BWIRE: Milestone as education experts in 13 countries agree on tool to assess learners

By Victor Bwire On Sun, 12 Jul, 2020 13:15 | 3 mins read

With just 10 years to go before the 2030 deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), experts from various fields within the 17 identified sectors are working around the clock to develop holistic and globally accepted tools to measure the success of the goals, aware of the North-South divide.

Countries are expected to provide progress reports in segregated data across the various thematic sectors, and finding a common way of measuring and comparing the achievement by each country has been a thorn in the flesh.

Various experts have been working on getting globally accepted tools and frameworks ahead of the SDGs 2030 deadline with measured success.

Suffice to note that countries are grappling with achieving the goals, especially now the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, that has caused huge disruptions across the sectors.

And it would seem, experts in the education sector under the umbrella Peoples’ Action for Learning (PAL) Network drawn from 13 low- and middle-income countries across Africa, America, and Asia through the  ICAN (International Common Assessment of Numeracy)  that was made public in June 2020 have made a break-through.

That a network of experts and organizations from across the continents can come together to think globally is in itself a big milestone. That people are thinking not just about their countries is interesting, and I am sure each of the organizations has a valid reason why they joined the network.

ICAN is an open-source, robust, and easy-to-use assessment tool, available in 11 languages, that offers international comparability of results aligned to SDG 4.

The ICAN tools and processes are worth emulating for a variety of reasons.

First, the tool is simple to use and inviting to non-specialists including parents.

Second, the approach is designed for scale as huge numbers of volunteers can easily be trained to conduct the assessment and provide the evidence we all need.

Third, by being implemented in the household, the process includes all children and does not discriminate according to schooling status or school type.

Finally, earlier barriers like the language of assessment have been partially resolved as it is implemented across 11 languages.

In a recent survey using the ICAN approach, a study done in the 13 countries, confirms that while there is high school enrollment in Africa, Asia and parts of America, there exist low outcomes numeracy skills in a majority of the locations surveyed. 

Irrespective of the location of the study across the three continents, the data suggest that intensive efforts will be required to ensure that children achieve at least the minimum levels of numeracy expected as part of the SDG 4 goal for education.

The ICAN toll was administered as part of a household survey in one rural district each in 13 countries, namely: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Mali, Senegal, Nigeria, Mexico, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Nicaragua and Kenya.

About 700 volunteer surveyors reached 779 villages in these 13 rural districts. More than 20,000 children were assessed on their numeracy skills in over 15,000 households.

Definitions of fundamental numeracy commonly include domains such as number knowledge, measurement, geometry, and simple data display.

The minimum proficiency level descriptor for numeracy under SDG 4 for classes 2 or 3 also requires pupils to demonstrate skills in number sense and computation, shape recognition, and spatial orientation.

The ICAN study has established that children’s minimum proficiency levels (MPLs) globally in reading and mathematics low while at the same time confirming that despite the continued presence of children in many Global South spending many years of schooling, their minimum proficiency levels have not improved over the years.

The study notes that none of the 13 localities selected have at least 75% children in class 2-3 who are able to do a set of foundational numeracy tasks required under the minimum proficiency level.

Additionally, even in classes 7-8, many children are still unable to do numeracy tasks expected in class 2 or 3 while it noted that children from affluent households performed better in their numeracy tasks.

Children out of the schooling system are highly disadvantaged in terms of their numeracy understanding skills, while there is no uniform age that determines children’s ability to achieve the minimum proficiency level in reading and math.

The ICAN findings are similar to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), which has estimated that 674 million children and adolescents are not achieving MPLs in reading and mathematics.

Moreover, scholars in our network have estimated that relatively speaking, children in low- and lower-middle-income countries are considerably more behind their OECD peers in learning than in access and entry to school, or even progression.

These findings are echoed in the World Bank’s Learning Poverty indicator which showed that over 50 percent of 10-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries were not able to read and understand a simple text.

Currently, most learning assessments are administered in classroom-based groups using paper-pencil tests. It will be interesting to note where such global approach like the ICAN tools and study findings could be scaled up in terms of validation and improvement to assist in measuring the success of the SDGs goals in education come 2030.

Already such pilot tools and studies are showing that more efforts are needed if countries are serious and intent on achieving the SDGs.

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