This study explores the relationship between the availability of school facilities (such as classrooms, teachers’ houses and sanitation facilities), on access (i.e. enrolment, attendance) and learning outcomes (i.e. test scores) in Ugandan primary schools.
The school facilities grant (SFG) was created under the Poverty Action Fund in 1998 to assist the neediest schools in acquiring physical infrastructure in order to achieve national and international commitments of universalising primary education. The SFG objectives were to: (a) promote equitable access to primary education, and (b) build capacity within districts and the local communities, particularly of those individuals involved in direct procurement of contractors/construction materials, as well as support supervision on sites.
The evaluation was guided by the following research questions:
- Has the SFG programme led to improved access to primary education?
- To what extent has the SFG programme improved pupils’ and school teachers’ attendance?
- To what extent has the SFG programme improved learning outcomes, such as test scores?
The SFG programme had three components, namely construction of new classrooms, construction of sanitation facilities and construction of teachers’ houses. The decision to allocate funds to a particular school was mainly guided by the level of infrastructure needs of the school. The facilities were constructed in the respective beneficiary schools and monitored by local government officials and the school management committee. The SFG programme was a multi-sectoral intervention where the education and sport ministry provided the implementation guidelines; the works and transport ministry provided the relevant school designs and standards; and the finance, planning and economic development ministry provided quarterly releases of the funds through the education and sport ministry to the districts to implement the SFG programme.
Theory of change
The theory of change suggests that the SFG objectives translate into inputs and processes that ultimately lead to immediate and final outcomes. Construction of new classrooms, sanitation facilities and teachers’ houses would lead to increased access to education and pupil attendance. The medium- and long-run impact would be a reduction in teacher absenteeism and improvements in teacher motivation to work, as well as improved pupil academic performance.
The study employed a randomised controlled trial to capture the immediate effect of school infrastructure on access, attendance and test scores; propensity score matching for measuring the medium-term effect; and qualitative methods for capturing the experiences and perceptions of key stakeholders. The randomised controlled trial included 301 needy schools from 20 districts across the four regions of the country. With the support of the education and sport ministry and local governments, 160 schools were randomly assigned to receive the SFG grant in the financial years 2016/17 and 2017/18 (treatment), and the remaining 141 schools were assigned to receive the grant after 2019 (control).
- The propensity score matching results show that SFG has increased access in the medium term measured by pupil to class ratio.
- The randomised controlled trial results show a positive and significant impact of the SFG intervention on enrolment and attendance compared to the control schools. Analysis by gender reveals that the impact of SFG on girls’ attendance is significantly higher than for boys.
- Treatment schools recorded significant positive impacts on numeracy and literacy test scores, though the effect size is very small.
Implication for policy and practice
- The government should provide SFG funds in relation to current pupil ratio and the population of the district to cater for the increasing enrolment.
- Education policy in Uganda should focus on providing clean water and sanitation to create a conducive learning environment for pupils, especially girls.
- The government should consider constructing staff houses and, if possible, renovating the existing dilapidated ones in order to boost retention of teachers in the school.
- Increased participation of the community and parents can be achieved by involving them in social audits. It is helpful to provide adequate information to agencies such as the school management committee to facilitate better understanding of funds utilisation.
- SFG guidelines could be revised to introduce renovation of existing structures besides allocating funds for new buildings.