Moving Teachers to Malawi's Remote Communities
A data-driven approach to teacher deployment
There are severe geographical disparities in pupil-teacher ratios (PTR) across Malawi, with most teachers concentrated near commercial centers and in rural schools with better amenities.
- In this paper, we argue that the weakness and fragmentation of administrative data in Malawi contributes to the maintenance of staffing disparities by enabling political capture of the system by political interests, particularly teachers' interests. In an efficient system, with adequate and widely accepted data on school conditions and staffing, policies can be designed to accurately target teachers to the schools with the greatest need. In the absence of accurate and up-to-date information in Malawi, policies governing teacher placement remain broad ‘rules of thumb,' leaving officials with a high degree of discretion in decision-making.
- Political economy network mapping reveals that teachers leverage informal networks and political patronage to resist placement in remote schools, while administrative officials are unable to stand up to these formal and informal pressures, in part because of a lack of reliable databases and objective criteria for the allocation of teachers.
- By introducing accurate, up-to-date information, accepted by the key actors involved in decision-making, it is possible to define more precise and targeted policies on the distribution of teachers, moving the system from discretion-based to rules-based norms. With more precise rules, the space for discretion-based judgment is shrunk, increasing officials' autonomy from political pressure. In addition, by helping to stimulate greater public awareness of staffing inequities, better data can catalyze communities with understaffed schools to lobby more effectively for more teachers, providing a countervailing pressure to balance teachers' interests.
This study curates a systematic database of the physical placement of all teachers in Malawi and links it with data on school facilities and geo-spatial coordinates of commercial centers. The study develops a consistent and objective measure of school remoteness, which can be applied to develop policies to create rules for equitable deployments and targeting of incentives. Growing awareness of disparities in PTRs among district education officials is already showing promising improvements in targeting new teachers. Simulation results of planned policy applications show significant potential impacts of fiscally neutral approaches to targeted deployments of new cohorts, as well as retention of teachers through data-calibrated incentives.