On the sparkling shores of the seaside town of Saly on the Petite Côte of Senegal, 50 ambitious education activists and innovators from 15 Global South countries convened last week to explore the next crucial stage of their learning journey at the 4th Annual PAL Network meeting.
The People’s Action for Learning Network (PAL Network) is an internationally recognized south-south collaboration whose member countries work across three continents to assess the basic reading and numeracy competencies of over 1 million children annually, in their homes, through citizen-led assessments.
This is a journey that started in India more than ten years ago when a group of concerned citizens from India’s largest NGO, Pratham, decided to find out whether or not children were acquiring basic skills, regardless of their age or schooling status. This exercise came to be known as the The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), which has since spread organically to 8 other countries and continues to expand.
The 4th Annual Meeting of PAL Network members welcomed representatives from six additional countries to join its member base of nine countries. Four countries were granted provisional member status for demonstrating significant progress and commitment towards piloting their own citizen-led assessments. In addition, Mozambique, Ghana and Cameroon formally joined the family this month, and Bangladesh will follow this week.
Why citizen-led assessments matter
This growth is taking place against a backdrop of recognition at both national and international levels of citizen-led assessments as ‘one of the most internationally influential educational initiatives of the decade.’ The findings from these assessments are widely cited and underpin important commentary on learning in theGlobal Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report).
Collectively, this movement has been critical in shifting attention away from the exclusive focus on access, mainly in the MDGs, to one on learning embedded in the post 2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs). The PAL Network’s collective insistence on the need for early grade reading indicators in the post-2015 framework has ensured that the SDG Indicator 4.1 includes the measurement of learning outcomes as a gauge of success by 2030.
Moving from assessment to action: start with the end in mind
As the R4D evaluation report published in June 2015 confirmed – ‘despite the tremendous influence citizen-led assessments have had on the education debate, they have not resulted in widespread, effective action for learning improvement’. This sparked global debate over the pathways to achieving better learning outcomes for children across the developing world and as Dr. Rukmini Banerji confirms – ‘the flurry of interest is welcome’. It has influenced the theme of our 4th Annual meeting: “Moving from Assessment to Action’.
The need to move the discourse along is not new to many members of the PAL Network. In India already, for instance, the past ten years has seen an explosion of experimental interventions that aim to improve learning, including the recently launched Lakhon Mein Ek campaign, run by Pratham and ASER India.
Pratham’s interventions have inspired other network members to look beyond the collection of assessment data to interventions that improve learning. As Dr. Monazza Aslam explains, ‘The first step of the journey was to create some noise, and few would argue that ASER [Pakistan] hasn’t been successful in doing that. The next step, however, is harder still. Now we have to move beyond creating a furor to taking positive actions. And it is critical that the right steps are taken now if we are to come close to achieving the ambitious SDGs’.
During the PAL Network Annual Meeting, ASER Pakistan shared their adaptation ofRead India’s evaluated learning camp program – Chalo Parho Barho (Let’s Read and Grow), whilst Jàngandoo arranged for us to visit their remedial learning programs in Thiès, Medina and Rufisque.
As the network members shared their experiences, some of the newer network countries such as LEARNigeria and TPC Mozambique committed to ‘start with the end in mind’. In a blog post written by Dr. Modupe Adefeso-Olateju, she reiterates LEARNigeria’s ‘commitment to a participatory approach that prepares the ground for meaningful action once the evidence is generated’.
Use the data to isolate the problem; use an intervention as its solution
The importance of retaining the regular ‘thermometer’ on learning levels is a point of agreement across the network. Dr. Banerji explains that the links between the data collection and the interventions are direct. Both initiatives are integrally linked to each other. Whether at the village level or the state level, ASER helps people understand the problem, and Read India enables village volunteers and teachers to find solutions.
Ruth Levine from the Hewlett Foundation also emphasized the role of the assessments in producing data that creates an enabling environment for ‘actions’ to be taken. The assessment continues to have relevance by providing feedback about whether the actions that are taken to improve children’s learning are actually bearing fruit.
As the agenda and ambition for the work grows, members of the PAL Network are excited about the potential. In partnership with a wide variety of education activists and innovators all over the world, we are excited to explore how citizens can find their own solutions within their communities to respond to the education of their children – using information provided by citizen-led assessments. After all – if citizens are not involved in seeing and understanding the problem – how can we expect them to be a part of the solution?