One of the ongoing projects in my African Politics course is to develop a hypothetical research study to answer an unanswered question about sub-Saharan Africa, thereby creating new knowledge. One of the major steps in developing such a study is a literature review (or lit review, as college students often call it) – an examination of related work by past scholars, pointing out what has been discovered concerning a subject, and what has yet to be discovered. My study would test the effects of Invictus Institute’s tutoring sessions on students in Uganda (more to come later). Below is my lit review on the general topic of education in sub-Saharan Africa and interventions that could make it better.


In 1996, President Yoweri Museveni accomplished something remarkable. After extensive discussion in “educational institutions, in the cabinet and at [the] parliamentary level,” Uganda adopted the Universal Primary Education program(Ndeezi 2000). Suddenly, the door to a life-changing service seemed wide open, even to the historically disadvantaged such as girls and children with disabilities.

As momentous as the occasion was, Museveni’s vision of “transformation and [modernization] of society through the elimination of illiteracy and the provision of Education For All” has yet to be fully realized (Ndeezi 2000). As ForeignCredits (an international translation firm) summarizes, “Despite its best intentions, there [are] few really free state schools in Uganda” (Uganda Education System 2012). Even if the government pays for schooling itself, parents are often left on their own to acquire uniforms, school supplies, meals, etc. that they simply cannot afford.

The operational outcomes have likewise been less than hoped for. According to recent statistics from UNESCO, while gross enrollment in pre-primary education has risen, it has fallen for primary and secondary levels. It should be noted, however, that their statistics are not measured over the same, consistent period. For example, from 2014 to 2015 pre-primary enrollment rose, but no data exists for primary or secondary enrollment during the same time span. Still, the data’s conclusions, while erratically dispersed over the years, are undeniable. Enrollment in upper education levels is dropping, implying the rise of incomplete educations (Lewin 2009, UNESCO 2017).

A more consistently reported operational outcome is Uganda’s illiterate population, which appears to be rising. Starting in 2010, the illiterate population increased for both of the population parameters set by UNESCO: men and women aged 15-24, and men and women aged 15 and older. Though UNESCO offers no explanation for these trends, one can infer that the previously mentioned predicament, falling enrollment, plays a part.  As children fail to enroll in primary/secondary education, they fail to learn how to read fully (UNESCO, 2017).

The current, shoddy state of public education in sub-Saharan Africa is particularly frustrating in light of research uncovering the many benefits of high-quality education. It has been found to strongly correlate with improved hygiene, nutrition, infant mortality rateseconomic productivity, and sustainable fertility rates (Browne & Barrett 1991; Shapiro & Tenikue 2017; Shapiro 2012).

Hand in hand with these documented blessings from education is further research on how to rectify the schooling process. These prove similarly varied. Academic studies show positive impact ranging from mother-tongue instruction for dominant ethnic groups to greater concentrations of foreign aid (Ramachandran 2017, Riddell & Zarazua 2016, Yogo 2016).

Among the most ambitious studies on the matter is a meta-analysis conducted by Katharine M. Conn, wherein she analyzed “56 articles containing 66 separate experiments and quasi-experiments and 83 treatment arms” (Conn 2017, 863). Conn identified a dozen educational mediations, eventually discovering “that programs that alter teacher pedagogy or classroom instructional techniques had an effect size approximately 0.30 standard deviations greater than all other types of programs combined” (Conn 2017, 863).  She is by no means alone – other academic articles point out how vital teachers and their effectiveness at teaching can be (Dembélé & Lefoka 2007, Emoungu 1992).

An intervention not analyzed in Conn’s model, however, though closely related to teacher pedagogy, is one-on-one tutoring. Uganda, like many developing nations, faces massive teacher shortages, making hand-crafted attention for individual students nigh impossible (Ssekweyama 2017). Since academics widely agree that teacher development and pedagogical refreshing lead to better education, this untrodden avenue is worth exploring.

In all fairness, the impact of one-on-one tutoring has been extensively studied – just not in sub-Saharan Africa (as far as the author can tell). The opposite is true for the United States. Tutoring programs for several different American sub-groups have been analyzed, from first-graders to adolescents in juvenile correction facilities(Coulter 2004, Gilbert et al. 2013). Similarly diverse is the range of sample sizes. While Coulter’s article on “adjudicated youth” contains only 12 subjects, more statistically powerful groups of 64, 84, and a whopping 649 appear in further studies (Coulter 2004, 321, Gilbert et al. 2013, Houge and Geier 2009, Baker, Gersten, and Keating 2000).

In spite of the differing scopes among the studies listed in the previous paragraph, the overwhelming consensus is that one-on-one tutoring does help the program’s recipients academically. Furthermore, a meta-analysis akin to Katharine M. Conn’s published in the Review of Educational Research validates that consensus with an extensive array of research findings. The authors analyzed “21 studies (with 28 different study cohorts in those studies) reporting on randomized field trials” of assorted tutoring programs (Ritter et al. 2009). They concluded that “volunteer tutoring has a positive effect on student achievement,” particularly in regards to “letters and words, oral fluency, and writing” (Ritter et al. 2009, 3).

For Uganda, the most likely venue for such tutoring would be an NGO (Reimann 2006). Invictus Institute, for example, is a registered 501(c)(3) whose mission is to tutor students in developing nations via the Internet, thereby supplementing their education (Invictus Institute 2017). Given the fact that they already have ties to Uganda, they seem like an ideal match for such research (Beck 2016, Beck 2016).

To be fair, this approach is not without its challenges. Sub-Saharan Internet connectivity, for one thing, is notoriously unreliable by Western standards (Mail & Guardian Africa 2016, The State of Broadband 2015). A study of the effects of online, one-one-one tutoring would have to take such fluctuations into account during its concluding analysis.

Additionally, a 2009 article published in International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning found that online tutoring can pose several obstacles that may lower the quality of instruction (Muhirwa 2009). However, said article relied exclusively on qualitative data such as follow-up interviews and video recordings of the tutoring sessions. An empirically-based randomized control trial on the subject has yet to be developed (again, as far as the author can tell).

Which begs the following question: what quantifiable effect would online, NGO-facilitated tutoring have on public school students in Uganda, specifically regarding their academic performance?

Works Cited

“20 striking facts about digital, mobile and tech in Africa; including the ‘dictator’s dilemma’.” Mail & Guardian Africa. January 23, 2016. Accessed November 12, 2017.

Baker, Scott, Russell Gersten, and Thomas Keating. “When Less May Be More: A 2-Year Longitudinal Evaluation of a Volunteer Tutoring Program Requiring Minimal Training.” Reading Research Quarterly 35, no. 4 (2000): 494-519.

Beck, Kasey. “Mbirotono Primary School.” Invictus Institute. October 18, 2016. Accessed November 12, 2017.

Beck, Kasey. “Mukono, Uganda.” Invictus Institute. October 18, 2016. Accessed November 12, 2017.

Browne, Angela W., and Hazel R. Barrett. “Female Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Key to Development?” Comparative Education 27, no. 3 (1991): 275-85.

Conn, Katharine M. “Identifying Effective Education Interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Meta-Analysis of Impact Evaluations.” Review of Educational Research 87, no. 5 (October 2017): 863-98. Accessed October 11, 2017. doi:10.3102/0034654317712025.

Coulter, Gail. “Using One-to-One Tutoring and Proven Reading Strategies to Improve Reading Performance with Adjudicated Youth.” Journal of Correctional Education 55, no. 4 (2004): 321-33.

Dembélé, Martial, and Pulane Lefoka. “Pedagogical Renewal for Quality Universal Primary Education: Overview of Trends in Sub-Saharan Africa.” International Review of Education / Internationale Zeitschrift Für Erziehungswissenschaft / Revue Internationale De L’Education 53, no. 5/6 (2007): 531-53.

“Education System in Uganda.” Uganda Education System. 2012. Accessed October 11, 2017.

Emoungu, Paul-Albert N. “Education and Primitive Accumulation in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Comparative Education 28, no. 2 (1992): 201-13.

Gilbert, Jennifer K., Donald L. Compton, Douglas Fuchs, Lynn S. Fuchs, Bobette Bouton, Laura A. Barquero, and Eunsoo Cho. “Efficacy of a First-Grade Responsiveness-to-Intervention Prevention Model for Struggling Readers.” Reading Research Quarterly 48, no. 2 (2013): 135-54.

Houge, Timothy T., and Constance Geier. “Delivering One-to-One Tutoring in Literacy via Videoconferencing.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 53, no. 2 (2009): 154-63.

“IVIMarketingBackgrounder.” Invictus Institute. Accessed October 11, 2017.

Lewin, Keith M. “Access to Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: Patterns, Problems and Possibilities.” Comparative Education 45, no. 2 (2009): 151-74.

Muhirwa, Jean-Marie. “Teaching and Learning Against all Odds: A Video-Based Study of Learner-to-Instructor Interaction in International Distance Education.” International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 10, no. 4 (September 2009). Accessed October 11, 2017.

Ndeezi, Alex. “Focus on Policy: Universal Primary Education in Uganda.” Enabling Education Network. 2000. Accessed October 11, 2017.

Ramachandran, Rajesh. “Language use in education and human capital formation: Evidence from the Ethiopian educational reform.” World Development 98 (October 2017): 195-213. Accessed October 11, 2017.

Reimann, Kim D. “A View from the Top: International Politics, Norms and the Worldwide Growth of NGOs.” International Studies Quarterly 50, no. 1 (2006): 45-67.

Riddell, Abby, and Miguel Nino-Zarazua. “The effectiveness of foreign aid to education: What can be learned?” International Journal of Educational Development 48 (May 2016): 23-36. May 2016. Accessed October 11, 2017.

Ritter, Gary W., Joshua H. Barnett, George S. Denny, and Ginger R. Albin. “The Effectiveness of Volunteer Tutoring Programs for Elementary and Middle School Students: A Meta-Analysis.” Review of Educational Research 79, no. 1 (2009): 3-38.

Shapiro, David. “Women’s Education and Fertility Transition in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Vienna Yearbook of Population Research 10 (2012): 9-30.

Shapiro, David, and Michel Tenikue. “Women’s education, infant and child mortality, and fertility decline in rural and urban sub-Saharan Africa.” Demographic Research 37 (September 13, 2017): 669-708. September 13, 2017. Accessed October 11, 2017. doi:10.4054/demres.2017.37.21.

Ssekweyama, Ezekiel. “Teacher Shortage Drains Sembabule Schools.” Uganda Radio Network. March 13, 2017. Accessed October 11, 2017.

The State of Broadband 2015. Report. September 2015. Accessed November 12, 2017.

“Uganda.” UNESCO UIS. April 12, 2017. Accessed October 11, 2017.

Yogo, Thierry Urbain. “Assessing the Effectiveness of Foreign Aid in the Education Sector in Africa: The Case of Primary Education.” African Development Review 29, no. 3 (September 18, 2017): 389-402. Accessed October 11, 2017. doi:10.1111/1467-8268.12276.