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Improving Schools through Teacher Development: Case Studies of the Aga Khan Foundation Projects in East Africa

reviewed by W. James Jacob - 2004

coverTitle: Improving Schools through Teacher Development: Case Studies of the Aga Khan Foundation Projects in East Africa
Author(s): Stephen E. Anderson (Ed.)
Publisher: Swets and Zeitlinger, Lisse, Netherlands
ISBN: 9026519362 , Pages: 331, Year: 2002
Search for book at Amazon.com

Too often nongovernmental organizations, donor agencies, and government departments lack the necessary funds for evaluating ongoing educational programs. This is particularly the case in developing countries where limited funds are in many cases restricted by donors to program-related expenses only. Program evaluation and assessment are not often justified as program-related expenses when implementing organizations are striving to maximize the impact of each dollar.

This dilemma is the focus of editor Stephen E. Anderson’s Improving Schools through Teacher Development, an evaluation of a fifteen-year period of the Aga Khan Foundation’s school improvement projects (SIPs) in East Africa. This volume brings together the work of fifteen authors who write ten chapters that provide historical and evaluative case studies on SIPs in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Recognizing a dearth of literature on evaluation of educational programs, Anderson approached the Aga Khan Foundation and suggested that it compile previous evaluations of the fifteen-year school improvement projects in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. This book compiles evaluations of the Aga Khan Foundation’s East African SIPs from 1985 to 2000 “to provide a historical and analytical commentary in relation to their evolution and to school improvement efforts world wide” (p. vii). Yet, donor agencies understand the importance of evaluation works, thus giving increased credence for the timeliness of this volume. Types of projects in the implementation stages of the SIPs in East Africa include participatory action research, in-service training of teachers and administrators, faculty workshops, peer coaching, developing teacher research centers, and child-centered teaching.

The book can be divided into three sections. In the first section, Stephen E. Anderson (Chapter 1) and Jeremy Greenland (Chapter 2) provide an introduction and overview of the Aga Khan Foundation’s SIPs while laying a foundation for the purpose of the book. Anderson recognizes that evaluations of school improvement programs in developing countries are rate (For previous works see Mählck, Smulders & Chapman, 1997; Levin and Lockheed 1993; Lewin and Stuart 1991; Carrier and Chapman 1990; Lockheed and Bloch 1990; Rust and Dalin 1990), thus giving extra credence for the timeliness of this volume. Aga Khan Foundation CEO, Jeremy Greenland, contributes an historical background to SIPs in Chapter 2. Greenland laments that his organization did not chart and assess educational programs from their conception in the mid-1980s, but adds that all of the foundation’s educational programs have evaluation mechanisms currently in place. Somewhat detouring from the overall theme of this volume, Greenland provides the reader with a much broader overview of the Aga Khan Foundation’s educational influence by comparing its educational programs in East Africa with the foundation’s other primary geographic regions of the Middle East and South Asia.

The core of this volume consists of six case study evaluations of SIPs in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. In Chapter 3, Stephen E. Anderson and Suleman Sumra give a description of SIPs implemented at the Mzizima Secondary School in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. From 1985 to 1994, Aga Khan supported a continuous improvement program at Mzizima Secondary School; some long-term sustainability results and institutionalizations of this program were realized, yet concerns remained at the conclusion of the program, as the long-term sustainability existed in a volatile and changing environment that hinged on the school’s head teacher. While the initial head teacher was supportive throughout the duration of the program, when a different head teacher replaced the former, a question that the authors had was whether this leadership vision would remain to carry on with what took ten years to develop? Nonetheless, the Mzizima case presents a positive example of the potential for SIPs in developing countries.

In Chapter 4 Joanne Capper, Shelom Nderitu, and Paul Ogita give an internal evaluation of the Kisumu School Improvement Program that operated in western Kenya from 1990 to 1996. This program was designed to counter deteriorating scores among primary school students in western Kenya. The evaluation of this SIP was limited to a relatively small sample of urban and peri-urban schools, though the exact number of schools is not provided by the authors. No effort was made to include rural schools in their sample. The authors concluded that “although SIP teachers did engage in a more child-centered approach to teaching, their new behaviors did not appear to have a positive influence on test scores” (p. 111). Perhaps more than any other reason, the lack of results can be attributed to the teachers’ reluctance to adopt the new teaching strategies because they felt pressured to cover the curriculum and ensure that students were prepared to take and succeed in the national examinations.

In Chapter 5, Iram Siraj-Blatchford, Matthew Odada, and Martin Omagor present the only evaluation of Aga Khan’s Uganda SIPs. Shorter than SIPs in Kenya and Tanzania, the Kampala SIP began in 1994 and lasted only for three years. This project was established to improve the quality of teaching among fifteen select primary and nursery schools in the Kampala urban center. The authors produce an evaluation that lasted no more than two weeks, an evaluation process often criticized for lacking the in-depth analysis necessary to produce a thorough evaluation of the overall program (Samoff 1999). Nevertheless, this evaluation might be considered a case-study analysis or snapshot of the foundation’s SIP in Kampala. Furhter complicating any interpreations, over half of the schools in the evaluation consisted of schools that had participated in the SIP for a period of less than six months. Drawing conclusions about program sustainability is difficult when the SIP has not had time to be fully institutionalized in the majority of the schools evaluated. There was no indication from the authors that the schools selected to participate in the Kampala SIP were representative of urban or even Kampala primary schools. 

In Chapter 6, Stephen E. Anderson and Shelom Nderitu assess the most representative and successful program of those included in this volume—the Mombasa, Kenya SIP. Focusing on child-centered, activity-oriented teaching and learning, the program was in existence from 1994 to1999 and included all primary schools in the Mombasa District. This assessment also lacked a long-term perspective, as the authors conducted it over a period of only two and a half weeks. In addition to equipping teachers with new teaching skills, this SIP included full-government support throughout the district. With this type of SIP administrative network in place, a model was developed for capacity building and long-term sustainability. Yet, longevity also requires financial resources, which threatened to halt the duration of this SIP.

Geoff Welford and Herme Mosha evaluate a jointly administered SIP in the Kinondoni District of Tanzania’s capital city, Dar-es-Salaam in Chapter 7. The Canadian International Development Agency, the British Government’s Department for International Development, and the Aga Khan Foundation jointly-funded this SIP in 15 of 73 public schools in the Kinondoni District. The purposes of this SIP focused on improving school management and teaching in the core subject areas of mathematics, science, and English from 1996 to 2000. A unique characteristic of the Kinondoni SIP was an incentive grant to “motivate primary schools to improve their performance by providing cash based on performance” (p. 196). Assessment showed that the SIP lacked a control group against which to measure the effect of the intervention, in-service training shortages, and insufficient management training. Yet, the Kinondoni SIP case demonstrated that if NGO missions are aligned and are willing to work together, collaborative programs can be established, thus building on synergy, limiting duplicated efforts, and maximizing overall results.

In Chapter 8, Ann Brumfit and H. R. H. Hikmany assess curriculum materials and in-service training for English-medium instruction in Zanzibar, Tanzania from 1994 to 1996. This SIP included the local government in the development, implementation, and evaluation stages of the program. Including the government in all stages increases ownership and the chance of sustaining the program once funds are depleted. Perhaps more than any other SIP in this volume, the Zanzibar program was incorporated as part of the government’s strategy for school development. This showed commitment from the government to sustain the program, even when Aga Khan’s involvement ends. Yet, like all other SIPs in this book, the long-term future of the program remains uncertain.

As a previous consultant for the Aga Khan Foundation, Anderson recognized the need to include two external perspectives to add validity and support to their otherwise internal evaluations. Thus, the final section in this volume provides an external evaluation in chapters 9 and 10. Joseph P. Farrell’s chapter shows that learning can occur in alternative approaches to the traditional colonial model. Referring to the highly volatile field of educational change and planning, Farrell notes, “There are many more examples of failure, or of minimal success, than of relatively complete success” (p. 249). Formal education processes and standards, in what Farrell calls the basic “model” of schooling are in many cases “antilearning” (p. 251). Farrell concludes that the Aga Khan Foundation’s East Africa SIPs have incorporated some, but not all, of the characteristics of successful educational change programs.

In Chapter 10, David Hopkins defines his task subjecting the Aga Khan Foundation SIPs “to some mild critique from an international change perspective” (p. 272). Hopkins praises the Foundation’s strong commitment to six education principles: child-centered learning; curriculum development; focus on teacher learning, professional development, and leadership training; viewing the school as the unit of change and capacity building; the need for local support; and sustainability. He concludes that the main strengths of the Aga Khan Foundation programs in East Africa focus on “the crucial lacuna in current reform initiatives, the lack of attention to capacity building.” Hopkins also identifies the main weakness of the programs as being “insufficiently strategic and lack[ing] attentiveness of the curriculum context necessary to achieve the immediate results it desired” (p. 293).

The weaknesses of this book are also apparent—it is a compilation of case study evaluations, which for the most part had little or no cohesion between them. Evaluation of the SIPs in East Africa was not well conceptualized from the onset, and produced rather sporadic reports at the end of five-year periods. Tying all of these various papers into a coherent book was no easy task for Anderson, and it is clear that they are more are more readily viewed case specific snapshots of various country examples than as a comprehensive and thorough evaluation over this fifteen-year time frame.

Perhaps the greatest weakness of all was the lack of quantitative baseline measures. No assessments had been conducted on participants or teachers at the beginning of the programs in several of the locations. This created an inability to measure the value-added effects of the SIP. Long-term sustainability and school capacity building is yet to be realized, as the SIPs contained in this book were externally funded. Anderson recognized this as a major weakness, noting that the future status of the SIPs remained in question. Follow-up studies on each of the SIPs would add a longitudinal aspect to the six evaluations included in this volume.

Too often NGOs act independently from government agencies in assessing program effectiveness and long-term sustainability. Rather than providing sole donor-funded research evaluations of SIPs, I agree with Anderson’s recommendation that “future projects . . . might well devote more attention to furthering the capacity of local school systems to become critical assessors of educational innovations” (p. 183). In both their successes and their failures, the Aga Khan Foundation’s programs contribute to an overall learning process for educational policy makers, researchers, and practitioners to learn from in the East African context.



Carrier, Carol A. & Chapman, David W. (1990). Improving educational quality: A global perspective, Contributions to the study of education no. 35. New York: Greenwood Press.

Levin, Henry M. & Lockheed, Marlaine E. (1993). Effective schools in developing countries. Washington, D.C.: Falmer Press.

Lewin, Keith & Stuart, J. S. (1991). Educational innovations in developing countries: Case-studies of change-makers. Hampshire, England: Macmillan.

Lockheed, Marlaine E. & Bloch, Deborah. (1990). Primary education, A World Bank policy paper. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.

Mählck, Lars, Smulders, Anna E.M. & Chapman, David W. (1997). From planning to action:  Government initiatives for improving school-level practice. Oxford: Pergamon.

Rust, Val D., & Dalin, Per. (1990). Teachers and teaching in the developing world. New York: Garland.

Samoff, Joel. (1999). Education sector analysis in Africa:  Limited national control and even less national ownership. Journal of International Educational Development19, 249-272.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 2, 2004, p. 293-298
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11155, Date Accessed: 10/21/2021 7:51:59 PM

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About the Author
  • W. James Jacob
    E-mail Author
    W. James Jacob is the Research Coordinator for the Center for International & Development Education (CIDE) at the University of California, Los Angeles. His research interests include comparative and international education in developing countries. educational policy, project design, and implementation and evaluation.
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