In countries across Africa, September marks the start of the new school year. But in many classrooms, one key component is missing: Teachers. For a wide range of reasons—from illness to washed-out roads—instructors are often absent, leaving students and their families without the support they need to succeed.
In Malawi, global non-profit CARE is working to reverse this trend: Through a World Bank-funded project called Strengthening Social Accountability in the Education Sector (SSAES), CARE is partnering with Souktel to roll out a cell phone-based platform that monitors teacher attendance. By tracking trends in real time, and in remote locations, CARE aims to dramatically reduce teacher absenteeism in targeted schools by 2016. CARE staff will also use the platform to gather feedback from local communities, and broadcast announcements to students and their parents.
Why use mobiles to tackle this problem? Two main reasons, explains Thokozani Mwenyekonde, CARE Malawi’s Project Coordinator. First, cell phone-based reporting helps generate “robust, credible and independent data, in a consistent and easily accessible manner”. Daily attendance tracking produces a broad evidence base with multiple data points, over a series of months. This creates a clearer picture of the problem’s scope—which CARE will use to advocate for policy reforms on absenteeism with Malawi’s Ministry of Education.
Second, by making this data publicly available, the service will ideally encourage teachers to be more accountable to students: “Every day a teacher misses school, it directly affects the future prospects of each pupil in the clasroom,” adds Uzma Ahmed, Souktel’s lead Project Manager for the initiative. “This service raises awareness about the importance of teacher attendance, across the country. Now, when a teacher is absent, everyone will know–and hopefully this will create change”.
The complex challenge of absenteeism can’t be solved through mobile reports alone. But better “big data” analytics and greater transparency are key steps forward. CARE’s Mwenyekonde advocates a big-picture view of the service’s potential: “Ultimately, [we hope that] this platform will help address the key issue of inefficiency in Malawi’s education sector”. By focusing on one major piece of the puzzle–getting more teachers back into classrooms–CARE aims to achieve system-wide impact.