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In Event: Measuring sustainability of school meals: research methods to measure sustainability at different stages of USDA Food for Education project implementation
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has led three project phases of the McGovern-Dole (MGD) International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program in Mali. The third phase, which is a five-year intervention, expands on the previously implemented MGD projects and aims to improve literacy of school-aged children in the Mopti and Koulikoro regions. Activities in this project include school meals, take-home rations (THR), vitamin A and deworming medications distribution, school management committees (SMC) members capacity building, formation of savings and internal lending community (SILC) groups, and teacher/principal training on literary pedagogical techniques.
CRS selected IMPAQ International, LLC (IMPAQ) in 2016 to design impact and performance evaluations of MGD III. IMPAQ designed the performance evaluation to measure changes in outcomes using quantitative and qualitative methods. In addition, a cohort comparison method was designed to evaluate the impact of the program teacher training on the literacy of primary-school-aged children.
IMPAQ completed the midline evaluation in July 2018, and focused on students’ performance, parent/community engagement in children’s schooling, SLIC groups’ activities, as well as health and hygiene practices. IMPAQ collected survey data (students, caregivers, teachers, principals, and SMCs), as well as qualitative data through interviews and focus groups.
In addition to evaluating the MGD III in achieving the desired outcomes, IMPAQ also assessed the appropriateness of sustainability strategies at midline with the following questions: “What activities and/or outcomes of the program are likely to be sustained?” and “What additional steps need to be taken to improve the chances for sustainability of the activities and benefits derived from the project activities?”
1. Finding: The midline findings showed that the SILC groups offer a path to sustainability after the project finishes. The financial knowledge gained will last after the resources end, and several communities without SILC groups requested financial literacy training, knowing that this could help them maintain the canteens. Findings also show that participation in the SILC groups helped parents save money for their children’s school fees as well as increased their income, assets, and food security.
2. Finding: Building the community’s awareness appears to be happening faster than infrastructure building. For example, parents are aware of the importance of preventative health activities such as pre-natal care and vaccinating their children, but the expense involved, or the distance required to access care is too high for many families.
3. Finding: Several activities will require external support to continue after the program ends. In many communities, the amount of food families can contribute varies heavily from year to year based on the climate. Teacher and parent turnover also threaten sustainability, as without continuous training, new teachers and SMC members will not have the knowledge and skills to use the new teaching techniques and run the canteens.
4. Finding: Men play a key role in decision-making on children’s educational attainment. To change the attitude of the community towards children’s schooling, especially improving their school attendance and reducing their dropout rates, including both female and male caregivers will be critical for a long-run, sustained program impact.