Measuring the Basic Learning Competencies of Children

by Waqas Imran, ASER Pakistan

After spending 10 years developing my career in different social development sectors, I have joined the People’s Action for Learning Network (PAL Network) as Research Fellow in the 2018 Research Fellowship Program. The PAL Network brings together 14 member countries across 3 continents to measure the learning competencies of children through large-scale, citizen-led assessments of basic reading and math skills. Mobilizing and training local volunteers to participate in assessing children’s basic learning skills allows very large-scale assessments to be conducted regularly at low cost, ensuring the sustainability of the citizen-led assessment movement.

The PAL Network Research Fellowship proposes to build the capacity of researchers from member countries. Selected fellows are expected to expand their familiarity and understanding of citizen-led assessment data by conducting analysis to produce new insights through an independent research project, whilst placed at the network Secretariat office in Nairobi, Kenya for four months. Through the PAL Network Fellowship Program, fellows will be given the opportunity to explore the datasets from citizen-led assessments across the network, understanding what may be similar or different across the PAL Network member countries. I have come with the aim of improving my expertise in quantitative research by exploring data from across the network.

What I am looking forward to

I am looking forward to getting some good experience from the international environment that the PAL Network Secretariat offers. When I was leaving Pakistan for Kenya I was very excited, as it was my first international tour for work and I was keen to join PAL experts for my capacity building. The first week at Nairobi was exciting for me. It has given me sense of how to work with coworkers belonging to different countries. It was first time when I was interacting in the English language, which is not my native language. It was some-how a kind of introductory starting week. I have introduced myself to other fellows and interacted with them and came to know about their area of interest and expertise. Beside participating in team building activities, I was focused on my aim of completing a research study and presented my basic concept on it. There I recognize the strength and flaws of my research, and that has given me sense of how to build a concept of a research study.

I am looking forward to learning more about citizen-led assessments in other PAL member countries, and I wish to spend the next four months exploring common factors across PAL member countries that may affect the learning outcomes of children.

My proposed area of research

My proposed research will explore the basic competencies of children aged between 7-16 from two regions: Pakistan from South Asia and Tanzania from East Africa. The research will focus on exploring the learning levels of children who have either never been enrolled in school, or have dropped out of school. It is a very interesting task for me, because it will enable me to understand the differences across two different countries. Including children who have never been to school and children that could not complete their education will be explored to highlight the background characteristics of children who are most likely to be left out of official statistics on learning, and most likely to be left behind. Here we are not equating children out-of-school to children in-school.

Quantitative data on social indicators especially learning skills are vital and can provide important insights into what needs to be done for improving quality of education – especially in developing countries like Pakistan and Tanzania where ASER Pakistan and Uwezo Tanzania have consistently demonstrated low and stagnated learning levels since 2010.

I hope my research will easily be understandable to everyone – especially social scientists, because each and every task of this project will be completed under supervision of experts of this area. I hope my research will provide new insights into the learning outcomes of children who may not necessarily be enrolled in, or attending school and explore the implications for both policy and practice.