What is impact in education?

Altaa, student in Mongolia
Altaa, former student at Arvaikheer Learning Center in Mongolia

Why should we talk about impact? Very simple. Because impact is our right to exist. We started BOOKBRIDGE because we believe that we can help people in making a choice on what they do in their lives. Hence, we need to make ourselves aware on whether we contribute to this ambitious goal with the work we are doing on a day-to-day basis.

What is impact in education? Difficult question. We believe our learning centers do have impact. Currently, we are telling stories around what we believe is our impact. We are proudly talking about Altaa, a student at Uuganaa‘s learning center in Arvaikheer, Mongolia, who had the chance as the first one in her family to study and become a teacher. We are proudly telling the story of Vannak in Tonloab, Cambodia who gave up his job as teacher to run his learning center as a social entrepreneur, reaching out to more than 50,000 community members in 2015. And we are talking about the alumni of our Capability Program who start worthwhile and tangible initiatives within their organizations in Europe, thereby prototyping the future of business.

In 2014, we started a discussion with our learning centers on where they see themselves in five years from now. Based on these results, the BOOKBRIDGE Team developed a LOGIC Model on how we aim at creating impact:

Table Social Impact

But how to assess this impact? Here it becomes even more difficult. Not because we don´t believe that education has impact. But that it it hard to track down due to two simple reasons. First, impact in education is a long-term endeavor. If you start learning English now, you may earn the fruits only in a couple of years from now. Second, education happens anywhere anytime. Each human being is educated day in day out by a multitude of people – parents, teachers, colleagues and even advertisement. It is very difficult to say who has caused what effect.

How to make a start? I still remember when we started our first learning center in Arvaikheer, Mongolia. In October 2009, I met with a leading researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany. My question was on how to lay the foundations so that we can talk about impact in 5 years. The answer was depressing for me at that time. I was proposed to conduct a large-scale survey comparing the level of English language skills of students in Arvaikheer with a community which does not have a learning center. Funds needed for this amount hundreds of thousands of EUR. And the result? Would this help our learning centers to develop themselves further? I was not sure at that time.

Five years later, we learnt a lot of lessons and decided to pilot a different approach. Instead of producing huge piles of data, we aim at creating an environment in which impact becomes part of the daily discussion. Instead of distributing questionnaires in a top-down approach, we start with our Community Heroes as key change maker in their community. We engage them in a regular discussion with your community member as well as fellow Community Heroes on the impact which you create.

Sounds promising. But how do you do it exactly? Twice a year, our Community Heroes meet with your most important target groups in their learning center and make them reflect on the impact they feel the Community Hero has created on them, their lives and the community you all live in. The results of these meetings are shared and discussed with the other fellow Community Heroes during the bi-yearly staff trainings. This allows our Community Heroes to learn from each other and identify best practices for your learning center.

At a global level, we compare the impact of our Community Heroes across the countries they live in. We share these results openly with you and discuss them with our Family of Bridgebuilders at the bi-yearly BOOKBRIDGE Summit. We are convinced that an open and regular sharing of our impact brings us closer towards our mission to empower you to do what you really are. We are looking forward to this learning journey together with you.

Enough theory. Let’s get our hands dirty and look at the results of our first impact assessment workshops. In the following chapters, we share the results of 3 pilot learning centers which participated in the very first pilot workshops held with members of their respective communities. For our pilot, we chose parents, children, young adults and learning center staff members as key target groups. We publish the results as we got them. They serve as a basis for our workshop on impact assessment at the BOOKBRIDGE Summit in March 2016.

Step #1: Community members draw a picture of their community
Community members are grouped by target group around separate tables. As a first exercise, they draw a picture of their community on a big piece of paper (A0, flipchart size). All participants from one stakeholder group draw one big joint picture on the community they live in.

Pictures drawn by parents

The following pictures were drawn by 8 parents in Dalanzadgad, Mongolia, 8 parents in Tonloab, Cambodia and 5 parents in Takeo Town, Cambodia.

Pictures drawn by children and young adults

The following pictures were drawn by 8 children and young adults in Dalanzadgad, Mongolia, 14 children and young adults in Tonloab, Cambodia and 11 children and young adults in Takeo Town, Cambodia.

Pictures drawn by learning center staff members

The following pictures were drawn by 2 staff members in Dalanzadgad, Mongolia, 8 staff members in Tonloab, Cambodia and 6 staff members in Takeo Town, Cambodia.

Step #2: Most important impact types discussed
As a second exercise, Community Heroes invited the participants to think about the impact your learning center has had on them personally as well as on the community. The discussion was kicked off with the following three questions:

1. What has changed in your life due to the learning center activities?

2. Give an example of a positive impact of the learning center in our community.

3. Give an example of negative impact of the learning center in our community.

Community Members reflected upon these three questions first individually and then in their respective stakeholder groups. Each stakeholder group presented their key results. The Community Hero noted down the 5 most important impact types from the discussion. They serve as a basis of a discussion on how to strengthen the impact of the learning center in the community.

Dalanzadgad, Mongolia

  1. This is the good and right place to study English in this town.
  2. This place gives children and community to educate themselves in a positive way.
  3. Both students and parents can attend free activities and stay for reading in their free time.
  4. Learning center makes them happy and makes new friends to them.
  5. The learning center and foreign volunteers help local people to know more about external world it means other countries culture and tradition as global.
  6. English skills of students have improved a lot
  7. English teachers at the LC have become far more confident in their teaching
  8. Parents have more interest to send their children to the LC to learn English
  9. Students have better self confidence
  10. More organisations are working in partnership with the LC

Comments by Community Hero Battuul:
“We are really happy to open new world for children and community people. It is very nice to see that our customers are feeling good when they are staying here. The most of them come every day and having fun except learning many things. It is nice to see their good results and changes by learning English. Our volunteers help us a lot in here. We can share our knowledge and make friends by this place. “

Tonloab, Cambodia

  1. Students have chance to use and study with modern teaching materials
  2. We have the guideline to prevent’ the children securities
  3. We try to use more modern teaching materials to support learning and teaching
  4. The learning center will give the students’ chances to contact or communicate to the world
  5. All students from poor and rich family can study at BOOKBRIDGE Learning Center Tonloab

Comments by Community Hero Vannak:
The learning center has the fellows and good teachers. The learning center has the scholarship program. The learning center has reduced the rooms for Tonloab primary school’ teachers. Students’ security need to be safe while leaving the learning center at night. BOOKBRIDGE is a part of Ministry of education that help students at rural areas get to know quality English and Computer.

Takeo Town, Cambodia

  1. Knowledge, skills and (financial) benefits
  2. Pride and trust
  3. Quality concern
  4. Policy and incentives
  5. Building relationship

Comments by Community Heroes Sreydieb and Sopheak
The impact types are identified based on the summary of answers from different stakeholder groups. The heading given to each impact types are based on the outcome of the summary of the answers. So actual impact type might have been different if different people identified them

These are the results of our pilot workshops so far. Not bad, right? We will discuss the results at a workshop at the Summit and think about how to continue.

How did our Community Heroes like the pilot workshops? We asked them about their satisfaction in the survey and this is what they answered.


What can we learn from this pilot? Our Community Heroes also gave us a lot of advice on how to continue after the pilot:

  • It would be good to have some options of tools and methods to be used for the workshop.

  • The tools and methods used are considerably good, but mapping the community looks difficult for the participant and they don’t really understand it.

  • It is the best way to get enough information from students, parents and teachers.

  • I did not conduct the pilot impact assessment by myself, but Country Manager did it and I observed and noted down how he conducted it with the participants. I prepared materials and logistics needed for conducting the pilot impact assessment as well as invited people to join it.Guideline is complicated, but it is not easy to follow. I did not really understand what I should do, but I found it not that complicated when I saw what CM did during the implementation of pilot impact assessment. I would be helpful to make it more simple and easier to implement since we did not have much time to do it.Drawing maps of the community is also good, but it does not really give much info to know about what impact we create if compare to questions to the stakeholder group member about positive and negative impacts.Questions used for the second exercise should be more specific (it sounds too vague for me).
  • Yes I have. During the workshop we talked about many good results and impacts of learning center. They can talk and write about results but it was not easy to draw the picture its changes. So they tried to do the main results and impacts of the learning center. The next time it would be better than this.

  • People are busy so survey was the best method. I have meet 14 people to have a panel discussion. 13 people were questioned according to survey. Next time Bookbridge send us certain survey template.

How much time did it take them to prepare, conduct and evaluate the pilot? On average, Community Heroes spent 19 hours preparing the pilot (min 3 hours and max 32 hours), 18 hours to conduct it (min 1 hour and max 50 hours) as well as 10 hours to assess the results (min 1 hour and 35 hours max).

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