Until recently, much discussion of educational quality centred on system

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 … Continue reading “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.

    Teachers

    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,

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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

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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.

As quantitative data become increasingly prevalent in many societies

Numeracy.

As quantitative data become increasingly prevalent in many societies, the concept of numeracy seems to be evolving. Also known as ‘quantitative literacy’, numeracy

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encompasses a range of skills from basic arithmetic and logical reasoning to advanced mathematics and interpretative communication skills (Steen, 1999). Numeracy differs from mathematics; while mathematical skills support numeracy, the latter represents the ability to use a range of skills in a variety of contexts. Because mastery of many curricular areas requires numeracy — from geography and social studies to science and vocational training— many mathematics educators advocate teaching numeracy skills in an integrated way rather than as an isolated subject in a mathematics course (House & Coxford, 1995). Numeracy skills not only give people more control in their daily lives through, for example, more informed management of household or small enterprises, but also allow for more effective participation in communities and nations, since understanding many collective issues requires an ability to make sense of financial and other quantitative information.

Literacy.

 

Literacy, or the ability to read and write, is often considered one of the primary goals of formal education. Policies and practices in education for literacy vary significantly among countries. A recent UNICEF study on curriculum showed that in some cases, literacy skills are taught as a separate subject, in a language course, where the instruction tends to focus on teaching the language as an end in itself. Such an approach tends to be linear — first teaching aural skills, then speaking, reading and writing skills. Alternatively, literacy skills may be developed through other subjects such as social studies or science. The UNICEF study found that in these cases, there is a greater focus on language as a tool for social development; situations from daily life are incorporated into activities that foster the acquisition of reading and writing skills (UNICEF, 2000). Attention to the way literacy is developed is critical since research has shown that language learning cannot be separated from content. The learning context and agendas people have for learning to read and write have an important impact on the development of literacy skills (Furniss & Green, 1993).

Uniqueness of local and national content.

 

The specific content of school curriculum, however, depends on local and national values. In the main subject areas of primary education, which include language, math, science and social studies, little variation is found among different regions in the developing world. Nation states, however, “tend to have a high degree of consistency in curriculum emphasis over time, but differ sharply from each other, reflecting unique historical patterns” (Benavot & Karmens, 1989, cited in UNICEF, 2000). Local level interests may also have an impact on and contribute to the quality of educational content. Based on community priorities, the Mali Community Schools project, for example, successfully incorporated local knowledge into traditional subject areas (Muskin, 1999). In all countries, however, quality content should include several pivotal areas. These include literacy, numeracy, life skills and peace education — as well as science and social studies.

Quality content refers to the intended and taught curriculum of schools.

Quality Content

Quality content refers to the intended and taught curriculum of schools. National goals for education, and outcome statements that translate those goals into measurable objectives, should provide the starting point for the development and implementation of curriculum (UNICEF, 2000).

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Student-centred, non-discriminatory, standards-based curriculum structures.

Research on educational practices and projections about future needs in society contribute to current understanding of the structure of school curriculum. In general, curriculum should emphasize deep rather than broad coverage of important areas of knowledge, authentic and contextualized problems of study, and problem-solving that stresses skills development as well as knowledge acquisition. Curriculum should also provide for individual differences, closely coordinate and selectively integrate subject matter, and focus on results or standards and targets for student learning (Glatthorn & Jailall, 2000). Curriculum structure should be gender-sensitive and inclusive of children with diverse abilities and backgrounds, and responsive to emerging issues such as HIV/AIDS and conflict resolution. In all content areas, curriculum should be based on clearly defined learning outcomes and these outcomes should be grade-level appropriate and properly sequenced (see, for example, Kraft, 1995).

Service delivery Provision of health services.

 

The school service environment can also contribute to learning in important ways. Provision of health services and education can contribute to learning first by reducing absenteeism and inattention. Sick children cannot attend school, and evidence from China, Guinea, India and Mexico shows that children’s illness is a primary cause for absenteeism (Carron & Chau, 1996). Today, the potential of school-based health interventions in improving academic performance is becoming increasingly clear as problems of protein- energy malnutrition, micronutrient deficiency disorders, helminthic infection and temporary hunger among children continue to plague developing countries (Levinger, 1992). School-based deworming programmes in Guinea, for example, led to increased achievement outcomes — failing scores fell from 32 per cent to 23 per cent over three years while passing grades improved markedly (Williams & Leherr, 1998). Maximum benefit-cost ratios have been achieved when deworming is combined with sanitation, a clean water supply and health education (Lockheed & Vespoor, 1991). School-based programmes that address other major health and nutrition problems that can decrease cognitive functioning including deficiencies of iron, iodine and vitamin A have also been shown to be effective (Dolan, Drake, Maier, Brooker & Jukes, 2000). Guidance and counselling services, the provision of extra-curricular activities and the provision of school snacks are other examples of service provision that contribute to quality school environments.

Non-violence.

 

War and other forms of interpersonal and group conflict clearly have an impact on children’s mental health and their ability to learn. Many young victims of violence suffer lasting physical, psychological, social-emotional and behavioural effects. Although it is difficult for schools to provide safe havens from some forms of violence, other forms can be effectively prevented through interventions (World Health Organization, 1998).