Measuring literacy, ensuring quality

September 8, 2014

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Experience and research has shown that literacy can be a major tool for improving income-generating opportunities, advancing gender equality, and improving health status. Today, on World Literacy Day, it is important to recognise what BRAC and others alike have done to create access to schools and drastically increase enrolment in recent years.

Experience and research has shown that literacy can be a major tool for improving income-generating opportunities, advancing gender equality, and improving health status. Today, on World Literacy Day, it is important to recognise what BRAC and others alike have done to create access to schools and drastically increase enrolment in recent years.
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BRAC currently runs the largest private school system in the world. We have graduated over 10.2 million students worldwide. Complementing mainstream school systems with innovative teaching methods and materials, BRAC’s pre-primary and primary schools give those left out of the formal system a second chance at learning.

Yet recent research from Bangladesh and other countries shows that while there has been marked improvement in enrolment in recent years, children are not necessarily learning much. This is a crisis for developing countries, where economic analysis suggests what workers know – and not their time in school – results in greater productivity and a more thriving economy.  Also, children leave school believing that they are failures. As a result, BRAC and others are increasingly realising that we need to shift the focus to quality rather than just increasing enrolment rates.

Measuring literacy is an important way to evaluate school quality and learning outcomes. Pratham, an Indian organisation, developed an incredibly frugal and effective way to measure literacy called the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). Aser means ‘impact’ in Hindi.  Every year since 2005, through a network of thousands of volunteers, it runs an annual assessment nationwide. ASER aims to provide reliable annual estimates of children’s enrolment and basic learning levels, enabling citizens and policymakers to make ongoing improvements to the nation’s school system.  The survey results are released during the national budgeting cycle and broadly publicised.  Data can turn out to be a powerful advocacy tool. Thus the ASER approach, with its simple methods and tools, has the potential to catalyse change at the policy level by providing the statistical proof needed, showing improvements must be made in the educational system.

ASER’s simplicity and value has attracted leaders from around the world. Today this tool has been replicated in Pakistan, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Mali, Senegal, and is currently being piloted in Mexico. Surely Bangladesh could benefit as well.

ASER’s Ranajit Bhattacharyya spoke at BRAC’s Frugal Innovation Forum in March and encouraged BRAC to come to India and learn about ASER’s methodology first hand.  Last month, three of our staff participated in a training that included everything from monitoring, data-checking and tools used to conduct the ASER survey.  

Rifat Afroze, a participant from BRAC’s research and evaluation division, said the most important lesson she took away from the training concerned quality control of post-survey data. By vigorously checking and re-checking the data collected via structured interviews of every village surveyed, the ASER team is able to maintain excellent accuracy.

But what impressed the participants most was Pratham’s immense network of individuals, educational institutions, corporate business organisations, government and non-government organisations, donors, and overall community who help make this survey possible. With over 500 partners, many of which are universities and colleges, ASER is able to mobilise students (there were 30,000 in 2013) and individuals who help collect data from schools across India. “Community participation and involvement, especially at the village-level, impressed me further, which can be seen as one of the great means of success,” explained Kasiar Ali Khan, a participant from BRAC’s education programme. Thus the network that ASER has acquired demonstrates the importance of all-levels of involvement to successfully and comprehensively measure the quality of learning outcomes.

“BRAC can adopt the youth mobilisation technique in any of their rural development activities,” said Ms Afroze. “Our research and evaluation department can also help to design and conduct a survey similar to ASER to help understand the current educational status in our country.” Using this data can help BRAC advocate and show policymakers where the gaps exist, while guiding them on how to make improvements. However Mr. Khan also pointed out that it is important to adapt the survey, especially in terms of methodology and testing tools, in order to fit the context of Bangladesh.

BRAC and Pratham have taught us some very important lessons. First, access to education is not necessarily the same as access to schools. Constant evaluation of our existing programme components can determine where improvements must be made, ensuring quality learning in the long-run. Being an education innovator doesn’t necessarily mean every component of your programme is a success; you learn from your mistakes and improve initiatives through contextualisation and advocacy, especially for the needs of those who need help most.

 

Anushka Zafar is a senior communications officer and sub-editor at BRAC.

 

 

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