The Government of Nepal is attempting to improve students' learning outcomes through its successive policies and plans over the years. The ongoing School Sector Development Programme (2016 to 2023) focuses on making teaching and learning processes in the classroom effective by various means. In fact, the teaching and learning process that takes place in the classroom is directly related to improving students' learning outcome. Realising this, the government has a system of delivering a number of teacher training over the years. However, it is often debated publicly that skills and knowledge as imparted in the training are little translated into practice, questioning the quality of training as provided by the government.
The adaptation of student-centric teaching methodology can result in significant improvements in students' learning outcome. As a key stakeholder, a teacher's willpower is necessary for this. This has been proved through a project undertaken by Mercy Corps in collaboration with BASE, the partner NGO, in the past three years in 30 public schools of Kailali district. How has the project been successful in improving teaching methods to bring about positive outcomes in students' learning? What can teachers, schools and stakeholders learn out of this? This article attempts to shed light on this issue.
Teaching method The project is operating a girls' club (GC), which is a remedial extra class for core subjects beyond school hours on Fridays and Saturdays. In GC, the respective subject teachers conduct classes as facilitators. The teachers or facilitators are provided with training at different stages. The major focus of such facilitation training is to orient them about student-centric teaching methods, including adapting innovative teaching methods in the changing contexts to make classroom processes effective.
In GC, girls participate actively in different curricular activities. Specifically, girls are provided with opportunities to revise lessons they find difficult in the regular classes. The respective facilitators also make them do project work, group work and presentation. In fact, girls find such a learning process useful. As a result, they perceive that their self-confidence has boosted as they have to participate more in discussions and presentations, acquiring the soft skills as necessary in the present context.
In operating GC, facilitators use a number of teaching materials. For example, newsprint paper, work-sheet and other locally available resources. By means of such materials, girls find it easier to learn and understand. While facilitating GC, girls are provided with opportunities to engage themselves in the learning process with the help of such teaching and learning materials. Doing this, they not only enhance knowledge about subject-matter but also acquire oratory skills in an interesting and engaging learning environment.
Meanwhile, the project staff undertake regular monitoring of the teaching method in GC as well as regular class, using different tools such as forms, checklist, questionnaire, etc. and reporting is done accordingly. Based on the teacher training, a self-assessment tool for teachers has also been prepared and provided to teachers. They use that tool on a monthly basis to assess their teaching and learning method and find out areas of improvement to work furthermore subsequently. In this way, they enhance knowledge, skill and professionalism as a regular process on their own.
As a result of these interventions, there has been a significant improvement in students' learning outcome. The baseline and midline evaluations conducted by external evaluators indicate these points. According to the evaluations, the learning outcome in numeracy has almost doubled (from 23 to 45 per cent) while literacy has increased about eight per cent (from 43 to 51 per cent) between baseline and midline evaluations. The results exceed the targets set out for the midline evaluations and the results are far higher than that of control schools. The most important reason for higher learning outcomes in project schools is quality of teaching methods. Meanwhile, there are a number of other project activities that have contributed to reducing girls' time for household chores and increasing learning activities at home, leading to increased learning outcomes over time.
What can be derived out of this experience is that learning outcomes can be improved even by bringing about minor changes in teaching methods. For this, teachers' pro-activeness is the first condition. At the same time, the support of school administration is equally important. Specifically, school administration should avail teaching materials, motivate and create a conducive learning environment. The teaching methods as adopted in GC can be replicated in other classes, contexts and schools. Now, local governments may consider making teachers adopt students centric teaching methods instead of lecture methods that are in use for many years, and they also may operate extra classes for core subjects. This way, students' learning outcomes can be improved significantly.
Supervision mechanism The follow-up monitoring visits and sharing of its outcome with respective teachers to come up with action plans for further improvement has been crucial to improving girls' learning outcome. Although the government provides teacher training on a regular basis, there is almost no such monitoring and supervision mechanism in place as the provision for resource persons has recently been scrapped while the local government authorities are overloaded with other tasks. This could be the reason why these trainings are little effective as it is often debated in public spheres.
Although there has been a significant improvement in access to education in the last few decades, improvement in learning has remained negligent. Thus, there has to be a commitment to improve learning outcomes at the school level among stakeholders as it has been a more pressing concern in recent years in all spheres of society at the local and national level.
(The author is a member of Lifelong Learning Mandala 2020, a loose forum of professionals working in the education sector. firstname.lastname@example.org)