eSchool360 began with a focus on constructing sustainable schools in rural areas of Zambia. The model has now evolved away from emphasizing school construction to focus on partnerships with the government and others to bring the eSchool360 package to existing community schools across Zambia. This model differs from the low-cost private school model in that eSchool360 aims to be a package that schools can purchase. The eSchool360 package is a comprehensive kit for operating a school, including e-learning hardware (projectors, laptops, and tablets), activity-based lesson plans aligned to the Zambian national curriculum, a solar electric system, weekly logistical support from eSchool360 staff, and the eSchool360 “playbook,” which details the critical requirements to start and run a school from top to bottom (hiring, training, and retaining teachers; employing teacher supervisors; establishing Parent Teacher Associations; fostering community ownership of schools by tying into local community contribution practices; and more).
Though students do not pay tuition, the cost for operating an eSchool360 is $3 per student per month, which is currently covered by donations in 10 pilot schools. This is less than a third of the cost of government schools. eSchool360’s technology partner is iSchool, which has developed a comprehensive online eLearning package designed to cover the whole of the Zambian school curriculum that has been approved by the Zambian Ministry of Education.
The curriculum, written by experienced Zambian teachers and available in English as well as eight local languages, focuses on "learning by doing." Within each eSchool360, classes are divided for group work. At any given time up to half of the students work on tablets, while their remaining classmates engage in written work, games and activities, and review with the teacher. This minimizes the cost of providing tablets to students without compromising the learning experience. Each school day is divided into three sessions: morning, mid-morning, and afternoon. Each student attends one session, which consists of four 40-minute classes in four different subjects. This allows for students to select one session with consideration for their family schedules and obligations to complete work outside of school.
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CEI approaches in action
Impact Network first began building schools with the intent to reach those with the least access to education, primarily due to poverty. Most of the schools are based in Zambia's Eastern Province, which has some of the highest concentrations of poverty in the country (IFAD). Impact Network recently completed a third party evaluation from a team at American University which found that households with children at Impact Network schools are significantly larger, poorer, and less educated than those in government schools (Schling & Winters, 2013). In order to reach the poorest families in the the areas where Impact Network schools are located, Impact Network eliminated fees and uniforms and provides all students with pencils and notebooks. The evaluation results showed that parent or household costs were considerably lower at Impact Network schools compared to government schools, with parents at Impact Network schools paying less than $1 per child on average or about 2% of what parents at government and other community schools pay. (Schling & Winters, 2013).
Our work started with the construction of two schools before continuing to build 5 more schools in the region. After the completion of 7 total schools, we moved our focus beyond the build to work towards improving the quality of education delivered in the classrooms, working with 10 schools. We began piloting the use of technology and formalized the eSchool 360 system in 2012 and have continued to identify gaps in the eSchool 360 model and implement interventions over the last two years.
Over the next three years, Impact Network will be rolling out the eSchool 360 in 60 community schools across Zambia in partnership with American Institutes for Research. Following implementation, American Institues for Research will conduct an evaluation of the schools before seeking further scale up.
Monitoring & Evaluation
Continuous monitoring and evaluation play an important role in all of Impact Network's operations. The organization currently has the following monitoring and evaluation plan in place across all ten schools:
• Student-level data collection:
o Daily student enrollment and attendance records for each class.
o Termly assessment scores for each student, across six subject areas.
Ongoing reports from management team:
o Weekly financial report detailing purchases and expenditures made, Zambian bank account balances, cash-on-hand, and budgets for upcoming purchases.
o Weekly narrative report detailing main accomplishments regarding construction and school operations.
o Weekly reports from teacher observations prepared by our teacher supervisors.
o Weekly reports on maintenance works and any school supplies needed, prepared by our operations manager.
o Quarterly teacher technology knowledge reports and school supply inventory reports, prepared by our operations manager.
• System of checks and balances through the Regional Director, Operations Manager, PTA, and international interns.
• Continuous evaluation by and communication with the international interns placed at Joel village.
• Periodic site visits (once per quarter) by members of the US team.
All reports are scanned and sent to the New York offices where they are examined and recorded.
Across all subscales on standardized EGMA and EGRA tests, students demonstrated learning over the 18-month period. The increase in learning ranged from 3 percentage points to 37 percentage points for Impact Network schools, 0 percentage points to 41 percentage points for government schools, and 1 percentage point to 35 percentage points for community schools.
After 18 months, Impact Network students show improvement on the standardized EGMA test measuring mathematics. In most subscales, Impact Network students learn more than their counterparts at government and community schools. Figure 2 shows the percentage point increase in test scores for the EGMA subscales from baseline to follow-up, including an overall 25 percentage point increase in numeracy skills.
After 18 months, Impact Network students show some improvement on a standardized EGRA tests mea-
suring literacy. However, the overall literacy levels across all three school types is quite low – the skills required by the EGRA assessment were too difficult for the majority of assessed students. Figure 3 shows the percentage point increase in test scores for the EGRA subscales, including an overall 7 percentage point increase in literacy skills.
After 18 months, Impact Network students perform similarly to government schools on the ZAT Pre-Reading Recognition test. Because of the poor levels of performance on the EGRA test, the 18-month follow-up added the Zambian Achievement Test (ZAT).
There remains significant room for improvement at all of the school types. Overall levels on the EGRA test are low and indicative that additional work can be done around improving literacy across all schools.
The cost per percentage point test score improvement is between 2 and 10 times more expensive at government than at Impact Network schools. For instance, improving the overall EGMA score by one percentage point would cost approximately 3,500 ZMK at an impact school, but more than 30,000 ZMK at a government school.
Households with children at Impact Network schools are significantly larger, poorer, and less educated than those in government schools. This provides evidence that Impact Network’s strategy of targeting poor families with little previous access to education has been successful.
Households with children in Impact Network schools are not very different from households with students in other community schools. Impact Network students face similar living conditions and challenges as other community school students.
Students attending Impact Network schools are significantly younger than students in government schools and students in other community schools. This implies that on-time enrollment is positively affected by the program, and could ultimately lead to positive effects on student performance.
Impact Network and community schools serve students who enter school with lower numeracy skills than government schools. For the most part, there were no differences on the EGRA subscales at baseline.
Parents across all schools appear to value education highly and believe that sending their children to school will not only enable them to have a better future, but will also benefit the family and community as a whole. However, families are constrained by several factors, including severe and widespread poverty among households, difficult climatic conditions, and the persistence of traditional practices that inhibit school attendance among children.
Parents perceive the eLearning program at Impact Network schools as an improvement to overall schooling quality. They observe greater motivation and better performance in their children.
Households seem equally involved in school activities across school types, indicating that the eLearning intervention induces PTA participation but not at a rate greater than other schools.
The eLearning program seems to lead to an increase of motivation among students in Impact Network schools.
Impact Network provides important services that have improved the overall working conditions for teachers, so that they are more motivated to attend school and teach. While they are still not being paid as much as government employees, untrained teachers employed at Impact Network schools receive relatively high salaries and are paid regularly.
Infrastructure is improved and more materials are available. Teachers also receive ample support through trainings and weekly observation. Smaller class sizes further improve teaching conditions.
Teacher attendance is higher at Impact Network schools than government schools and other community schools. Impact Network has a strict attendance policy in place.
Impact Network continues to enroll new grade one students each year, increasing the number of grades taught in Impact Network schools. As of January of 2015, there are more than 2,000 students in Impact Network schools.
Impact Network has succeeded in creating schools that cost about 27 percent of government and 29 percent of community schools on an annual per student basis. Impact Network’s schools spend less on each cost ingredient, except for equipment and material costs.
Parent or household costs were considerably lower at Impact Network schools compared to government and community schools. On average, parents at Impact Schools pay less than $1 per child per year or about 2% of what parents at government and community schools pay.
The high cost of educating a child in government and community schools is due to the considerably higher salaries that are paid to government-trained teachers there.
Effective usage of technology
Findings confirm that program components were implemented successfully at Impact Network schools. While some schools do experience power outages and computer issues, and a small number of teachers struggle to use the technology, overall the program is operating as intended.