By Dr. John Mugo, Fredrick Wamalwa and Izel Kipruto

It is a bright Thursday morning at 9:00 am as we arrive in Kilimani village in Kilifi,. We meet with three girls walking from school to home and we stop to inquire. They have been sent home to fetch money for paying teachers. Farida returns to school in the afternoon, Jane returns the following day, while Zeinab has to remain home until the mother raises the 150 shillings demanded by the school. At the school, teacher Fadhili has not come today because he was attending atraining in Malindi town. In the staffroom, three teachers are marking books, and we feel shy to interrupt. From this day’s count, 40 percent of learning time was lost – leaking through children who did not come to school, those that came but were sent home, truant pupils who walked away in the afternoon to enjoy wild fruits, and the teachers who, besides Mr. Fadhili, were in school but either did not attend some lessons, attended lessons late, or were just in class but not teaching. Unfortunately, Kilimani primary school will never recover this time.

A recent learning assessment report by Uwezo shows that on average 15 percent and 12 percent of pupils and teachers, respectively miss school on any given day. However, the biggest concern is teachers who are in school but are not attending lessons at all, attending lessons late, or in class but not teaching at all. At the same time, many learners miss school daily, while others attend only some lessons. This combination of the time lost due to teacher and learner absence from lesson is among the least highlighted, but leading factors in inhibiting learning in our public schools.

But whose problem is this? Is it the parents that did not honour their part of the bargain, or the head teacher and teachers who are not accountable for learning, or the local leader who watches uniformed children stroll the village and does nothing?

Twaweza’s Husika Initiative

To follow this question, Twaweza East Africa has been experimenting with ideas in two counties in Kenya (Kilifi and Baringo), through the Husika (get involved) initiative. A holistic approach to improving attendance is under trial in 36 schools in Kenya, loaded with four interventional dimensions. Learners maintain a lesson-by-lesson attendance record of teachers (whether they come on time, late or not at all) and pupils, a volunteer teacher compiles the data every Friday and shares with the colleagues in the week that follows, a volunteer citizen collects the evidence and presents this to the local leader (chief), the local leader presents attendance progress to the community members targeting parents to check the attendance of their children.

After nine months of implementation, there is emerging evidence that in some schools, the data were found useful and led to some simple initiatives to curb absenteeism and improve timeliness. For instance, one immediate outcome was that teachers begun speaking about their lesson attendance trends among themselves. In some schools, the ‘class MPs’ (monitors) were granted the legitimacy to fetch their teachers from the staff room whenever the teacher was late for a lesson.

Yet another outcome was that, in some schools, teachers resolved to wait outside the class when the bell rang, and demanded that the teacher whose lesson had just ended went to their next class in order to avoid being marked late. In a number of schools, the head teachers promised to continue with the initiative for the rest of the year. They had locally adopted the Husika pupil and teacher attendance register and promised to extend it to more classes for local monitoring. There is also evidence that the data generated from the initiative got its way into local baraza[1]s, albeit in a few places.

Preliminary Findings

More interestingly, our preliminary findings show that teacher and pupil attendance is closely related. Schools where more teachers were attending the lessons on-time experienced a higher proportion of pupil attendance, boys and girls alike and in fact, statistically, we find that a relatively high proportion of pupil attendance is justified by teacher on-time lesson attendance. In essence, the availability of teachers in class on-time catalyses pupil attendance. This therefore shows a clear indication that the practice of on-time teacher attendance has potential to increase pupil attendance.

What do we learn here?

While efforts to motivate teachers to show up in school and attend lessons on time have mainly been top-down, there is scope to explore self-generated bottom-up approaches, such as that in Twaweza’s Husika Initiative. For instance, given legitimacy, pupils can always remind teachers to attend lessons on time. Parents, the Board of Management and the community at large should move beyond discussing matters on school infrastructure and focus more on matters that enhance accountability for learning, in particular matters related to student and teacher absenteeism. More often, we look up to the Teachers Service Commission, or the Ministry of Education, to reign down from Nairobi to bring the change. Change will happen when the head teacher, the teachers, the chief and the parents agree on the problem, believe that they have the power to change, and just move to make this change happen.

Dr. John Mugo ( ) is the Director, Data & Voice, Izel Kipruto ( ) is the Communications Officer both at Twaweza East Africa & Fredrick Wamalwa ( ) is a PhD student at the University of Cape Town with interests in Economics of Education. ­

[1] Community gathering / meeting