The following is a real conversation that took place between a teacher from rural Paraguay and a team of education specialists from the central government and the World Bank.
Team: Did you see this report with the assessment results from your school?
Teacher: Nooo... This is the first time that I see it... maybe the school principal got it... but we the teachers, we didn´t... the school does not have a photocopy machine, and we don’t have computers or printers... Moreover, there is no internet connection here, so it is very hard for us to have access to the school results.
Team: Mmm... I see... we would need to send printed copies to every teacher then...
Teacher: Why don´t you send to us a WhatsApp?
Team: A WhatsApp???!!!
Teacher: Yes... we don´t like to read printed reports... We prefer to read reports from our cell phones. All the teachers have one, and we have WhatsApp’s groups. If you send to us a WhatsApp, everybody would be informed of the school results! We could even share them with parents; they use WhatsApp too!
Teacher: By the way, would it be possible for you to send WhatsApp’s messages in Guarani (indigenous language) for the parents?
Over the past years, as connectivity and the penetration of technologies have exponentially increased in many countries, social media has gained lot of terrain as a communication tool. In most Latin American countries, WhatsApp messages are now the main communication tool through which school supervisors, directors, teachers, parents, and students share and exchange information about issues relevant to their school communities.
In Paraguay, the network of WhatsApp’s groups used to communicate within and across school communities is very well established and broadly used by both local education authorities and schools. Moreover, WhatsApp’s groups are also the preferred and most effective and efficient way to share information between the central, departmental, and local education authorities. All these elements seem to suggest that Paraguay is in an excellent position to move to the next level in terms of technology adoption for the dissemination of its national student learning assessments.
Paraguay has an emerging national student learning assessment system, which is under the responsibility of the newly created National Institute for the Evaluation of Education (INEE for its acronym in Spanish). Since 1995, the country has been administering around every three years sample-based student learning assessments that are known as the National System for the Evaluation of the Education Process (SNEPE for its acronym in Spanish). In late 2015, Paraguay administered for the first time a census-based SNEPE to all students from grades 3, 6, 9, and 12, testing math and language (Spanish and Guarani) for all grades. This was a huge effort for the country that required administering almost 1.5 million tests nationally and planning for a complex implementation strategy. It took INEE slightly over two years to be able to disseminate the results of SNEPE (2015). A summary of the dissemination strategy used by INEEP for the results of SNEPE (2015) that was supported by the World Bank through our Reimbursable Advisory Services (RAS) is documented here.
One of the materials designed to disseminate the results of SNEPE (2015) included school results reports. These school results reports were distributed to schools through a digital platform, which it is part of the existing information systems administered by the central authorities at MEC. Along with the distribution of the school results reports, MEC conducted a qualitative evaluation to understand the level of access, understanding, appreciation, and use of the school results reports among the different stakeholders. This evaluation consisted in implementing semi-structured group interviews to nearly 120 school supervisors, directors, and teachers to ask them questions such as: Did you get your school results report? How did you get it? When did you get it? Could you please explain to us how were your results in your school? How useful were these results to you? How did you use or are planning to use these results?
The evaluation of the school results reports presented some interesting lessons learned. First, local stakeholders value enormously receiving their student assessment results and the fact the these can be used as an input to understand where their schools are and what the areas of improvement are. Second, stakeholders value a lot that results are disseminated with formative purposes only and not to punish or stigmatize schools with low results. Third, although school results reports were available online, many local stakeholders (especially teachers) mention that they are not sure how to access them or are not aware they can be accessed online. Fourth, among stakeholders that can access their school results reports, many have difficulties understanding how to interpret some of the content. Lastly, stakeholders report a very strong preference to receive the information about their school results reports via WhatsApp rather than through printed reports or the existing official digital platform.
These lessons learned can be considered when designing the dissemination of the results of upcoming rounds of SNEPE. For instance, the existing WhatsApp’s groups could be used to send infographics or animations showing and explaining the results, sharing sample test questions, informing school communities about the application of new rounds of SNEPE, and exchanging audiovisual materials with pedagogical resources to help schools address some of their learning challenges. Clear and simple messages, with guidelines for action could be shared with parents, teachers, principals, supervisors, and policy makers once a week or over a period of several weeks or months to expand the use of the student learning assessments results to promote improved learning outcomes.
Certainly, this does not mean that the use of traditional methods to communicate the results from student learning assessments should disappear. One could envision, for instance, dissemination strategies that combines social media and traditional communication methods. However, to the extent that technologies have already significantly disrupted the way in which information is shared, it is important to start rethinking how these can be leveraged to improve the level of access, understanding, appreciation, and use of the student learning assessment results.
Using social media to disseminate student learning assessments has enormous advantages but potential risks too. On the one hand, social media greatly facilitates access to information even in the most remote areas, they allow for a timelier dissemination of results with messages reaching their final audiences instantly, they are much cheaper and cost-effective, and are also much more fun and green. On the other hand, social media messages can be hard to archive or retrieve in the future and there is always the risk of alterations to the official messages that might promote “fake news”. Consequently, governments and education evaluation agencies should weight these advantages and risks when designing national dissemination strategies for student learning assessments and try to develop mitigating plans to address some of the risks.