Emotions are the DNA of human experience. Social relationships play a pivotal role in helping us become fully human. Connectedness is an essential need for our species. So, we tend to assume it comes naturally and, thus, needs not to be taught in schools.
It is only recently that policymakers and organisations are paying attention and defining emotions and social skills as essential to a well-rounded education. This is mostly based on growing evidence that socio-emotional skills increase academic outcomes and well-being and employers seek those skills and will pay for them.
Leadership is a critical aspect of all social endeavors. In schools, talented leadership is essential to student achievement. School leadership impacts all facets of education: teacher motivation, shaping the conditions and the environment in which teaching and learning occurs, and interaction with the broader community. A large scale six-year study reported by Louis et al (2010) covering 180 schools in 43 school districts in the US found that there is no single case of a school improving its student achievement record in the absence of skilled school leadership.
In many school systems, effective school leadership is far from the norm. It is often simply assumed that school leaders, irrespective of capacity, will discharge responsibilities and initiatives assigned to them. Moreover, programs to prepare and or support school leaders are either lacking or ineffective.
Socio-emotional skills are the new hot topic in education. Governments, ministers of education, policymakers, education experts, psychologists, economists, international organizations, and others have been captivated by these skills and their contribution to students’ academic and life outcomes. The goal seems clear, but the way to achieve results is not so obvious. Most of the literature focuses on the impact of socio-emotional skills on different outcomes, while much less illuminates the specific mechanisms through which teachers can boost students’ socio-emotional development.
Kenyan schools are not doing well. About a 120 of them were set alight in arson attacks last year alone which were largely blamed on fears arising from a government crackdown on cheating in national exams. Amid national schooling reforms, many pupils and parents continue to be unhappy about the changes. Where do the teachers figure within this period of heavy reform?
Both the best and worst performers in East Africa are in Kenya
Although school enrolment has gone up steadily, over a million children are still out of school. In terms of learning outcomes, Kenya performs relatively better than its neighbours, but results from internationally recognised competency test, Uwezo, shows that learning levels are poor, and have stagnated over time. For instance, in the 2014 Uwezo assessment, 39% of children aged 7-13 years passed a test that required them to demonstrate competence of Standard 2 level numeracy and literacy. This was not significantly different from the performance in previous years: 40% in 2011, 37% in 2012 and 41% in 2013. Looking at student learning levels, both the best and worst performing districts in East Africa are in Kenya. The extremities in quality within Kenyan education are huge. For instance, according to the same Uwezo data, “a child in the Central region is over seven times more likely to have attained a Standard 2 level of literacy and numeracy than a child in the North Eastern region”.
Fixing the education system in Kenya is an onerous task. The Government of Kenya has time and time again, reiterated its commitment to improving the state of education, and has outlined its vision in the National Education Sector Plan 2013- 2018. Alongside, a host of national and international development agencies in Kenya have over the years, financed numerous programmes, targeting various components of the education sector. These efforts have yielded a wealth of evidence. One should consider such evidence, while attempting to answer the question – how can we improve the quality of schooling in Kenya?
This is the ninth in our series of job market posts this year.
Teachers’ attendance can be improved if they are monitored by head-teachers using mobile technology, but only if the associated reports trigger bonus payments.
Can high-stakes decentralized monitoring improve civil servant performance, or will it lead to collusion between the monitor and civil servant? And what happens to the quality of information when we raise the stakes of reports?
“Although the quantity of schooling has expanded rapidly, quality is often abysmal.” (Kremer et al.)
“Between 1999 and 2009, an extra 52 million children enrolled in primary school…Yet the quality of education in many schools is unacceptably poor.” (Krishnaratne et al.)
“Progress over the last decade in regards to school access and enrollment has been promising.” But “current learning levels for primary as well as secondary school students are extremely low in much of Sub-Saharan Africa” (Conn)
“The most consistent focus of investment has been on increasing primary and secondary school enrollment rates… More recently, however, attention has begun to swing toward the quality of schools and the achievement of students—and here the evidence on outcomes is decidedly more mixed.” (Glewwe et al.)
“Over the past decade, low- and middle-income countries have made considerable progress in increasing the number of children and youth who enroll in school and stay long enough to learn basic skills… Learning in many low- and middle-income countries remains appallingly low.” (Murnane & Ganimian)
Again and again, we hear the refrain: access is improving, but learning lags. Thankfully, an increasing number of studies reveal interventions that work – and those that don’t – to improve learning around the world.
Recognizing its relevance in the global marketplace, the small South American country of Uruguay has placed increasing emphasis on improving the abilities of its schoolchildren to speak English. In trying to achieve this objective, however, it has faced a very acute resource constraint: There just aren't enough qualified teachers of English working in Uruguayan schools.
What to do?
How do you strike a balance between the immediate needs of students *right now* and an education system's requirements to train teachers to help meet such needs over the long term?
The traditional approach to dealing with such a challenge in many places has been to focus primarily on pre-service training, gradually introducing new teachers into classrooms over many years who have prepared to teach the subject through dedicated courses of study at teacher training colleges, together with occasional in-service professional development activities for existing teachers (normally during holiday breaks). In Uruguay, it was recognized that the gap between the abilities and capacities of many teachers to teach English, and student needs to learn English (which became compulsory in 2008) was so huge in many parts of the country that they needed to do things differently than they had done in the past. Instead of having teachers learn English separately, might it be possible to have them learn alongside their students, in their own classrooms?
As it happens, almost a decade ago Uruguay began its ambitious and innovative Plan Ceibal, which (among other things, and as profiled in a number of previousposts on the EduTechblog) made this small South American nation the first country to connect all of its schools to the Internet and provide all primary school children with a free laptop.
Given the technical infrastructure and know-how that was developed under Plan Ceibal, Uruguayan policymakers asked themselves:
Now that all of the schools are connected to the Internet,
and all students have their own laptops,
might it be possible to offer high quality
English language instruction live over the Internet,
connecting to teachers many miles away from the schools?
The answer to this question, it would appear, is 'yes'. Working out of its remote teaching center in Buenos Aires, its global digital learning hub in the neighboring country of Argentina, the British Council is beaming out English lessons to children in hundreds of individual classrooms across Uruguay, complementing and supporting the work of local teachers in these same classrooms. This is not a 1-to-many broadcast of the sort commonly done in many countries through the use of broadcast television, but rather connects individual classrooms in Uruguay with individual teachers sitting in other places. Some of these English teachers are based in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, many others next door in Argentina, and still others much further afield -- including halfway around the world in the Philippines and the UK! Along the way, the capacity of local teachers, who continue to lead English classes on their own other days of the week, is developed, through their interactions with and observations of the remote teachers.
Did you have a favorite teacher at school? What made that teacher so special? Teachers are the single most important resource we have to ensure that children learn. But the reality is that many kids across the world don’t get a good quality education.