In April 2012, I was invited to Lahore to present on the topic of global learning metrics at the Quality-Inequality Quandary seminar hosted by the South Asian Forum for Education Development (SAFED). This was one of the very first consultations of the Learning Metrics Task Force (LMTF), which would eventually go on to reach more than 1,700 people in 118 countries through its global consultation efforts. From those very early days, Pakistan has been at the forefront of rethinking how education and learning can be measured and ultimately improved for all children. This is not an easy task in a country where education is devolved to the provinces and there is no central agency responsible for monitoring learning outcomes. However, this challenge was seen as an opportunity when a group of agencies and organizations in Pakistan came together last year under the auspices of the LMTF 2.0 Learning Champions.
The Learning Metrics Task Force (LMTF) was convened in 2012 to make recommendations on how the education community can track progress on learning at the global level. Convened by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at the Brookings Institution, the LMTF was positioned within the context of other efforts to inform the broader education and development agendas, such as the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative, the EFA Steering Committee, Open Working Group, and the UNSG’s High Level Panel.
The Task Force reviewed existing empirical evidence and global discourse on learning and conducted a broad, public consultation in three phases. Teachers, education ministry staff, and youth comprised the majority of the more than 1700 consultation participants in 118 countries. Through this consultation and dialogue with a high-level Task Force, the LMTF came to consensus on a framework of seven learning domains, recommendations for global measurement areas, and a process by which to support countries to improve their assessment systems in order to improve learning outcomes. When the LMTF consultations were finished and the final recommendations report published, we were contacted by numerous colleagues who had participated in the LMTF consultations and wanted to continue this dialogue at the country level.
In some countries, it was the first time there was an inclusive national dialogue on learning. In others, the previous conversations on learning had been focused only on one or two domains, typically reading and mathematics. The LMTF provided a platform to discuss learning more broadly. For the LMTF Secretariat, we knew that we had explored only the tip of the iceberg on the controversial and often divisive topic of learning assessment, and much more work needed to be done at the global, national and local levels. The third technical report of the LMTF describes some of the issues raised in these national consultations. Participants around the world converged on some of the same issues, and we heard over and over that much data is collected that does not lead to improved learning. They described a lack of technical capacity for assessment, including among teachers, as a key barrier to measuring and improving learning. They also mentioned that the domains captured in national examinations are limited and therefore curtail the content covered in the classroom, as teachers feel pressure to teach only the subjects covered in the exams. Participants expressed a desire to think through these challenges and potential solutions with other countries around the world that are grappling with similar issues.
In response, the LMTF began to think about ways to leverage the collective expertise of those who participated in the first phase of the Task Force to support a nationally-driven but globally-informed process to critically look at learning and assessment issues. Our colleagues in Pakistan were at the top of our list to reach out to for advice on how to support countries. We eventually decided on the Learning Champions model, in which a group of countries grappling with issues of learning and assessment could come together, learn from each other and be supported by Task Force members.
In July 2014, 15 countries applied and were selected as Learning Champions under the auspices of LMTF 2.0. National stakeholders will be working over the next year to adapt LMTF recommendations to their national contexts and priorities in Argentina (Buenos Aires), Botswana, Canada (Ontario), Colombia (Bogotá), Ethiopia, Kenya, Kyrgyz Republic , Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, Tunisia, and Zambia. A key component of the Learning Champions initiative is broad inclusion in guiding policy decisions, including but not limited to teachers, students, government officials, civil society, and development agencies. Countries will share what they are learning with the Task Force and other Learning Champions, in addition to other countries in their regions and the global education community.
Learning Champions are seeking to develop new solutions to their unique educational challenges. In Pakistan, this means reviewing current assessment practices at the national and provincial levels and converting the LMTF recommendations in to practical strategies and assessment tools from early childhood through upper secondary education. ITA is leading this effort along with the Inter-Board Committee of Chairmen, the National Education Assessment System in Islamabad; the Provincial Education Assessment Centres from Sindh; the Policy Planning and Implementation Unit in Balochistan; the Provincial Institute for Teacher Education; the Kashmir Education Assessment Center; the Punjab Examination Commission in Punjab; and the Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development. In all of the Learning Champion countries, there remains much to be learned on the different ways assessment helps (and in some cases hurts) learning and we hope that the lessons from these 15 countries can be used to inform efforts to expand learning assessments in order to improve all children’s learning experiences, in Pakistan and throughout the world.