Mexico: Increasing Education Accountability through Community-Based Pedagogical Assistants

October 3, 2016

Empowering parents and ensuring they stay active in their children’s educational future can be a critical step to improving student learning in poorly-performing schools.  But many poor families may not have the tools to understand how to better advocate on their children’s behalf. Policy makers are exploring ways to more effectively get parents involved in their community schools, while also empowering teachers to become more successful in the classroom. 


Research area: Education
Country: Mexico
Evaluation Sample: 230 schools in Chiapas State
Timeline: 2014 - 2017 (Completed)
Intervention: Mobile pedagogical assistants, information, classroom support
Researchers: Ciro Avitabile, World Bank; David Evans, World Bank; Peter Holland, World Bank


In Mexico, the semi-autonomous National Council for Education Development (CONAFE) government agency delivers educational services to rural, highly marginalized areas where mainly indigenous communities live. Teachers in CONAFE schools usually are not professionals. They are generally recent secondary school graduates from the same community where they are placed – in some cases, they have not even finished upper secondary school -- and they receive very basic training before they start working. The challenges teaching in CONAFE schools, especially the primary schools that make up the bulk of the system, are many. The primary schools on average have a total of 10 to 15 students who are taught in one classroom by the same teacher. Students in these schools usually fare worse on national tests and have a higher drop-out rate than students in regular schools run by the Ministry of Education, something the government is trying to address.

CONAFE started a mobile tutoring program in 2009 to boost the quality of education in the remote regions served. The tutors, known as APIs after the program’s Spanish-language acronym, are recent university graduates who are hired to provide educational support services. Each API is assigned two communities and is expected to spend about two weeks a month in each community. The APIs are supposed to help support teachers in the classroom, tutor the worst performing students and work with parents to encourage their involvement in education. But the API program as structured didn’t lead to improvements in student learning and the progression rate from primary to lower secondary school was still low. In 2014, as part of World Bank project to support CONAFE, a SIEF-supported research team developed and rolled out a pilot intervention to test different measures for strengthening the tutoring program. The objective was to reduce the drop-out rate of students between primary and lower secondary school and improve student learning. The intervention, which was funded through the World Bank, started in September 2014 and continued through a second school year ending in Spring 2016.

Evaluation Design
The evaluation was designed as a randomized control trial and it was applied in schools that had never received the program before Mexico’s Chiapas region. Chiapas is the poorest region in the country, with 28 percent of the population classified as extremely poor according to 2016 state statistics. The evaluation took place in a part of Chiapas where there is enormous geographical, political and ethnic fractionalization. For example, six indigenous languages were spoken in the communities included in the study.

The research team created two treatment arms. The first introduced marginal changes to the CONAFE model and was implemented in 70 schools. In this arm, a priority was given to assign tutors to communities where they spoke the same indigenous language and to pay supervisors 20 percent extra for more frequent visits to the schools to monitor the program. The second treatment arm, which had 60 schools, included all the changes made in the first and in addition, tutors received two weeks instead of one week of training in the beginning (with increased focus on reading and math) and they had bi-monthly meetings with other tutors to discuss the challenges they faced and share ideas for solutions. Another 100 schools served as a control and didn’t receive any tutoring program.

CONAFE primary schools in Chiapas region, and within the schools, data was collected for children in all grades.

In schools where the mobile tutors received extra training and had bi-monthly meetings, the progression rate from primary school to lower secondary school rose by 14 percentage points, up from about a 65 percent rate among students in schools that didn’t get any tutoring program. Student learning in reading and math, tested two years after the start of the pilot, also increased compared with the control group (by about 10 percent in reading and five percent in math).  Socioemotional skills also improved. Students in schools that received the standard tutoring program showed some improvements over the control group but not as substantial as those in schools where tutors had the extra training and peer-to-peer meetings.

Policy Impact
The evaluation led to a number of policy shifts. In 2015, while the evaluation was underway, CONAFE considered shutting down the mobile tutoring program, believing that the traditional set-up wasn’t providing much benefit. But thanks to the dialogue underway between the World Bank team and CONAFE, the education authority decided to delay its decision until results of the impact evaluation were received. Because of the impact shown, CONAFE agreed to continue the program, and scaled-up changes based on the pilot intervention. Among other things, the training material used in the pilot intervention was adopted throughout the program, peer-to-peer meetings have been introduced, and training was increased from one week to 10 days. In addition, preference is being given to hiring and assigning mobile tutors who speak local languages.  Currently, the program has 2099 tutors, providing services to more than 4000 communities nationwide and covering more than 40,000 primary school-age students.