by Monika Nowaczyk, Country Development Manager at BOOKBRIDGE and education specialist
The most important reason for ensuring quality at our learning centers is our students: the children, the young adults and others we are aiming to empower through complimentary educational opportunities. It is not enough to collect money or books. It is not sufficient to provide materials, a modern environment, courses and other offerings without concurrently planning for and ensuring all of these are delivered in a manner which supports, motivates and develops the young minds that attend. The ultimate aim of any education program is the development and achievement of its students.
It is not enough to get kids into schools, but to provide them with quality, outcomes based instruction.
In education quality is not only desirable, but imperative. Quality in teaching and operations contributes to overall program effectiveness. This in turn contributes towards the impact we are aiming to achieve. Without thinking carefully about the quality of our learning centers, and proactively managing and continuously improving it, we risk not having an impact at best and causing harm at worst.
For example, children attending classes in unsafe environments risk injury, students attending non-motivating classes could be discouraged from learning and children frightened by traditional discipline methods, are at risk of dropping out.
Finally, ensuring quality at our learning centers protects our investment whether that be time, money and resources. We can channel funds into beautiful classrooms, plentiful and modern resources, but if the quality of instruction, curriculum and other key elements is not conducive towards the achievement of educational outcomes, we will have failed.
There are many ways to define quality in education. For decades in the development sector, quality was measured primarily quantitatively through rates such as primary school enrollment and completion. This ‘bums on seats’ approach focused on getting children into and through primary school. The Millennium Development Goal for education adopted in 2000, sought to ensure universal primary schooling by 2015. And many countries in the developing world did well to reach, or at least make significant progress towards, this target, with 91% primary enrollment rates in developing regions in 2015 up from 83% in 2000 [In Cambodia enrollment increased from 82.7% in 1997 to in 98.4% in 2012; in Sri Lanka the rate dropped from 99.8% in 2001 to 94.3% in 2013; in Mongolia the rate increased from 81.1% in 1995 to 95.2% in 2013]
Such rates, however, do not speak of the quality of the education children receive when they get to school. The more recent Sustainable Development Goal on education is much broader and seeks to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning. It’s not enough to get kids into schools, but to provide them with quality, outcomes based instruction.
While discussions about the measure of quality in education are not new, there are no universally accepted set of standards or guidelines that define exactly how it is to be measured and achieved nor which can be applied to all learning institutions in any culture.
However, there are two frameworks which provide guidance on the overarching key requirements for ensuring student’s physical, mental, intellectual and psychosocial needs are met. The UNICEF and UNESCO frameworks, two separate documents but which cross over in many areas and are both informed by the rights based approach, suggest five key areas that require support. These five areas or dimensions are interconnected and can influence one another:
- Learners who are healthy, well-nourished and ready to participate and learn, and supported in learning by their families and communities
- Environments that are healthy, safe, protective and gender-sensitive, and provide adequate resources and facilities
- Content that is reflected in relevant curricula and materials
- Processes through which trained teachers use child-centered teaching approaches in well-managed classrooms
- Outcomes that encompass knowledge, skills and attitudes, and are linked to national goals for education and positive participation in society.
BOOKBRIDGE started as library project, collecting and delivering books to organizations in Mongolia. From this, the institutions grew to include educational offerings, usually in the form of English courses, IT and free activities aimed at community engagement. Eventually, we began to establish learning centers as independent social businesses headed by a Community Hero who became the Head of the Learning Center (HoLC).
As a new organization, mistakes were made and lessons were learned. The HoLCs were left to develop courses on their own without guidance on how to effectively plan and build curriculum. Few guidelines were given regarding recruitment of teachers, course development, building codes or organization management. Teaching methods and approaches were left up to the local team and in almost all learning center follow traditional, rote-learning methodologies long abandoned in developed education systems and known to be less effective in language teaching and learning than more communicative approaches.
The result has been that while most of our Heads of Learning Centers and learning center staff are committed, driven and passionate individuals determined to have a positive impact in their communities, they sometimes lack the knowledge and skills to ensure the quality of the educational offerings at the centers. The teams of our Capability Program, who are instrumental in the set up of the learning centers, likewise often lack in-depth knowledge about educational services to guide local entrepreneurs in the set up and start up of education centers.
As we continue to support local entrepreneurs to open and operate learning centers now in three countries, what is needed at BOOKBRIDGE is a quality framework to ensure a standardized understanding of and approach towards quality. Over the past few months, we have been working with the Heads of Learning Centers to get their inputs towards the development of such a framework and will trail it by the end of this year. Developing this document in a participatory manner will ensure buy-in from our learning centers and Country Teams. It will also provide clear guidance to Capability Program team members and new HoLCs during the start up phase of operations.