Our ‘Alumni Watch’ series tracks the working lives of our graduates, including former PhD fellows from around the world. Many continue working in academia or serve in national governments or international organisations. This time we speak with Dr. Camilo Carrillo Purin, who works as a high-level researcher in Peru.
Congratulations on successfully defending your dissertation! Your research dealt with the impact of the Peruvian in-service professional development programme on student achievement. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
The Peruvian in-service programme is a nationwide intervention intended to improve teachers’ ability to perform, and its final objective is to increase student achievement. The programme, delivered since 2008, includes a three-year systematic process of monthly meetings with a supervisor (coach), which usually take the form of personal coaching, workshops and conferences. During those meetings, the coach discusses directly how to improve with the selected teachers and suggests pedagogical processes to improve student-teacher relations.
The magnitude of the programme is quite large. In 2016 it covered 8,726 schools across the country – but surprisingly, it has never been evaluated. So, I was in the position of leading a public policy roll out without knowing its real impact! In a developing country like Peru, where resources are scarce or limited, that is at best inefficient and at worst simply immoral.
My research deals with the short and long-term impact of this training programme on student results. After gathering data from national databases and using quantitative quasi-experimental techniques to compare the treated schools and teachers against the untreated ones, we discovered positive (but decreasing) impacts on Math and Reading comprehension in second grade students. We then went further, asking whether the positive impacts would justify a nationwide roll-out of the programme. When compared to other public interventions, we found it cost effective in terms of increasing student outcomes and reducing inequalities in education.
When starting your PhD you said your main motivation was to better advise policymakers. This differs from most doctoral candidates who are more driven by academic work. Your thesis is academically sound and, at the same time, very policy-relevant. Now that you’ve graduated, what would you advise the Peruvian government to do with the educational programme you evaluated?
My professional experience at the Ministry of Education allowed me to share my research with the Vice-minister of Education. After graduating, I was asked to present the results of the impact evaluation to the professional staff of the office in charge of the programme. We discussed the results and I explained how to increase the impacts of the programme on teachers working in low-income areas. So, I’m especially proud that my research has generated debate and discussion about how to continue implementing the programme and how to make it more effective for students and teachers in my country.
Elements of your dissertation feature in four working papers, but these publications are not likely to reach policymakers. How do you plan to achieve that?
Along with the abovementioned meetings with the Ministry of Education, I have also written articles for Peruvian newspapers and websites of local scientific institutions. I have written specifically about the in-service programme and these have opened public debates on the issue. The use of social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook also helped me to expand my research impact.
Taking another angle, I signed a three-month contract with the regional government of Arequipa to do a regional impact assessment. This allowed me to obtain new evidence and compare regional vs. national impacts. My recommendations prompted the region to change some of its internal processes to maximise efficiency. Ultimately, this was the main aim of my thesis: to improve the programme and so increase students’ performance.
You did your PhD while working full-time as a policymaker and consultant and yet you graduated as quickly as most full-time doctoral students. What is your recipe for success?
With a positive attitude and always setting small but feasible goals. It is difficult to do a part-time PhD, mainly because we are all working and have our own personal and professional responsibilities, which require effort and time. So, the only way for me was to go slowly but never stop.
For me, what worked were two clear rules: first establish at least one day of the week for the thesis. It can be four hours on Sundays, but you must establish a schedule and stick with it. Even if you think you are moving slowly, you are moving forward, and that is very important.
Secondly, and probably the most important thing for me, was to combine the PhD with other things that make me happy. In other words, every time I went to Maastricht I tried to travel some additional days. Can you imagine travelling every six months and not enjoying at least a few days in Europe? I visited Belgium, Luxembourg, Hungary, Austria, Finland and Malta.
And finally, I had the opportunity to stay four months in Maastricht to do the last steps of the thesis. This allowed me to fully dedicate myself to the research, which worked very well as I was able to finish on time and author a good thesis.
The opinions expressed here are the subject’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / H.Pijpers; SIM USA / R.Rivera