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The Impact of Learning to Teach by Learning to Learn on Student Outcomes in Uganda

Tue, February 21, 9:30 to 11:00am EST (9:30 to 11:00am EST), Grand Hyatt Washington, Floor: Declaration Level (1B), Tiber Creek A


Despite rapid gains in school attendance over recent decades, large learning gaps often persist. In many countries, strict teaching styles and fixed curricula that do not respond to student interests may be stunting learning. Across low- and middle-income countries around the world, governments spend significant resources on teacher training in an effort to improve student learning, but evidence on best practices for teacher training programs is low. Furthermore, many pedagogy or teacher training programs that have been widely successful focus on building discrete skills or following a specific curriculum, often for young children. Especially when teaching adolescents who are expected to learn much more material and develop increasingly complex competencies, a broad-based change in teachers’ instructional capability may equip students with transferable skills like finding answers themselves across diverse applications and contexts. Is it reasonable, however, to expect teachers to change modes of instruction if they have seldom experienced alternative instructional modalities themselves? Might teachers benefit from first learning how to learn in a scientific, interactive, and inquisitive manner themselves? If so, does this translate to them applying insights to their own teaching, fostering a more interactive learning environment for their students?

Finding answers to these questions is very important in the Ugandan context. Given a lack of robust evidence for the effectiveness of in-service teacher trainings, results from our RCT suggest the Preparation for Social Action (PSA) teacher training program in Uganda may provide important answers for future policies and approaches. After two years in which 40% of teachers in 15 treated schools attend the training, we see intent to treat effects of 25 percentage points in a high stakes primary leaving exam that determines whether or not students can continue into secondary schools. This is relative to a control school mean of 50%. It is consistent with a nearly 0.6 SD intent to treat effect on aggregate test scores and places the intervention in the top 5% of most cost-effective interventions according to Learning Adjusted Years of Schooling - a conservative estimate suggests that an additional $100 of funding increases the number of high-quality years of schooling by 9.6 years. Additionally, we observe large treatment effects in student critical thinking and scientific competencies as measured using science shows co-organized with the district education office. The effect sizes are similarly large, ranging to close to 0.8 SD.

We link these learning effects to substantial changes in teacher pedagogy through classroom observations, and teacher and student surveys. We use multiple measures to show that teachers are engaging students more in the learning process. We see that teachers become more inquisitive and view themselves as researchers by learning more about their own student’s lives and seeking advice from their colleagues. These are just a few of the many outcomes we have analyzed in our paper.