Teacher beliefs that all students can learn.

  The way time is used is related to school priorities and expectations. Quality education puts students at the centre of the process; student achievement must be the school’s first priority. Since schools exist because of students, this would seem self-evident. Perhaps because of the complexity of educational systems, however, teachers may not always believe … Continue reading “Teacher beliefs that all students can learn.”


The way time is used is related to school priorities and expectations. Quality education puts students at the centre of the process; student achievement must be the school’s first priority. Since schools exist because of students, this would seem self-evident. Perhaps because of the complexity of educational systems, however, teachers may not always believe in the school’s ability to help all students. For example, teachers interviewed in Guinea and Mexico had little awareness of the school’s role in pupil failure and dropout. Instead, they tended to blame the pupils and their family environment (Carron & Chau, 1996). Research around the world has shown that low expectations for student achievement permeate educational systems. Rather than setting high standards and believing that students can meet them, teachers and administrators in many developing countries expect that up to half the students will drop out or fail, especially in primary grades. Schools committed to student learning communicate expectations clearly, give frequent and challenging assignments, monitor performance regularly, and give students the chance to participate in and take responsibility for diverse school activities (Craig, Kraft, & du Plessis, 1998).

Teacher feedback mechanisms.


Good teachers are skilled not only in instructional methods, but also in evaluation and assessment practices that allow them to gauge individual student learning and adapt activities according to student needs. This process should include both performance assessment and assessment of factual knowledge. Observations in Guinea and India found that teachers are very poorly trained in evaluation techniques, and the reality is far from the continuous evaluation procedures recommended by official programmes (Carron & Chau, 1996). Indeed, many teachers and educational systems continue to rely almost exclusively on traditional paper-and-pencil tests of factual knowledge that tend to promote rote memorization rather than higher order thinking skills (Colby, 2000).

Active, standards-based participation methods.


Education that supports and empowers both teachers and students through democratic processes increasingly defines quality in the 21st century. An example of how schools might organize learning activities around these principles comes from Uganda. With help from USAID’s Improving Educational Quality project, researchers collaborated with teachers in primary schools in Uganda to develop action research opportunities for students that would exemplify empowering student-centred education. In one school, for example, students identified the problem area of student tardiness and selected it for study. They collected and analysed data tracking attendance and mapping the homes and routes tardy children took to school. Based on these data, more punctual students teamed up with their slower classmates who lived nearby, and devised systems to encourage them along (Kanyike, L., Namanya, P., & Clair, N., 1999). Among other things, this type of learning activity promotes critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, and community involvement. Such activities can build the attitudes and values in children that contribute to democratic societies.

Continuing support for student-centred learning.


Teacher education, both pre-service and in-service, should help teachers develop teaching methods and skills that take new understandings of how children learn into account. Just as curriculum should be child-centred and relevant, so should instructional methods. The limited view of teaching as presentation of knowledge no longer fits with current understandings of how and what students learn. Instead, instruction should help students build on prior knowledge to develop attitudes, beliefs and cognitive skills; as well as expand their knowledge base. Teaching styles in many places, however, remain traditional, teacher-centred and fairly rigid or even authoritarian (Carron & Chau, 1996). When Ethiopian teachers were interviewed about the degree to which their teaching practices were learner-centred and relevant to student’s lives, about half said they link lessons to the daily life of pupils at least once a week. Almost two-thirds, however, said they never or rarely ask pupils what their interests are, or what they would like to learn (Verwimp, 1999). Greater understanding of student-centred learning can be encouraged through programmes such as the Bangladeshi project on Multiple Ways of Teaching and Learning. Begun in 1994, the project helps improve teachers’ skills by integrating brain research and multiple intelligences theory as the foundation for understanding children’s needs (Ellison & Rothenberger, 1999). Teaching methods that facilitate active student learning rather than promote passivity and rote memorization represent a new and difficult paradigm for many teachers, but one that needs to be understood and put into practice if learner outcomes are to improve. Life skills is a term which UNICEF uses in two main ways, (i) to refer to a broad group of psychosocial and interpersonal skills, and (ii) to refer to the process of teaching and learning about these skills. As such, it is important to discuss life skills in terms of essential content (see section three (III.) of this paper) and processes related to life skill-based education. Teaching and learning about life skills requires interactive, student-centred methods. Since skills are by definition active, competency is unlikely to be developed without active practice.

Ongoing professional development.


Professional development can help overcome shortcomings that may have been part of teachers’ pre-service education and keep teachers abreast of new knowledge and practices in the field. This ongoing training for teachers can have a direct impact on student


achievement. Case studies from Bangladesh, Botswana, Guatemala, Namibia and Pakistan have provided evidence that ongoing professional development, especially in the early years after initial preparation and then continuing throughout a career, contribute significantly to student learning and retention (Craig, Kraft & du Plessis, 1998). Effective professional development may take many forms; it should not be limited to formal off-site kinds of programmes. Dialogue and reflections with colleagues, peer and supervisor observations and keeping journals are all effective ways for teachers to advance their knowledge (UNICEF, 2000). A programme in Kenya, the Mombassa School Improvement Project, built on this approach to professional development and showed that teachers supported with in-service as well as external workshop training improved significantly in their abilities to use child-centred teaching and learning behaviours (Anderson, 2000). In India, an effective programme used interactive video technology to reach a large number of teachers who sought professional development. This programme found that training using interactive video technology led to improved conceptual understanding of pedagogical issues for a large number of geographically dispersed teachers (Maheshwari & Raina, 1998).

Teacher competence and school efficiency.


Whether a teacher uses traditional or more current methods of instruction, efficient use of school time has a significant impact on student learning. Teachers’ presence in the classroom represents the starting point. Many teachers face transportation and housing obstacles that hinder them from getting to school on time and staying until school hours are over. Many teachers must hold second jobs, which may detract from the time and energy they expend in the classroom. Teachers may miss school altogether. A study in China, Guinea, India and Mexico found that nearly half the teachers interviewed reported being absent at some point during the previous month (Carron & Chau, 1996), requiring other teachers to compensate for them or leaving students without instruction for the day. Next, when teachers are present, learning occurs when teachers engage students in instructional activities, rather than attending to administrative or other non-instructional processes (Fuller, et al., 1999). As mentioned above, the opportunity to learn and the time on task have been shown in many international studies to be critical for educational quality. Finally, some schools that have been able to organize their schedules according to children’s work and family obligations have seen greater success in student persistence and achievement. In Ethiopia, for example, schools that began and ended the day earlier than usual and that scheduled breaks during harvest times found that educational quality improved. “The quality of a school and the quality of teaching of the individual teacher is [sic] higher in schools that are able (and willing) to make more efficient use of the available time of its teachers and its pupils” (Verwimp, 1999).

Until recently, much discussion of educational quality centred on system

  1. IV. Quality Processes

    Until recently, much discussion of educational quality centred on system inputs, such as infrastructure and pupil-teacher ratios, and on curricular content. In recent years, however, more attention has been paid to educational processes — how teachers and administrators use inputs to frame meaningful learning experiences for students. Their work represents a key factor in ensuring quality school processes.


    Professional learning for teachers.

    The highest quality teachers, those most capable of helping their students learn, have deep mastery of both their subject matter and pedagogy (Darling-Hammond, 1997). The preparation that teachers receive before beginning their work in the classroom, however,


varies significantly around the world and even within the least developed countries. In Cape Verde, Togo and Uganda, for example, 35 per cent to 50 per cent of students have teachers who had no teacher training. Yet in Benin, Bhutan, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar and Nepal, over 90 per cent of students do have teachers with some form of teacher training. In these latter countries, most teachers have, at least, lower secondary education; this contrasts sharply with Cape Verde and Tanzania where over 60 per cent of students have teachers with only a primary education (Postlewaithe, 1998). Perhaps as a consequence of too little preparation before entering the profession, a number of teachers in China, Guinea, India and Mexico were observed to master neither the subject matter they taught nor the pedagogical skills required for good presentation of the material (Carron & Chau, 1996). This affects educational quality since student achievement, especially beyond basic skills, depends largely on teachers’ command of subject matter (Mullens, Murnance & Willett, 1996) and their ability to use that knowledge to help students learn. A recent evaluation of the East African Madrasa (Pre-school) Programme noted the importance of mentoring by trainers in the form of continuous support and reinforcement of teacher learning by on-site visits to classrooms following a two week orientation training and alongside weekly trainings in Madrasa Resource Centres. (Brown, Brown & Sumra, 1999).

Challenges in reaching large numbers of children with quality content.


Educators who seek to maintain and expand programmes that successfully address important curricular content such as life skills and peace education may face challenges.Some evidence suggests that expansion beyond pilot programmes often falters even when pilot programmes are successful and educational agencies provide adequate resources for the development and implementation of curriculum that responds to emerging issues. Several reasons for this exist (Obanya, 1995), including:

  •  Teachers often find curricular integration and interdisciplinarity difficult, especially when the teacher does not have a role in curriculum design;
  •  Subjects that do not appear on important examinations are not always taken seriously;
  •  Social attitudes towards the subject may not be favorable, and cultural patterns are difficult to change;
  •  Ideas conceived in other regions of the world may not be adequately adapted to the local context;
  •  Political and economic instability can lead to discontinuity in policies and programmes, as well as teacher and administrator turnover.

    These obstacles pose serious but not insurmountable challenges to educational programming. The value of quality content, however, makes finding solutions to such challenges critical. To be most effective, quality content must be situated in a context of quality processes.

Peace education seeks to help students gain the ability to prevent conflict,

Peace education.

Peace education seeks to help students gain the ability to prevent conflict, and to resolve conflict peacefully when it does arise, whether on the intrapersonal, interpersonal, intergroup, national or international level. Peace education addresses cognitive, affective and behavioural learning and can occur both within schools, through curriculum development and teacher education, and outside of schools, through camps, sports and recreation programmes, youth groups and clubs, and training for community leaders, parents, librarians and the media (Fountain, 1999). Although few research or evaluation studies have examined peace education, some evidence exists that anti-violence programmes can be effective. For example, when an evaluation of a school-based, trauma- healing and peaceful problem-solving programme was carried out in Croatia (UNICEF Croatia, 1997, cited in Fountain, 1999), evaluators noted a positive effect on decreased post-traumatic stress and improved self-esteem in female students. The programme appeared to promote a good psychosocial climate in the classrooms involved. A Norwegian programme to reduce bullying found that participating children reduced their


expressions of aggression and antisocial behaviour by 50 per cent over two years. The effects were more significant in the second year than the first (World Health Organization, 1998).

The term ‘life skills’ can be broadly interpreted, and is often assumed to

Life skills.

The term ‘life skills’ can be broadly interpreted, and is often assumed to include such topics as health, hygiene, etiquette, and vocational skills. In UNICEF, however, life skills are defined as “psycho-social and interpersonal skills used in every day interactions…not specific to getting a job or earning an income”. The definition also explains that “a wide range of examples exist under the UNICEF working definition of Life Skills, such as assertion and refusal skills, goal setting, decision making and coping skills” (UNICEF, 2000). Life skills curriculum focuses on attitudes, values and behavioural change, rather than seeking to provide young people with a body of knowledge about a set of topics. As with literacy, age-appropriate life skills can be incorporated into other areas of study. For example, educators in Rwanda teach life skills as part of courses on conflict resolution, self-awareness, cooperation and communication. In Zimbabwe, aspects of life skills come through HIV/AIDS courses (UNICEF, 2000). Other countries may address some aspects of life skills through community-based learning. Still others approach life skills topics in courses such as health education, education for development, global education and peace education.