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Education

If we don’t assess, how will we learn? Assessments are critical to learning, accountability and school improvement

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Young boys studying in IndiaAre assessments and standardized tests critical to measuring the effectiveness of educational systems?  How can communities demand accountability from local schools? Suvojit Chattopadhyay argues that assesments can serve as a lever to improving education.

This is a response to a recent livemint column by Azim Premji Foundation’s Anurag Behar in which he argues that assessments are not a primary systemic lever for improvement in education and that assessments should remain tools that provide feedback to teachers in the classroom. Interestingly, Behar does not make any reference to India’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). ASER has been around for a decade, riding on a simple and powerful idea: parents, communities, the wider civil society and policymakers just did not have sufficient information on the levels of learning our public schools deliver.
 
Unsurprisingly, in an age where social spending by governments is under tremendous scrutiny and aid flows are under pressure, testing and assessments have found currency in many countries across the developing world. It has also helped civil society put pressure on education systems (whether public or private) to focus on learning outcomes, moving beyond a highly limiting obsession with inputs— classrooms, teachers, textbooks, uniforms, etc. To be clear, the argument is not that one can ignore the need for high quality inputs. Indeed, that would be foolish. However, there is now substantial evidence that on its own, investing in inputs will not yield improved schooling outcomes.

Education Literally Saved My Life

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

Track cyclists competeAs a former elementary secondary school teacher in Poland and as a current college educator in the United States, I have been exposed to many different approaches to educational or pedagogical methodology. However, I have always believed that education at its best is a combination of classroom, field, and real life experience.
 
Whenever I teach a sociology class, I depend not only on textbooks but on field trips, inviting outside speakers, engaging them in extracurricular activities, and nowadays harnessing social media as a teaching assistant. These activities enable students to learn things in a deeper way, and they feel a greater connection with the topic.
 
As a teacher, I firmly believe in second chances. I am also a seasoned realist. In addition to school, I also see family, religion, and peers or even neighbors as molding social institutions. I am fully aware that my work needs to be done in an atmosphere and willingness to constantly forgive and forget, especially when I deal with cases of pure innocence and immaturity.
 
This essay is a personal reflection that draws on my experience not only as an educator but also as a father, the husband of a math teacher, and son-in-law of two teachers. It also includes my role as teacher and mentor to the thousands students who have taken my sociology classes since I started my career in higher education. It is an essay intended to focus on one of the most important educational aspects in the lives of every human being; the life defining self-taught moments and experiences, which have the potential to abruptly shape our outlook, beliefs, and our set of ethical values.

Blog post of the month: Cycling is everyone’s business

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

This post is also available in French and Spanish .
“I’ve seen some of the highest performance bicycles in the world, but I believe the most powerful bicycle is the one in the hands of a girl fighting for her education, or a mother striving to feed her family.” 
- F.K. Day, Founder of World Bicycle Relief

  
The rainbow jersey, Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, or Vuelta a Espana—that’s what usually comes to mind when we think of cycling. However, elite cycling is only one small spoke of a much larger wheel.
 
By some estimates, there are already more than two billion bikes in use around the world. By 2050, that number could be as high as five billion. Over 50 percent of the human population knows how to ride a bike. In China, 37.2 percent of the population use bicycles. In Belgium and Switzerland, 48 percent of the population rides. In Japan, it is 57 percent, and in Finland it’s 60 percent. The Netherlands holds the record as the nation with the most bicycles per capita. Cyclists also abound in Norway, Sweden, Germany, and Denmark. The Danish capital, Copenhagen, is considered the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. It’s known as the “City of Cyclists,” where 52 percent of the population uses a bike for the daily commute. Bicyclist commuters are generally healthier than those who drive motor vehicles to work. They also remain unaffected by OPEC decisions about crude oil production or the price per barrel.
 
Due to the size of China’s population, and the need for bicycle transportation, statistics on the country’s bikeshare program are staggering. In a database maintained by Russell Neddin and Paul DeMaio, more than 400,000 bikeshare bikes are used in dozens of cities on the Chinese mainland, and the vast majority of those bikes have been in operation since 2012.  There are an estimated 822,000 bikeshare bikes in operation around the world. China, therefore, has more bikeshare bikes than all other countries combined. The country with the next-highest number of bikes is France, which has just 45,000.

Cycling Is Everyone’s Business

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

This post is also available in French.
“I’ve seen some of the highest performance bicycles in the world, but I believe the most powerful bicycle is the one in the hands of a girl fighting for her education, or a mother striving to feed her family.” 
- F.K. Day, Founder of World Bicycle Relief

  
The rainbow jersey, Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, or Vuelta a Espana—that’s what usually comes to mind when we think of cycling. However, elite cycling is only one small spoke of a much larger wheel.
 
By some estimates, there are already more than two billion bikes in use around the world. By 2050, that number could be as high as five billion. Over 50 percent of the human population knows how to ride a bike. In China, 37.2 percent of the population use bicycles. In Belgium and Switzerland, 48 percent of the population rides. In Japan, it is 57 percent, and in Finland it’s 60 percent. The Netherlands holds the record as the nation with the most bicycles per capita. Cyclists also abound in Norway, Sweden, Germany, and Denmark. The Danish capital, Copenhagen, is considered the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. It’s known as the “City of Cyclists,” where 52 percent of the population uses a bike for the daily commute. Bicyclist commuters are generally healthier than those who drive motor vehicles to work. They also remain unaffected by OPEC decisions about crude oil production or the price per barrel.
 
Due to the size of China’s population, and the need for bicycle transportation, statistics on the country’s bikeshare program are staggering. In a database maintained by Russell Neddin and Paul DeMaio, more than 400,000 bikeshare bikes are used in dozens of cities on the Chinese mainland, and the vast majority of those bikes have been in operation since 2012.  There are an estimated 822,000 bikeshare bikes in operation around the world. China, therefore, has more bikeshare bikes than all other countries combined. The country with the next-highest number of bikes is France, which has just 45,000.
 

Technology Alone Will Not Save the World: Lessons from the 2015 Gates Letter

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Melinda and Bill Gates have made an annual tradition of publishing their thoughts on international development and its key challenges. Given the substance, I assume these letters reflect an annual manifesto for the organisation they head, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Last year, I wrote about how the Gates Annual Letter was disappointing, perhaps not in the context of what the BMGF itself does, but what it ought to be doing, given its $42 bn muscle and its influential promoter, Bill Gates.

This year, the letter makes four “big bets” for 2030: child deaths will go down by half, and more diseases will be eradicated than ever before; Africa will be able to feed itself; mobile banking will help the poor radically transform their lives; and better software will revolutionise learning. In short, fast-tracking the identification ­technological fixes and expanding their reach over the next fifteen years will deliver a better world.

Unfortunately, these bets seem to me to be wildly optimistic. I may be quibbling, but from what we have learnt from research, there seem to be many reasons to suggest that we should be cautious with our optimism regarding what we can achieve with technology. The complexities of working on power, politics and implementation find no mention in the letter. Let us look a little more closely at each one of the bets to find out why that matters so much.

A Storied Approach to Capacity Development

Sheila Jagannathan's picture

Engaging individuals to share their knowledge and learning on development challenges and solutions with the wider community is a core value of  the WBG’s Open Learning Campus.  In this context the story is often a powerful learning tool.  This idea is not a new one; in fact, stories have been a universal form of knowledge transfer for over 100,000 years as a way of connecting people and creating a common perspective on social, economic, political and cultural issues that they care about.

However, the above statements apply only to effective storytelling, which requires sustained  engagement with the community, and adequate influence over the learning and knowledge accretion process of the community. Research has shown that information alone—even critically valuable information—without the context, relevance, and engagement provided by effective story structure—is markedly ineffective in changing core attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors (in influencing).

#6 from 2014: Scaling up Development: Learning Innovations and the Open Learning Campus

Abha Joshi-Ghani's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2014.
This post was originally posted on February 19, 2014

 

Learning is a key accelerator for development. In fact, knowledge and learning are intricately connected. As a global development institution, we produce world class knowledge on development issues. However, the impact of this knowledge can only be fully realized when we transform it into learning for our development partners, practitioners, policy makers, our staff and, in fact, the public at large. Barely two percent of our knowledge products get translated into bite-sized practical learning.

Today, we are seeing a revolution in education and learning. Digital and on-line learning is helping us to scale up and reach thousands of people who are eager to learn and apply new knowledge and continue their learning as they progress through their careers, face new challenges, and acquire new competencies. This outreach and democratization of learning takes on greater importance as we endeavor to provide the best possible solutions for vexing development problems.  Learning today is thankfully not a matter of sitting in a class room and listening to a lecture. It is available to us at our fingertips, just-in-time, and conveniently sized to our needs.

Today, innovations in learning technology enable us to take cutting edge knowledge to our development partners, our staff, and the public at large to create an action cycle of learning and applying learning to solving development challenges. We must seize this new technology, be creative, and use it to our advantage. This matters because, at the moment, most of our own learning efforts are based on expensive face-to-face (F2F) learning that is resource intensive and difficult to scale. If we want to provide continuous learning to our staff and clients to enhance performance and grow our talent – we must step out of the four walls of F2F learning and move away from a “one-workshop-at-a-time“ approach.

#9 from 2014: Exit, Voice, and Service Delivery for the Poor

Robert Wrobel's picture

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2014.
This post was originally posted on January 08, 2014


Inspired by Jeremy Adelman’s wonderful biography of Albert Hirschman (Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman, Princeton University Press, 2013), I’ve read and reread Hirschman’s masterpiece, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, (Harvard University Press, 1970) and his follow up essay “Exit, Voice, and State” (reprinted in The Essential Hirschman, Princeton University Press, 2013). Although Hirschman produced these works over 40 years ago, his simple model of flight (“exit”) or resistance (“voice”) in the face of unsatisfactory economic, political or social conditions remains highly relevant for policymakers and development practitioners concerned with eliminating extreme poverty, reducing inequality, and improving basic services accessible to the poor.

Hirschman’s ideas provide much cause for reflection within the context of present-day Indonesia. Indonesia has enjoyed over a decade of macroeconomic stability and economic growth. From 2000 to 2011 GDP expanded by 5.3 percent per year, and the official poverty count halved from 24 percent in 1999 to 12 percent in 2012. This period also saw notable improvements in health and education. Access to education has become more widespread and equitable. Girls are now as likely as boys to graduate from secondary school. In health, Indonesia is on track to meet Millennium Development Goals for reducing both the prevalence of underweight children under five years old, and the under-five mortality rate.

The Things We Do: How Goals Corrupt

Roxanne Bauer's picture

China has a long tradition of burying the dead and building tombs to honor them. This ancient practice, however, has recently been butting heads with modernity as the Chinese government now needs to conserve limited land for farming and development to support its people.  In an effort to use land more effectively, the government launched a campaign to encourage cremation instead of burial, and authorities demanded that a minimum number of corpses be cremated each year, based on the total population of the previous year.
 
The campaign, however, led to unexpected results.  At the start of November, two officials in China’s Guangdong province were arrested for allegedly buying corpses in order to meet the strict cremation quotas. Police from Beiliu City in Guangxi Province began investigating the theft of bodies in the region during the summer and apprehended a grave robber named Zhong in July. Zhong admitted to stealing more than 20 bodies from the graveyards of local villages in Guangxi at night. He then transported the bodies to Guangdong province to the east, where he sold them to two local officials. These two officials, He and Dong, were formally in charge of funeral management reform in the province and were arrested for purchasing the corpses with the intent of delivering them to a funeral parlor for cremation on the official registry.

Compare this to public school teachers in the United States who cheated on standardized test scores by illegally viewing tests ahead of the test date and changing their students’ answers to meet high yearly targets for student progression.

Blog Post of the Month: Realization of the Dream

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion.

In October 2014, the most popular blog post was "Realization of the Dream" by Leszek Sibilski.  

In this post, Leszek describes the "changing faces" of his students in university courses and ponders whether terms like “minority” or “cultural differences” will one day be obsolete as his students come from increasingly diverse backgrounds. 

While acknowledging that there is still plenty of space to improve, Leszek reminds us that focusing on differences can limit our ability to connect with each other. He writes, "Instead of building societal firewalls, we should expose the negative vocabulary for classroom and public discussions in order to raise public awareness supported by mutual understanding."
 

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