|Improving the Quality of Teaching and Learning through Community Participation: Achievements, Limitations and Risks. Early Lessons from the Schooling Improvement in Ghana - Social Development Working Paper No. 02 (DFID, 1998, 38 p.)|
On all sides (MoE, donors and CEDEP) there appears to have been over-optimism or a lack of clarity (or, less generously, a lack of educational expertise and advice) concerning the potential link between community empowerment and improvements in the quality of teaching and learning. During meetings with the SIF communities and during the evaluation, it became evident that there were limits to how far community involvement (if not actual empowerment) can achieve the goal of improving quality of teaching and learning as long as the communities themselves lack sufficient pedagogical knowledge, and as long as certain key institutions are left out of the drive to improve quality. The only area of possible funding in the SIF plans which covered training assistance (see Box 2), gave the example of training in effective reading techniques. All the communities opted for this training for their teachers, but no other kind of training. It seems quite certain that they just took the example offered, rather than first being assisted to acquire a better understanding of teaching and learning processes. CEDEP's own mid-term evaluation of its activities in support of the SIF was self-critical in the extent to which the local facilitators guided communities in making decisions for the SIPs: "Communities should not be over directed in proposals."15
15 CEDEP, Mid-term Evaluation Report on the
SIF, May 1997.
This exclusive focus on the community role in improving quality risks creating an unfortunate backlash. If communities participate extensively and still do not see any improvements in schooling (for instance, in terms of examination results), they may feel that their efforts are in vain16. Baku and Agyeman17 demonstrate that community participation is predicated on an awareness of school problems, for which the community members rely on teachers to reliably inform them of the problems faced by the school. So, if the teachers cannot accurately assess their own problems, the community will be none the wiser. One teacher voiced his opinion (which according to the accounts of the community facilitators was quite common): "the community has no idea of what is needed in teaching".
16 In fact, no matter how successful the
intervention, it would probably take some time before examination results
improve enough to be statistically significant. But again, this is another issue
which it would be worthwhile to discuss with communities, so that they are not
labouring under unrealistically high expectations.
17 op. Cit. p.59.
It also risks promoting a more severely punitive behaviour towards school children: once teachers are in the classroom and teaching materials are also present, if results continue to be poor, there will be a temptation to blame the child for not trying harder. Some members of the SIF review team noticed several instances of teachers beating pupils for arriving late to school or for getting the answer wrong. And it has been noted above (see Box 3) that some parents reported (apparently approvingly) that their children are now punctual because otherwise they will be caned. Although the Ghanaian Government made corporal punishment in schools illegal about ten years ago, it still takes place, and it would seem that there is scope for it to increase unless teachers learn what they consider to be more satisfactory ways of getting their pupils to learn effectively.
The focus on the communities also risks creating a backlash of opposition from others (teachers and education specialists) to community involvement in such projects. The project's focus on communities rather than teachers resulted quite frequently in a conflictual situation between the teachers and the communities. Even while lacking the means to become fully empowered, the project achieved its goal of encouraging communities to question teachers, which in many cases put their backs up, negatively affected teacher-community relations, and reduced the chance of mutual cooperation to improve the quality of schooling. The following discussion seeks to point out that teachers are, nevertheless, of central importance to the task of improving teaching and learning outcomes.
Some education specialists argue that it is precisely the sort of classroom interaction which takes place, especially for girls, that most influences quality of learning outcomes, in terms of dropping out of school and achieving good enough exam results: "Qualitative research conducted in class-rooms reveals common patterns and characteristics of girls' learning environments, which include teachers' interaction with students, their attitudes and beliefs about female and male students; and the tasks and duties they assign. These patterns, which form an integral part of a school's hidden curriculum and affect students' learning outcomes, reveal much about gender and relationships of power and authority in the school environment."18 Miske and Van Belle Prouty insist that teachers are central figures at the micro-level of change and transformation in the classroom. A report from a recent joint DFID/GES visit of schools in northern Ghana proposes: "The essential component in making a difference in the classroom is that teachers know how to teach, i.e. how to bring about meaningful learning. Once teachers have these skills, then improved infrastructure, accommodation or transport for teachers and strategies to improve access will assist the process, but without the former, none of the latter components on their own will necessarily make any difference to the quality of teaching and learning. There is no value in exhorting teachers to do better, work harder nor provide incentives, if they do not know how to bring about effective, meaningful learning."19
18 Shirley Miske and Diane Van Belle
Prouty, January 1997, Schools are for girls too: Creating an environment of
validation. SD Publication Series, Office of Sustainable Development Bureau
for Africa, Technical Paper No. 41, pp. 3-4.
19 Mary Surridge, December 1997, 'Appraisal visit to selected districts in the Northern Region and Upper East Region', visit report.
A comparison between the SIF in Ghana with experiences to date in applying schooling improvement fund-type projects within education programmes funded primarily by the World Bank in other developing countries also throws into question the role which communities can play in improving the quality of teaching and learning. The evidence is not yet clear on this comparison, because none of these projects have yet reached completion, but there are early indications available through reports and other documentation. Later this year, the World Bank intends to hold a review of experience in these projects. Until then, there is not even a list of how many such projects exist, nor of their main characteristics, so much of the following information has been gleaned through discussions held with some of the World Bank managers ('team leaders') responsible for these projects as well as from personal experience in monitoring one of these projects in Guinea.20
20 I am extremely grateful for the comments
and insights provided to me by Yon Kimaro, William Experton, Penelope Bender and
Eluned Roberts-Schweitzer of the World Bank during discussions held in January
In Latin America, there are several schooling improvement fund projects in progress. Most. if not all, of these are teacher focused. The teachers are provided with the necessary support to analyse the problems in their schools (the focus usually being on pedagogical problems), and come up with solutions which they write up in the form of a mini project. To obtain funding for the project, the project usually passes through a series of 'juries', commonly composed of teacher trainers, education experts and local and central Ministry of Education bureaucrats, which can either accept, reject or request modifications of the project.
There are about a dozen of these projects taking place in the Africa region, but there the model tends to be that it is the community which draws up and executes the schooling improvement fund project, rather than the teachers. The exceptions are the projects in Guinea and Senegal (and possibly to a lesser extent in Burkina Faso), where the model is entirely teacher-focused. The rationale for the community approach appears to be that the projects in Africa were conceived as part of a framework of measures to reduce the costs of education, by encouraging communities to contribute to the costs of their own schools21 (this highly significant point is taken up below under quality, community participation and access). The concern which has motivated the approach in the teacher focused projects has tended to be with how to make teachers full partners in their own professional development, that is, through combining a top down (external expertise) and bottom up (teacher initiative and autonomy) approach. In the words of one of the facilitators for the Guinean Small Grants Programme (schooling improvement fund-type project): "The Small Grants Programme is premised on our conviction that we cannot circumvent teachers to improve the quality of teaching and learning in schools."22
21 However, this may be a false economy.
Taking the comparison of Ghana and Guinea, it has been said above that the
Ghanaian SIF requires communities to contribute twenty per cent of the total
cost of the projects, in money and labour. The Guinean projects did not require
any financial contribution from the teachers, although it did require extensive
time to be devoted to project preparation and execution. The financial ceiling
for the projects in Ghana was, again as mentioned above, approximately US$6,500;
the ceiling in Guinea was just $1,000. Even if the impact of these
teacher-focused and community-focused schooling improvement fund projects were
found to be similar (and early indications suggest that Guinea has the
advantage), the Ghanaian Government would have invested more money per community
(despite the community contribution), than the Guinean Government. It could be
argued that this comparison is a gross over-simplification of the two education
programmes, and it is certainly true that there are many other factors at play.
But it is also true that the Ghanaian basic education programme overall has much
more money invested in it than the Guinean primary education programme.
22 Martial Dembele, March 1997, 'Small Grants in Guinea: Finding Ways to Transform Small-scale Incentives into Widespread Commitment', Paper presented at the annual conference of the Comparative and International Education Society, Mexico City.
Experience shows that even when the project is teacher-focused, an extremely difficult and lengthy process is necessary to assist teachers to come to grips with what the real problems and difficulties are in teaching and learning. It is no surprise that the operational manuals, at least for the Chile and Guinea projects, run to several box files worth, while the Ghanaian SIF operational manual consists of one document of about 60 pages. Dembele23 describes the application of this approach in a resource scarce country such Guinea as a formidable challenge, which is further complicated by the teachers' relatively low level of formal education. See Box 4.
Box 5: Teachers struggle to identify their real problems in a school in Guinea
Towards the end of one intensive training session with teams of teachers held in a hot, dusty school in Middle Guinea one weekend, there was an important break-through in comprehension, which took a long time to achieve. One team was presenting its project proposal to the other teams. The proposal, like many others, identified the main pedagogical problem as teachers' poor understanding of French. The solution, again typically, was identified as the provision of more textbooks. After much animated discussion, another team pointed out that if the problem was a poor understanding of French, the provision of more textbooks in itself would not provide the solution: what the teachers really needed was training in French and training in how best to teach the language to their pupils.
Source: own visit notes, 1996
Despite the difficulties, early indications from the Guinea project seem to suggest that this approach has had an impact in improving the quality of teaching and learning, and in improving teacher motivation.
It should also be borne in mind that the teacher-focused project does involve the communities, to a greater or lesser degree. The participation of communities tends to be elicited and solicited through the greater commitment, motivation and success of the teacher involvement in improving schooling. In this sense, community participation is one of the ends rather than the means of improving the quality of teaching and learning. A rather unusual project among the 5,000 or so teacher-designed schooling improvement projects in Chile, was one where the teachers decided to create a garden for their school (adopting high-technology but not costly agricultural techniques) in one of the most inaccessible desert areas of Chile. The local community apparently regarded the garden as nothing short of a miracle, and were very willing to become more involved in and supportive of the school in a variety of ways, including tending to the garden.
The Ghanaian Ministry of Education might therefore be advised to focus programmes on improving the quality of teaching and learning more directly on teachers, drawing on support from education expertise and from MoE/GES staff at all levels, as well as other stakeholders concerned with teacher development, such as the Ghanaian National Union of Teachers. The task would by no means be an easy one, but it may be the only way in the long term of improving the quality of teaching and learning. It should be pointed out that the SIF facilitating NGO, CEDEP, sought to remedy some of the shortcomings in the project design vis-a-vis the lack of teacher involvement. It introduced training especially for teachers, to seek to redress the imbalance between community and teacher involvement. However, the SIF remains very weak in the area of teacher development, and proposals for the second phase of the pilot appear not to address this issue.
We should turn back to how the communities themselves defined the difficulties in their schools. One of the major problems identified was the lack of adequate supervision and monitoring of teachers. The very presence of teachers in the classroom is one factor positively correlated with quality improvements in teaching and learning24. While community members may not be capable of recognising good teaching methods from poor ones, they are capable themselves of monitoring whether or not teachers and pupils are present during school hours. But it then becomes important that higher authorities, starting with the head teacher and moving up to the district education authorities and even up to the central Ministry of Education if necessary, respond to evidence of high absenteeism and poor teacher performance, as was pointed out under 'ii.)' above.
24 T Allsop's paper: review of fifty
or so education projects in Africa, 1996
The issues of parental monitoring and understanding of quality, are likely to be addressed to some extent in the new MoE School Performance, Appraisal and Monitoring programme (SPAM). The objective of the SPAM is to ensure that school testing is carried out regularly in all schools in a district; the results for the schools are then ranked for the district and taken back by circuit supervisors for discussion with members of each community. The SPAM is due to be tried out shortly in the SIF communities. Earlier piloting of the SPAM has demonstrated that these successive ranking exercises have done much to raise awareness in the communities about the relative quality of schooling which their children are receiving, and provide a useful tool for communities and district education offices (through circuit supervisors) to monitor standards. The SPAM should not been seen as a substitute for a teacher-focused schooling improvement and development programme, but together with such a programme, it could help to bridge the gap in community understanding of what quality education and learning is about.
As the education reform programme has become gradually more mainstreamed within MoE/GES, the mechanisms for effective cross-Divisional cooperation are still at a fledgling stage. In this climate, the SIF risks being seen as exclusively 'a community participation project' whilst a new project which focuses on teacher development to bring about 'whole school change' currently does not articulate a strong requirement for community involvement, and a financial management programme is set to pursue its programme without the collaboration of divisions in charge of either teacher education or access and community participation. There are plenty of other examples of 'go it alone' initiatives. As such, they each risk coming under heavy criticism for not addressing other fundamental issues necessary to ensure comprehensive reform of the education system.