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I spent a few days in Nairobi early last week with our education and our ICT staff from Ghana, Uganda, Senegal, Mozambique, Kenya, Egypt and a few other folks, including the brilliant Mika Valitalo from our Finnish office and people from regional and headquarters levels. We were looking at goals and challenges in our education programs and thinking about where ICTs might play a role.

The process was really interesting. Starting a few months back, each country shared their education context analysis onto a wiki. In a second round they narrowed down to a specific area in education, looked at the information and communication flow and gaps, and identified areas where there might be an ICT solution. They focused mostly on mobiles, but in many cases mobiles were supported by computers, servers and laptops as well as non-digital information and communication tools and also solar technologies. Each country team met by Skype with Mika and an external consultant to discuss the concepts and get ICT advice and support. Then they updated their concepts and got additional feedback. For the third round, they added rich pictures to show what the specific ICT solutions might look like. Everyone had an opportunity to give input into everyone else’s ideas via the wiki.

At the meeting in Nairobi, we spent a day sharing the concepts with each other for clarification and focused input. Colleagues shared the broader education context in their countries and specifically in the communities where they are working. Then they illustrated the specific education issues and the ICT solutions that they were suggesting and/or the places they felt ICTs could help. Some of the ICT solutions focused on a very specific technology or device. Others showed how different types of ICTs could be integrated at different points in the process. Others required development of a totally new ‘solution’.

Some of the areas where colleagues thought ICTs could support education included: teacher training for those working in remote communities, adult literacy (especially literacy retention post literacy training), improving exam scores, livening up and improving in-class curriculum, and transparency and accountability in education. We spent 2 days then working in different small groups on the concepts, cross-pollinating ideas and deciding which of the concepts were most relevant to all 6 countries (in order to make it more possible to scale them) and which were most feasible and do-able.

The ideas were all a good fit with our global education strategy (see page 9) which focuses on service delivery (in partnership with local governments and communities); organizing and empowering rights holders; and grassroots participatory advocacy to influence education policies, financing and practice. The strategy prioritizes actions around equal access to education, quality of education, and education governance (see page 10).

Accountability and transparency in education

One of the concepts that captured the most interest from the whole group was that of using ICTs to improve accountability and transparency in education. Education is one of the areas where “Quiet Corruption” is often found. ‘Quiet corruption, which can take the form of absenteeism among teachers or doctors, the distribution of fake drugs, or the sale of diluted fertilizers to poor farmers, is having a damaging effect on people in Africa, according to the African Development Indicators report released by the World Bank….’ (March 18, 2010 article)

It's time for class.... where is the teacher to be found?

Edison, Charles and Erik, our colleagues from Uganda, did a short skit illustrating the different points in the primary education system where corruption happens. Their points correlated well with this summary of quiet corruption in education from a July 5, 2010 article in the Independent:

‘Early this year, the Transparency International (TI) Africa Education Watch Programme report: Africa Education Watch: good governance lessons for primary education showed that the government’s perception that massive enrollment is a sign of success of the UPE [universal primary education] programme must be revised to address the problem of overcrowding in classrooms, studying under trees, poor financial management, illegal fees, and lack of school inspection. The report exposes irritating embezzlement of UPE funds and abuse of authority by head-teachers who charge illegal fees, make students offer labour on teachers’ projects, sexual harassment, and systematic teacher absenteeism. The report noted that 85% of schools surveyed had either deficient accounting systems or none at all. In most cases, financial records were either unavailable or incomplete. The survey found limited financial documentation at district education offices and at schools. Most people who handle school grants had no training in basic finance management.

Another survey titled, The Efficiency of Public Education in Uganda, conducted in 2007 by the Ministry of Education to determine efficiency in provision of education services found an average rate of teacher absenteeism of 27% in Uganda, compared to other countries like Zambia (17%), and Papa New Guinea (15%). The aggregate loss caused by this absenteeism constituted 19% which translates into Shs 53 billion out of the Shs276 billion of the Education ministry’s wage bill.

In a swift headcount at the beginning of this year, the Education ministry established that the number of pupils listed in primary school registers was 25% higher than those actually studying. Similarly, the report established that the number of students in lower secondary schools had been exaggerated by 12%. For instance at Amaji Primary School last year, the school register had 816 pupils. But when the headcount was conducted the school administration could not account for 302 pupils.

It is reported that many districts’ chief administrative officers have failed to show proper accountability for the UPE and USE funds.’

The Uganda team also explained that:

  • Parental interest in education is very low because since Universal Primary Education launched, parents feel it’s the government’s responsibility. Some youth we were working with in Kenya last year made a short film about poor performance in primary schools covering the same issue  (see below).
  • Teachers’ salaries are paid directly to their bank accounts, and there is no way to punish them if they don’t show up.
  • There are mechanisms to ensure that donor funds go from the national level to the district level and then on to the school, but no accountability mechanisms to ensure that they get from the school to the classroom and are translated into quality education for children.
  • District level government authority and accountability ends when they transfer funds to the schools; school directors can report to them that they have received funding and that everything is going fine when it’s really not.
  • Local school committees are often made up of people who are not neutral and who do not have the best interest of the children in mind. In some cases, school committee positions are used for personal gain and to launch individual political careers and political campaigns.
  • Lack of parental and community involvement in the education process and in school governance means that no one is demanding accountability from teachers and schools.
  • Sexual and physical violence in schools is very common and underreported. When it is reported, often nothing is done about it.
(Start playing the video, then click the small ‘cc’ button to turn on captions in English)

Colleagues from the other countries face the same challenges in their work and in their own children’s education.

Can ICTs play a role?

What is the solution then? Colleagues suggest that motivating parents and the community to get more involved in school governance and demanding transparency and accountability can begin to change the situation. This obviously requires a lot more than ICTs. So several different actions would be taken to engage and motivate parents and the community to take a bigger role in their children’s education. Then ICTs can be integrated into and support the process for sharing education information with parents, such as student absenteeism, grades, parent-school meetings, exam dates and scores, etc. Parents and students would also be able to report when teachers do not show up or suspected corruption. Students could also report abusive teachers, absent teachers, and other issues they are not happy with at the school. A neutral party would manage and hold the information that flows in and out to protect students from reprisal and to protect teachers from any abuse of the system in case fraudulent or incorrect information is reported. Commitment from those responsible for overseeing education to respond to the issues raised and take serious action is also needed, and this may be the biggest challenge overall. Plan can play a role there, leveraging existing relationships with local and national governments and Ministries.

The idea needs quite a bit of further work, a closer look at feasibility, and more research and input from local communities and parents. As mentioned, the ICTs are actually a small, but potentially very important, part of a much larger initiative to get parents and communities involved in school governance to demand transparent, accountable and quality education and budget spending.

Challenges in the process

Some of the challenges that we had to manage well during this initial piece of the longer process included:

  • We needed to ensure that we were starting with the context and the need for better information and communications, not starting with the technology and devices and building initiatives around them. Yet we also had to avoid getting lost in the overall context and missing the opportunity to pinpoint potential ICT solutions at specific places within the context. Role play and flip chart illustrations of the  ‘problem’ and the ‘solutions’ were very useful for getting more concrete (“So, Kofi is here in his community and he wants to …. So he uses xxx to do this, and then this happens and then….).
  • Though we wanted to specifically look at places that mobiles and other ICTs could support, it was important to list out all the factors that needed to be in place in order for the ICTs to work and to think clearly about the constraints we might face during implementation. One good question to help with that was, after seeing an idea or ICT solution presented, to ask “What needs to be in place in order for that to happen?” Then you start to remember critical things like community motivation, government interest to actually resolve a problem, electricity, someone to set up and manage a server, a strong enough network to download multimedia content, mobile versions of websites, educational content re-design for mobiles, teacher training on how to integrate ICTs in the classroom, limitations of SMS for doing something other than rote learning, higher versions of a mobile operating system, a smart phone, etc.
  • We had input from a potential corporate partner during the process. We learned that corporations are thinking several years ahead to what will be coming down the line; however non-profit are normally working within existing constraints and trying to find solutions that work here and now in the resource poor places where we work or ways to get around those constraints. Multi-level solutions seemed to be a good possibility; eg., ideas that can rely on SMS today, but have potential to expand as networks expand and data enabled mobiles become more available.
  • A corporation tends to think in terms of vendors, results, timelines, launch dates, price points, return on investment whereas a non-profit (at least ours) tends to think in terms of community members, organizations, process, participation, local context. Our facilitator even told us that a corporation normally does a presentation by starting with the solution, and then spending the rest of the presentation showing why that is the right solution. A non-profit usually starts a presentation by sharing all the context and background, and showing the process that led to eventually reaching the potential solution, including every step along the way, how ownership was achieved in the process, why different decisions were made and who participated in them. So keeping corporate vs non-profit cultures and languages in mind is also important when working on joint initiatives.
  • We need to remember to establish measurable indicators of success so that we can tell if this new type of intervention has a different/ better/ greater / lesser impact than carrying out a similar process without ICTs or with a different set of ICTs. This is something we will address once the full idea is developed. Impact measurement is very important to both corporate partners and development organizations.
  • This was the first time many were involved a process of this kind, so keeping the balance between technology and development goals was a constant challenge. We sometimes veered too far towards focusing on all the details of the context and then back to focusing too much on that piece of the context where a potential technology solution was seen. I think we were moving toward a pretty healthy mix of both. The process is nowhere near complete, and as we continue to work on the ideas and look at feasibility and actual implementation, we should find the sweet spot.
The work above was guided by Plan Finland’s recent publication ICT Enabled Development – Using ICT strategically to support Plan’s work.  On the whole, it was a great learning process for everyone involved, and we came up with some good ideas that we will flesh out in the coming months. Having the opportunity to patiently and carefully think through areas and ways that ICTs can support program goals around education and discussing the ideas at length with colleagues was a capacity strengthening exercise for all involved and will mean that we will be more prone in general to thinking about incorporating ICTs in our work going forward.

Resources

ICT-Enabled Development

Plan’s Education Strategy 2010-2013

African Development Indicators Report by the World Bank

Africa Education Watch: Good Governance Lessons for Primary Education by Transparency International

The Efficiency of Public Education in Uganda by the World Bank

Learn without Fear Report on School Violence by Plan. Summary and Full Report (also available in French and Spanish).

Painful lessons: the politics of preventing sexual violence and bullying at school by the Overseas Development Institute

Expel violence! A systematic review of interventions to prevent corporal punishment, sexual violence and bullying in schools by the International Observatory on Violence in Schools

School violence in OECD countries by Karen Moore, Nicola Jones and Emma Broadbent

Update: Owen Barder published an interesting post called Development 3.0 – is social accountability the answer, which refers to social accountability in education in Uganda and links to 2 other quite interesting papers: Fighting corruption to improve schooling: evidence from a newspaper campaign in Uganda; and a 2007 paper by the Center for Global Development challenging the findings of that paper: Putting the Power of Transparency in Context: Information’s Role in Reducing Corruption in Uganda’s Education Sector

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For the past couple years, I’ve been supporting the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM) project in 6 African countries. One of the best things about being involved in the project is the opportunity to work with some incredible people who are developing the program strategies and implementing YETAM on the ground.  Bedo, the child media program coordinator in Plan Mali, is one of those people I’ve been lucky enough to work with.  He’s kind, gentle, thoughtful and soft spoken yet solid in his opinions and knowledge. His face totally lights up when he’s working with the youth. He has clear vision and gets things done, writes excellent reports, and isn’t afraid to clarify things if he’s not sure he’s understood correctly.  It’s been a real pleasure working with him. On Friday, Bedo told me about some of the short-term positive results that the Mali team is seeing in the YETAM program there, which I’ll summarize below. Photo: Bedo in December 2008 at the Social Media for Social Change Workshop in Kenya.

YETAM
The YETAM project aims to help youth develop their skills to communicate, educate and advocate at local, national, and global levels about issues impacting on their lives using the arts, traditional media, and new media tools.The project methodology consists of hands-on workshops and activities where youth can improve their communication and analytical skills in order to effectively raise their viewpoints and enter into dialogue with families, peers, community members, decision makers, and the general public. Youth go through a process of participatory mapping, discussions to prioritize their key themes, topics or issues. Then they learn to use arts and media to get their messages across to those that they want to engage in helping them find solutions. To date the project is being implemented in 6 countries in Africa (Senegal, Mali, Cameroon, Rwanda, Kenya and Mozambique).

YETAM in Mali
In Mali, around 60 children and youth in a community in the Kati District have been involved in the YETAM project for about a year and a half so far.  In an initial workshop, the youth raised a number of issues through participatory mapping. They researched, investigated and developed opinions on these issues further through song, poetry, theater, photo and video, and later in the process, prioritized their most important issues:

· many children do not have birth certificates
· rural exodus
· violence at school
· excision (female genital cutting).

Integrating YETAM into school curriculum
Following the prioritization of their topics, youth began an education effort around the 4 themes with the local population and local authorities from their village and surrounding villages. As part of this effort, six school teachers were appointed by local school authorities to support the youth and supervise extracurricular activities around the youths’ 4 themes. They were trained by local consultants and Plan Mali staff on participatory methodologies using arts and media as participation tools.

During this training, teachers learned to adjust their teaching styles and to address the 4 topics not as lessons taught in the classroom, but as information sharing and advocacy topics through drawings, poetry, crafts, dance, and theater. New students joined the small arts groups according to the type of activity that they were interested in.  Students who had been involved longer supervised and trained newer students and helped integrate the program within the school.

In addition to the arts, youth and adults worked together on several short drama films. One of these was about female circumcision. It discusses the medical complications of circumcision in a married woman during her 1st birth. The complications were due to excision, done in infancy, and resulted in vesico-vaginal fistula. Rejected at first by her husband, the woman is eventually accepted after the husband’s becomes aware of the existence of appropriate care (free in Mali) and the commitment made between spouses at marriage.

Engaging the public and local authorities through arts and media
Through the training workshops and the production of the different arts and media materials, youth were able to form their own opinions, messages and ideas for solutions to the issues that they had prioritized.  They organized a public event in the community where they performed their drama, songs and poetry pieces, showed their film, and held a panel with local authorities to discuss how to improve the four areas that they had identified.  Photo:  youth performing a drama piece in the village.

Short term results to build upon
According to Bedo, “Integrating the YETAM methodology with the school environment enabled teachers to learn to address and manage issues with children and youth in a participatory way. The education methods have changed and the student / teacher relationships have become less tense, especially when it comes to discussing subjects such as violence at school or practice of female circumcision.”

Bedo explained that “the introduction of the ‘violence in school’ theme by the students initially caused some frustration among teachers. At first, they felt directly targeted. But when we integrated the teachers into the process, their frustration dissolved and trust began to grow between students and teachers because teachers are discovering another way to teach and discuss sensitive issues – they are behaving as coaches.”  Bedo also said that since the discussions took place at the school, the education authorities have become more interested in the topics and the project.

“At the community event,” said Bedo, “the mayor declared that the council was taking all steps to ensure that all children have birth certificates.  He also addressed the migration of young people from the rural to the urban areas, saying that one of the main reasons is lack of employment. He promised to create jobs to reduce the mass exodus of young people.” Photo: Children interviewing local authorities.

One of the most extraordinary things that happened as a result of the youth’s education and advocacy, according to Bedo, was that “the village chief also made a pronouncement….  He announced that ‘The practice of female circumcision is part of our traditions. As it has adverse consequences on the health of women, I have decided to end female circumcision in the village.’”

Teachers are engaged
Teachers have been happy with the new ways of teaching and the integration of the YETAM project within their school curriculum. One teacher told Bedo that “there have been developments in many areas, especially in the areas that teachers and students developed together – birth registration, rural-urban migration, female circumcision and violence at school.”

The teacher explained that the youths’ messages have extended to parents and those who practice these phenomena.Those who practice circumcision have pledged they will stop it. Corporal punishment is now prohibited by school rules, because we now know that violence undermines the intelligence of the child. The teachers have agreed to end it. They are ready to make every effort to pass the message of awareness among their colleagues so that together we can make every effort to end school violence….”

Youth see concrete results
Participating children also commented that they think that there have been improvements due to the project’s integration into the school. One 14 year old participant in the project said “With this new formula of YETAM, the suffering of children through corporal punishment in schools and the harmful practice of female circumcision has decreased. Before, we children, we could not stand before the public and parents to discuss the subject of female circumcision, but now we can do it. This has greatly reduced the practice of female circumcision. In our village, many people practiced circumcision, but now they say they will stop because they have learned from our messages about the harm it causes.

Another participant, who is 12 years old, commented that “with YETAM, teachers have ceased to beat us in school. Many of our schoolmates have their birth certificates. We are noticing an improvement in our situation.

Next steps
Bedo says that given the positive impact so far of the project, they will ask school authorities to institutionalize an annual special day for each of the 4 topics.  They will continue to support the work that the youth are doing and try to involve more youth, teachers, community volunteers and surrounding villages in this type of project.  Plan Mali also has plans to conduct a participatory assessment with stakeholders to evaluate the project so far and learn how to improve it.

Within the next month or so, the overall project website will be complete, and the maps, art work and videos of all 6 participating countries will be uploaded so that youth can connect with their peers in Africa as well as share ideas with youth in non-African countries.  A curriculum for teachers and youth groups based on the arts and media work that the youth have done around their priority topics is in the works and will be available for schools in the participating countries.


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