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ASER – Informing education policies with research


Hewlett Foundation (funding) → ASER Centre (Civil Service Organization providing expertise) → Uwezo East Africa (Civil Service Organization/recipient)

Country (ies)

• U.S. (funding) • India (expertise) • Kenya (recipient) • Tanzania (recipient) • Uganda (recipient)


This case story documents an example of South-South/triangular cooperation in the context of building capacity with regard to primary and elementary education research. It involves a civil society organization from India, the ASER Centre, sharing its expertise and experience with an organization, Uwezo East Africa, operating in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda with funding from the Hewlett Foundation (U.S.) in an effort to build capacity to undertake primary and elementary education research to assess the status of rural education (learning levels, enrollment, etc.).


What was the purpose and overall goal of the SSC activity?

Uwezo means "capability" in Kishwahili; accordingly, the objective of the partnership between the ASER Centre and Uwezo is to build capacity in East Africa to conduct primary and elementary education research. The research (i.e. assessment studies) is then used to build awareness among the public in an effort to stimulate social change and monitor the impact of education reform over time. Both ASER and Uwezo aim to put pressure on the government to precipitate effective education reform.

What was the development challenge to which this SSC activity was meant to address?

The development challenge this partnership addresses is the lack of capacity to conduct research on the status of primary and elementary education in East Africa. Managing for results, one of the keys to increasing the effectiveness of aid identified in the Paris Declaration, depends on the ability to measure the impact of aid and, in this case, education reform. The importance of increasing access to quality education has been recognized internationally as a top development priority. Millennium Development Goal 2 seeks to achieve universal primary education; similarly, Education for All declares that basic education is a right. Accordingly, it is essential to assess the status of education (enrollment/learning levels) so that deficiencies may be identified and improvement may be quantified. Additionally, assessing the status of education and dissemination the results increases awareness among the public, which, in turn, can generate bottom-up pressure to improve the system of education.

What were/are the expected results of this SSC activity?

The expected result of this partnership was to build local capacity (in East Africa) to conduct primary and elementary education research to assess the status of education.

Why did the partners engage in the SSC activity?

For the last five years, the ASER Centre has been pioneering an approach to assess the status of education in rural India. The ASER publishes an annual report based on a massive, nation-wide household survey with over 700,000 observations (children) testing a child's abilities in math and reading. The ASER Centre has undertaken partnerships abroad in response to the needs of organizations in other developing countries that face similar challenges, have similar goals, and can learn from ASER's experience.

The recipient organizations have engaged the ASER Centre to take advantage of their expertise and experience. According to Uwezo, this has helped them to avoid having to "reinvent the wheel". Uwezo has incorporated ASER's approach.

How did the political context or previous cooperation influence the planning process?

Previous cooperation or political relations had no influence on this partnership. The Hewlett Foundation was the catalyst for the partnership; they recognized the potential benefits of a collaboration between ASER and Uwezo.


What kinds of SSC activities or modalities were conducted?

Uwezo East Africa started with a visit by nine African educationists and government officials from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda to the ASER Centre in New Delhi in November of 2008. Over the course of one week, they observed the ASER research process and assessed the feasibility of replicating it in the East African context. After the visit, Uwezo East Africa was officially established to assess the status of primary and elementary education in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda and to effectively communicate the results.

Uwezo's model for assessment has been built on ASER's proven methodology. Uwezo has "exploited [ASER's] expertise, experience, and institutions". The tools are simple and test a child's reading and basic math skills. The sampling strategy is grounded in statistical theory and uses a two-stage technique with the aim of providing a representative picture of each district (all of the almost 600 districts in India are surveyed by the ASER Centre). The first stage (to choose villages) uses a stratified Probability Proportional to Size (PPS) technique (allowing larger villages to have a greater chance of being selected) and the second stage (to choose households within the village) is random. The sample is composed of 30 villages per district and 20 households per village. The evaluation of the data is straightforward and relatively simple; descriptive statistics are used to convey the status of education (i.e. enrollment levels, learning levels in math and reading, trends over time, etc.).

The largest difference in Uwezo's approach is its strategy for communicating its findings and the importance it places on disseminating information to the public. The ASER Centre relies heavily on print media (i.e. newspapers) to disseminate its findings; the print media, however, is less integrated in rural East Africa and so Uwezo is…

One of the main goals of Uwezo East Africa is to encourage citizen engagement. An informed public is an important ingredient for strengthening participation. Uwezo aims to play an important role in that process, but faces challenges associated with being a civil society organization (CSO) in East Africa (to a greater extent than the ASER Centre in India). According to Suleman Sumra, Director of Uwezo Tanzania, CSOs and NGOs in East Africa face a stigma that they were created to access donor funds rather than to advance citizens' social justice interests. He admits that many CSOs in East Africa have plagued by a lack of integrity, planning, and quality leadership. As a result, the image of CSOs in East Africa has been tarnished and their ability to affect change has been limited. Furthermore, governments' in East Africa often view CSOs as "problematic" rather than "useful partners or legitimate independent actors" and has led to "restrictive laws".

Please describe the roles, responsibilities, interests and interrelations of the involved stakeholders.

Hewlett Foundation (funding) → ASER Centre (expertise/experience) → Uwezo (recipient organization building capacity)

A triangular cooperation model that involves financial resources from the North, expertise from the South, and adaptation from within the recipient country has great potential for use in a wide range of applications.


Did the relation between the providing and receiving countries / governments / organizations change with this experience? Why and how?

No, improving relations between countries is not an objective of this partnership.

What were the planned and unplanned achievements of the SSC experience?

The planned achievements of the ASER/Uwezo partnership were to build capacity locally to conduct education research.

Are these outcomes sustainable? Could they be replicated in similar contexts?

The outcomes are sustainable and replicable (in terms of building capacity locally to conduct rural education research). The most attractive aspect of the ASER design/approach is the simplicity. However, certain challenges in replicating the ASER approach in East Africa have arisen.

For example, volunteers play a crucial role in the success of ASER's Annual Stutus of Education Repot in India. ASER has been quite successful in mobilizing the volunteers, which has been more difficult in East Africa.

The model of triangular cooperation involving funding from the North, expertise from the South, and adaptation from within the developing country by local organizations is also replicable.

In March 2010, a team from Mali and Senegal visited the ASER Centre in Delhi to see if they could apply the ASER approach to education research in their countries.

Aid Effectiveness

How can this experience help to understand the possible synergies between SSC and aid effectiveness principles?

The Hewlett Foundation/ASER Centre/Uwezo partnership is a triangular model of cooperation whereby the North acts as a facilitator for South-South Cooperation and exchange.

The Hewlett Foundation acted as a bridge between two passionate teams – a group of educationists that would become Uwezo and the ASER Centre. Hewlett did not try to impose the ASER model on the Uwezo team; rather, they let the Uwezo team decide to what extent they would use the ASER approach in the context of East Africa and allowed the exchange to evolve organically.

Was national leadership and ownership supported?

To which extent was the experience aligned to national priorities and systems?

The governments in East Africa have been supportive of Uwezo's efforts, although they seemed to be concerned about what the results may indicate. The government of Tanzania has increased education investment in recent years, but the focus has been on infrastructure rather than quality. Uwezo's efforts may indicate that while access has improved, quality has not.

Training has been delayed in Tanzania because of to wait for "research clearance" (i.e. a permit) from the government.

Has there been an effort to harmonize and coordinate with other programmes and development actors?

Uwezo Tanzania is facilitating dialogue between several key individuals and institutions including, faith-based organizations, donor organizations, teachers unions, and members of parliament.

Uwezo Tanzania has recently received financial support from DFID and Sida.

Was managing for results included in the experience?

This example of South-South cooperation has important implications for managing for results (a key principle identified in the Paris Declaration). Building capacity (locally) to evaluate the impact of interventions (e.g. education reform/aid) can make a vital contribution to increasing aid effectiveness.

Capacity Development

Describe any specific capacity development benefits from this SSC activity at the individual, organizational or systemic level.

The ASER Centre, a Southern organization, has experience and expertise that is of great value to other organizations in developing countries. Uwezo, an organization wanting to undertake similar education research in East Africa is in the process of applying the ASER model with funding from the Hewlett Foundation. Individuals from Uwezo have made several visits to India to learn the ASER approach and multiple researchers from the ASER Centre have gone to Africa in an attempt to build capacity at the individual and organizational level.

Are there any lessons learned from this SSC activity that improve the overall enabling environment, especially through improved incentives for better public services?

Civil society can play a vital role in putting pressure on the government to address issues (of education quality, in this case). Cooperation between CSOs can help avoid having to "reinvent the wheel" to replicate effective interventions.


2008 to present

Name of Primary Contact Person

Michael Dickerson

Title of Primary Contact Person

Consultant, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations


New Delhi, India