The Effect of Upfront Payments on Rural Instructors’ Turnover
The dream of many young Mexicans is to go to college. Juanita’s high school dream was to become a teacher one day. Little did she imagine that her dream would make a difference to children living in small rural areas of Mexico. But Juanita’s dream began to come true after she met a representative from Mexico’s National Council for Educational Development (Consejo Nacional de Fomento Educativo - CONAFE).
CONAFE focuses on providing educational opportunities to children and teenagers in remote communities with fewer than 500 inhabitants. One of CONAFE’s programs consists of enrolling young instructors to teach in those communities for at least a year. The more than 35,000 CONAFE instructors often live in the community during the week with local families and those families are responsible for providing food and housing. CONAFE offers them a monthly subsidy of Mex$1,427 (about US$110 at the time of the evaluation). If instructors teach for a full year, they become eligible to have their higher education financed. Those who stay for two years receive CONAFE financing for up to 30 months of college.
Unfortunately, in the past few years about one in three young instructors dropped out before the first school year was over, disrupting the education of the very children CONAFE aimed to help. The difficult living conditions young instructors faced in the rural communities was leading to increasingly high turnover rates. For example, Juanita arrived in her community only after a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride followed by a 45-minute walk. Also, she found herself living with no access to running water and no cellphone service to call home.
Aware of these difficult living arrangements, CONAFE and the IDB worked together to find an innovative and cost-effective way to get community instructors to complete their service and ultimately ensure the continuity of CONAFE’s program. The young instructors program, known as Social Equity Builders, is funded by the second phase of an IDB sovereign guaranteed loan for US$100 million approved in 2010.
CONAFE and the IDB agreed to provide a compensatory payment of Mex$ 750 per month (an extra US$58 at the time of the evaluation) in addition to the Mex$1,427 subsidy. Moreover, they decided to implement a randomized control trial over two years modifying the subsidy payment schedule. The trial took place in the Mexican states of Chiapas, Puebla, and Veracruz, where nearly 60 percent of all young instructors in the country serve. One payment schedule provided the monthly compensatory payment of Mex$750 for 10 months, and the other one was designed taking into account three drop out peaks. Participating instructors in the second schedule had their payments distributed in three installments. They received a considerably larger payment of Mex$3,000 when they arrived in their communities in order to defray costs associated with settling in. The second and third payments provided Mex$2,250 following the winter and spring breaks as incentives for young instructors to return. An earlier analysis had found that these were the three periods when dropout rates spiked.
An evaluation of the trial revealed considerable success for the alternative scheme. It showed dropout rates were lower for the community instructors paid under the alternative, second payment schedule throughout the academic year. At the end of the school year, for example, 23 percent of the instructors with monthly payments had dropped out. By contrast only 17 percent of those instructors under the alternative scheme had done so. Furthermore, there was no increase in early dropouts – in other words, teachers did not cash out and leave. Thus, more students were able to receive instruction without disruption right after the 2nd and 3rd payments were made.
Juanita was one of the instructors who received payments under the alternative payment schedule, and she went on to successfully complete her service. She is in college now, pursuing a teaching degree. Even considering her rough start as an instructor, Juanita looks back with pride on her experience. “I had to grow up,” she said. “In my home I was a child. In the community I was the teacher. I was responsible for the education of 10 children.”
Had she considered dropping out after receiving the first incentive payment? After all, it was probably the largest amount of money she’d seen at once in her lifetime up until then.
“No,” Juanita answered, “I used some of it to buy a laptop that helped me teach and study while I was in the community. The rest, I saved. I was careful with it. I knew I would need it.”
Juanita is pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day!
Continue reading Chapter 3 - Evaluating Projects to Enhance Learning and Policy Making