’ll be leaving with a longer list of questions than I started with, and few answers. The study’s eventual completion and publishing of results (at their earliest, two years from now) will probably answer some of them, but not all. I’ll certainly be looking forward to reading it in the future, but I’m also looking forward to continuing to explore these types of questions in my second year of studies, internship, and hopefully, future career.