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Citizen-led learning design, outcome assessment offer new paths

Seventeen years ago, national and international education discourses primarily emphasised enrollment, access, and other school-related inputs. The prevailing assumption was that attending school would naturally translate into effective learning. However, it turned this assumption was incorrect.
Photo of a father teaching his son
Credit: Australian Council for Educational Research
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Seventeen years ago, a movement started in East Africa’s largest economy, Kenya. A group of mothers, fathers, and volunteers decided to see if their children could read a simple page and do basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

If you remember, 17 years ago, the global discourse and concerns were on access to school. Governments, United Nations systems, and agency donors were all funding the construction of new schools, training more teachers, and making textbooks available.

There was a strong focus on school input. We believe that focus was made based on the assumption that going to school equals learning while in school. But when local fathers and mothers started using a simple test to see if their children could do addition and subtraction, mapped to grade two or grade three, they started to realise that assumption was not true.

We have, especially in the global south many who go to school for five or seven years and still can’t make the basic arithmetic operations. They still can’t read with comprehension a simple passage. So, realising that schooling is not equal to learning, was the wake-up call that something is wrong with the system. These Kenyan citizens realised that the school system was wrong.

The broken part needed to be fixed and this meant building what would make a child learn better. What makes a child learn better is his or her ability to read comprehend and operate numbers, especially the basic operations.

We believe that if children can build the foundations, they can learn other subjects later in life. And we need to ask ourselves, especially in the global south. How come we are letting our children move from grade to grade, until grade seven and we are not giving them the competencies they require to thrive in life?

What are we prioritising, is it the number of children enrolled in basic education? Is it about grades? Is it about the global statistics to make our countries eligible for funding from donors or UN agencies?

Why are we building a generation of youth without the competencies to compete in a market that is both global and local – glocal. And we shouldn’t blame others. We need to look into our systems and see what it is that we need to fix to make the younger generation able to get a better future. We believe that what we need to fix are the foundations of literacy and numeracy for our children.

Away from the realisation of Kenyan parents, guardians, and volunteers to some South American solutions for these people before we return to the Kenyan approach that has given birth to an international citizen-led learning outcome assessment platform.

Fifteen years ago, a group of teenagers started a quiet revolution in pedagogy, in South America. They were students and their leader was 18 years old. This revolution grew into what is known today as Eidos Global, a peer-led learning approach.

They were young people and wanted to learn but there were no teachers. They used the empty classes for learning. They learnt by doing and playing. Experiential. This made the students super committed and the learning was effective.

Then, they expanded first to Argentina, then into Latin America and globally. They decided they had found a different way to educate. They found a new pedagogy. So, 15 years ago they decided to found Eidos Global because they wanted to change global education. They focused on two things, critical thinking and social commitment.

Fifteen years later, they are a social enterprise working in 95 countries and reskilling a million people a year. It is still about learning by doing and focusing on skills that are meaningful for life, digital skills, social, emotional and cognitive skills. This is to enable the learners to thrive in a world of changing realities.

Read also: COP28: Addressing the lack of climate change education in schools

Bringing it all together

In 1999, the Government of India initiated Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a landmark education programme aimed at achieving universal primary school enrollment. By 2005, significant progress was made, with enrollment levels reaching close to 95 per cent. However, Pratham, one of India’s largest non-governmental organisations focused on learning, observed that although children were attending school, there were alarming gaps in their actual learning outcomes.

During this period, the national and international education discourse primarily emphasised enrollment, access, and other school-related inputs. The prevailing assumption was that attending school would naturally translate into effective learning.

While parents acknowledged the importance of schooling, the emphasis on the quality of learning was not as widespread. The government routinely generated data on inputs and expenditures, but there was a lack of a culture to utilise large-scale evidence to shape policy decisions. It became evident that a paradigm shift was needed, redirecting attention towards learning and fostering a national dialogue that engaged all stakeholders.

To catalyse this shift towards prioritising learning outcomes, Pratham took a groundbreaking step in 2005 by launching the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). This innovative approach aimed to assess children’s fundamental reading and arithmetic skills, tailored to address the specific challenges faced by developing countries like India. ASER sought to move beyond traditional metrics, sparking a nationwide conversation on the urgent need to bridge the gap between schooling and meaningful learning experiences.

Traditionally, learning assessments are school-based. But in a country like India, all children may not be enrolled in school; among those who are enrolled, many attend unrecognised private schools or other kinds of schools. Further, enrollment does not necessarily translate into attendance and daily attendance in school is variable. Therefore, to reach all children the assessment had to be household based.

Most school-based assessments tend to be subject-wise and pegged to the grade curriculum. However, since basic learning outcomes were far below grade level for many children currently enrolled in school, ASER decided to focus on basic foundational skills (reading and numeracy) for all rather than on subject-wise grade-level outcomes.

ASER’s innovation is its use of household-based assessments of foundational reading and math, administered to children ages 5–16 by local volunteers. It uses a floor-level tool, where the highest level for reading is at Grade 2 while the highest level for math is at Grade 4.

Today, ASER is the largest citizen-led survey in India and the only annual source of information on children’s learning outcomes in the country. The survey was conducted every year from 2005 to 2014. After a break in 2015, a new series of ASER started in 2016 where the large-scale survey in every rural district is done every other year. ASER 2018 surveyed 546,527 children in the age group of 3–16 years, in 354,944 households, across 17,730 villages in 596 rural districts of India.

Kenya’s experience and learnings for Nigeria

When PAL Network, started its citizen-led assessment movement, in Kenya, the nonprofit’s relationship with the government was always tense because through the International Open Assessment of Numeracy, (ICAN) they were able to provide evidence that children were not learning in school, at least not at the level defined by our educational systems.

There was a lot of fighting and questioning of the validity of the nonprofit’s data. But with systems providing the service, and reporting the studies systematically and by engaging the government in the whole process of designing assessment tools, data collection and analysis, it made them change their opinion because the evidence was strong. The assessments that PAL Network uses are simple to understand.

After three or five years of consecutive action and discussion about learning outcomes, the Kenyan government started talking to them and accepted there was a problem and requested the Network design a solution to the problem.

This question was coming systematically in many countries and they decided to explore alternative ways of teaching children to read and the basic math in short periods. Building also from the experience in India, from teaching with the right method.

They started adapting to different countries and working with governments, even at the community level and providing alternative ways of teaching and learning. This proved effective in helping children learn to read and do basic math in short periods, 30 – 50 days.

For Nigeria…

India’s citizen-led learning design and outcome assessment, and interventions such as the PAL Network’s ICAN, in Kenya, have been instrumental in shaping educational approaches. Similarly, Eidos Global has successfully implemented peer-led learning in South America and across the globe.
As Nigeria considers these experiences, there are valuable lessons to be learned:

Diversity of Approaches: Nigeria can benefit from exploring a range of strategies and adapting them to its unique context, considering factors such as cultural diversity and regional variations.

Citizen Engagement: Emphasising citizen-led initiatives ensures community involvement in education. Nigeria can learn the importance of engaging citizens, including parents, community leaders, and students themselves, in shaping educational practices. This approach fosters a sense of ownership and relevance.

Peer-Led Learning: Eidos Global’s success with peer-led learning demonstrates the effectiveness of involving students in teaching and learning from each other. Nigeria can explore the integration of peer-led methodologies to enhance student engagement, collaboration, and a sense of shared responsibility for learning outcomes.

Outcome Assessment: The focus on outcome assessment in India and South America highlights the need for continuous monitoring and evaluation. Nigeria can adopt similar practices to regularly assess learning outcomes, identify challenges, and make informed adjustments to educational policies and practices.

Flexibility and Adaptability: Learning from these experiences underscores the importance of flexibility and adaptability. Nigeria can recognise that educational approaches should evolve to address changing needs, technological advancements, and emerging trends in pedagogy.

Knowledge Exchange: Establishing platforms for knowledge exchange with India, South America, and other regions can facilitate cross-cultural learning. Nigeria can benefit from sharing insights, challenges, and successful strategies with these countries, fostering a global community focused on enhancing education.

Nigeria can draw inspiration from India’s citizen-led initiatives, embrace peer-led learning experiences exemplified by Eidos Global, and engage in a global dialogue to enrich its education system with diverse and effective practices.

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