The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.
The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.

Examining effective teaching in rural Honduran secondary schools

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Photo: A teacher helps students in Honduras. Photo credit: GPE/Paul Martinez/Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


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Principal Investigator: Erin Murphy-Graham. Lead Organisation: University of California, Berkeley

Honduras is one of the poorest and most violent countries in Central America. In this context, education should offer an escape; a path to a better future. However, the quality of Honduran schooling needs improvement, and few young people are able to study in secondary schools. Despite these challenges, in our previous research we have discovered what one Honduran educational authority described as a "light in the path," a way for rural youth from disadvantaged communities to have access to high quality education. This "light" is the Sistema de Aprendizaje Tutorial program (Tutorial Learning System or SAT).

In the proposed research we will build upon the positive findings of our recently completed impact evaluation (see McEwan et al., 2014) to examine a number of remaining questions regarding the elements that support effective teaching in poor, rural, geographically isolated communities. Furthermore, by collecting follow-up data collection with a cohort of young people from 94 villages that we began tracking in 2008, we will be able to examine whether learning gains fade over time as well as whether there are linkages between improved quality education and successful transition to adulthood (e.g. enrolment in tertiary education, labour market outcomes, delayed marriage and pregnancy). In doing so, this research will also provide a unique opportunity to develop improved measures of educational quality and adolescent girls' empowerment in low-income countries.

Informed by our earlier research and a review of the literature, we conceptualize effective teaching to be supported by three features of the SAT system of education: 1) Teacher recruitment and preparation; 2) The provision of resources for teaching effectiveness; 3) A system of professional support, accountability, incentives and rewards.

With this framework in mind, we have designed a research project that examines the following core research questions through a mixed-methods case study: 1) What system-wide supports make a critical contribution to "effective teaching" in rural Honduran secondary schools? 2) Which elements of effective teaching contribute to sustained learning gains that are relevant and useful for youth as they transition to adulthood?

For the purposes of this proposal, we define "effective teaching" as teaching that leads to both immediate and sustained gains in learning across a range of competencies relevant to successful adulthood. We will employ case study methodology, examining two "nested" cases of secondary schooling in rural Honduras, the SAT program and more traditional Centros de Educación Básicos (CEB). Results of our earlier research comparing SAT and CEB suggest that learning outcomes for SAT are considerably higher than CEBs (.2 standard deviations; stated differently residing in a SAT village increased the rate of learning by 45 percent). Despite these striking learning improvements, we estimate the cost of SAT to be 18 percent lower than CEBs. This comparison (SAT/CEB) allows us to gain valuable insights regarding the elements that support effective teaching and improved learning outcomes.

A follow-up round of data collection with our cohort of youth will also address the question of whether learning gains fade over time and allow us to better understand the ways in which quality education influences the transition to adulthood. Our research methods will include the application of quantitative instruments (surveys and assessments) as well as qualitative in-depth interviews, extensive classroom observation, and the observation of teacher professional development sessions. Beyond the qualitative and quantitative datasets that this study will generate, the outputs of this research include measures of educational quality (assessments and scales) that can inform future research in other developing country contexts. We will disseminate our findings via traditional (e.g. academic journals, conferences) and new (e.g. Prezi, YouTube) venues.

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Informed by the ESRC guide to maximizing impact as well as our previous experience with research dissemination, we will design a strategy for impact with the following research beneficiaries; 1) Academic beneficiaries: Researchers from various fields including education, economics, demography, and gender studies (see previous section on "Academic Beneficiaries"); 2) The networks of technical experts/policy makers involved in funding decisions at the international level. These include charitable foundations (MacArthur Foundation, MasterCard Foundation), bilateral aid agencies (e.g. USAID, DFID), and multi-lateral aid agencies (e.g. Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank); 3) Charitable and voluntary organizations concerned globally, national, and regionally with the improvement of educational quality in low income countries; 4) The network of non-governmental organizations involved in implementing the SAT program in Honduras and internationally; 5) Children and youth in Honduras and elsewhere that live in marginalized settings and lack access to quality, relevant secondary education. From the outset, we will work closely with our Honduran collaborators, who have primary academic appointments at the National Pedagogical University. We have been working with this Honduran team since 2008. They will be closely involved in the facilitation of a key stakeholder meeting, where we will invite representatives from the Secretary of Education's office and other educational experts (e.g. World Bank, USAID, DFID, IADB education officers). This seminar will allow us to fully ground the project in the local context, and to begin planning our dissemination approach. If properly and strategically disseminated, this research has the potential to directly influence the design and delivery of high quality secondary education programs in Honduras and other low-income countries. Additionally, the research will benefit others attempting to measure dimensions of educational quality at the secondary level because we will share our scales and assessments. Overall, this project will generate knowledge about how the transformative power of education can be fully tapped to improve the lives of disadvantaged children and youth, particularly adolescent girls. When we have results, we will work closely with the research unit hosting this project at UC Berkeley, the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA), which has extensive experience with disseminating innovative research that drives effective policy and development programming. We plan to present at their conference entitled "Evidence to Action" (co-sponsored by the Abdul Jatif Jameel Poverty Lab or J-PAL). In addition, we will present findings and share working-papers with program officers at charitable foundations and other funding agencies. In particular, we will conduct outreach to the Education Donors Group and the newly-created Building Evidence in Education group. In addition to these targeted outreach activities, we will present our findings at international conferences including UKFIET and CIES and top international universities. In addition to the anticipated impacts of traditional publications, we will create a short documentary video highlighting our key findings (see our video "A Light in the Path" on YouTube at A public relations specialist in Honduras will secure interviews with major television stations and newspapers. Having non-technical media to share our findings will ensure that all stakeholders can benefit from the knowledge generated from our research.

Primary theme: 
Grant Reference: 
Project Status: 
Grant Category: 
Research Grant
Lead Organisation Department: 
Graduate School of Education
Fund Start Date: 
July 1st, 2015
Fund End Date: 
June 30th, 2018
Fund Currency Code: 
Fund Value: