Increasing Student Attendance in Kenya with Mobile SMS Data Collection

Students at School in Kenya

The Challenge

Getting children in Kenya an education is a huge challenge – 75% of Kenyan children that start primary education don’t complete it, often because guardians need to pull the kids out of school and get them working to subsidize the household income.

It doesn’t help that in many cases, the government doesn’t cover education fees. So keeping kids in school not only deprives the household of their potential earnings, but also costs them extra in school fees. Which is a problem, because research has shown that each extra year that a child stays in primary school, he or she will contribute an average of 10% more of the annual household income to their households. Keeping kids in school longer means they will have much higher earning potential if they complete their education, which in turn has huge benefits for individual families, and of course for the country as a whole.

Adam Smith International (ASI), Concern Worldwide (CWW), and the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) implemented a program to address the challenge of keeping children in Kenya in school. They used funding donated by the UK Department of International Development (UK Aid) to pay school fees of children whose school attendance reached a certain frequency threshold.

To do this, there were a couple of important challenges that needed to be overcome:

  • How could schools motivate teachers to provide accurate, consistent reports on student attendance?
  • How could these attendance reports be consolidated and tracked to ensure that students above the attendance threshold could be identified in order to receive tuition funding?

This project encompassed 372 schools with a total of over 25,000 students, so answering these questions was a challenge. Tracking attendance was traditionally done by consolidating paper-based roll call sheets. Just imagine the logistics of consolidating and analyzing thousands of these forms from hundreds of school over several months or years! And the program wouldn’t work unless the teachers consistently collected and reported attendance information.

This is where Bamba was able to help. ASI, CWW and AKF, together tasked with tracking attendance and administering the funding, reached out to us to leverage our data collection SMS platform in this massive undertaking.

The Innovation

Here’s how it worked:

1. At each of the schools, teachers took attendance as usual. They then reported information on absentee students to the Bamba real-time management dashboard through SMS on their phones (for free).

For teachers that reported with a frequency of 80% or above, we sent them 200 Kenyan Shillings (which is about US$2) of mobile airtime through our platform. This turned out to be a key motivator to get teachers to report the information (more on that below).

2. The Bamba platform was able to consolidate the information in real-time, generating graphics and reports that provided the following key metrics:

  • % Attendance of students over time for each school
  • % Attendance of each student over time

This information could then be used by ASI, CWW and AKF to administer tuition funding for the students who attended at a frequency above the threshold.

We were also able to provide other valuable information to them using our platform. When students were absent, the Bamba platform was set up to send an SMS message to the absentee’s parents, requesting information on reasons for the absence. This extra information was included in the report and provided valuable insight about the types of challenges and circumstances that might lead to students not attending school.

Flowchart - Tracking Attendance in Kenyan Schools Using Bamba Platform

The Impact

Using our SMS platform turned out to be an effective way of engaging parents, teachers and school monitoring committees around student education. The simple, beautiful dashboards that displayed the real-time attendance status in all schools allowed better decisions to be made at the agency level, partner level and donor level.

Not only did the Bamba platform provide the attendance information data required to administer the tuition funding to students, but the ability to incentivize attendance reporting by teachers who reported 80% of their days was game-changing. The incentives increased the reporting rate from 32% up to 78% within 3 months, and was the key source of the data needed to successfully implement the program.

The project was ultimately able to lower the dropout rate of students from 30% to 4% within a 2-year period by leveraging technology to collect, manage and incentivize the flow of data.

Case Study Results Statistics


In Conclusion…

We love when we have opportunities to work with organizations passionate about creating positive change. This project helped improve the livelihoods of thousands of children by funding their education, and we were just happy to be along for the ride.

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