By Modupe Adefeso-Olateju and Ides Aziegbe, LEARNigeria at the TEP Centre
The anticipated inclusion of a goal addressing learning outcomes in the soon-to-be announced 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) underscores a growing global awareness of the importance not only of ensuring that children are in school, but that they are learning. This shift from a focus on access to quality is one that is increasingly important given that billions of dollars in financial resources are pumped into increasing education places in developing countries, without commensurate returns in the literacy and numeracy levels of children.
15 years after the Millenium Development Goals were set, it is apparent that many developing countries are still grappling with how to enroll all children of school age, and often this focus takes precedence over ensuring that those in school are actually learning. The new global focus on learning underscores the importance of the work that implementers of citizen-led assessments (CLA) perform. The CLA approach to ascertaining childrens’ learning at foundational levels takes assessments to households where most children, regardless of enrolment status, can be found and engages a broad spectrum of the education stakeholders including parents and communities.
Indeed at the heart of the citizen-led assessments are two key objectives: to increase awareness of children’s learning at the foundational level, and to stimulate actions that are intended to address learning gaps. The recently published evaluation report by Results for Development (R4D) on citizen-led assessments highlights major learning points for entities looking to implement similar assessments in their countries. The report provides useful perspectives on how these assessments can move from evidence generation to stimulating or strengthening actions that ultimately improve childrens’ learning.
Nigeria is the ninth country to join the People’s Action for Learning (PAL) Network or the citizen-led assessment movement. This decision was prompted by dissatisfaction with learning outcomes and a corresponding failure of public sector and non-state stakeholders alike to take responsibility for low learning levels. For the Nigerian initiative, called LEARNigeria (Let’s Engage, Assess & Report Nigeria), the road to addressing this dismal situation is based on an ability to generate evidence, ensuring that a broad spectrum of stakeholders understand the problem. After this, it is imperative that the initiative is able to stimulate effective action from village to Villa (the seat of the Nigerian Presidency) and from parents to policymakers.
In line with this focus, and having drawn insight from the experience of the first eight PAL Network member countries, the establishment of LEARNigeria began with a year-long outreach to key stakeholders in public sector institutions, civil society and the corporate sector. Leaders of these stakeholder groups now constitute the steering committee for LEARNigeria, with their organizations/institutions also belonging to the technical committees charged with designing and implementing the pilot. LEARNigeria was launched in March 2015 at the first Nigerian Education Summit with collective agreement that the theme for this landmark summit ought to center on the role of accountability in improving education quality. Representatives of national and state governments, the private sector and civil society asserted the importance of working collectively as the most effective way of improving the quality of learning in Nigeria.
Like the other CLA countries, the initiative’s approach prioritizes academic rigor in the development of tests and survey instruments, and in conducting the assessment. Also embedded in the LEARNigeria process is a conscious decision to be inclusive in the design and implementation of the assessment. As the evidence increasingly shows, the task of strengthening education systems is most successful when all stakeholders, public and non-state, play their part.
These are early days yet for LEARNigeria, which is still in the midst of its planning and pilot phase. However, the commitment to a participatory approach which embraces public and private sector participation in this effort is preparing the ground for meaningful action once the evidence is generated. As is the mantra of CLA pioneer, Pratham, we hope that before the expiration of the SDGs in 2030, all Nigerian children will be in school and learning well.
Dr. Modupe Adefeso-Olateju is Managing Director of TEP Centre. She is an education policy expert with several years of research experience spanning academia and private sector research. She trains public sector officers on data mining, analysis and synthesis, and supports Monitoring & Evaluation officers in six states to develop state-level Annual Education Sector Performance Reports (AESPR).
Ms. Ides Aziegbe is a consultant in TEP Centre’s research workstream where she supports the new citizen-led household assessment of learning project. She joined TEP Centre from the President Carter Center in Atlanta USA where she supported public and development policy.