Improving Teaching and Learning in Nepal (Partnerships Series No. 8)

Many developing countries have made substantial progress towards improving education attainment (the level of education attained by students) over the last two decades. At the same time, the instruction provided by teachers to students often remains of limited quality. This results in less than stellar education achievement (how much students actually learn). While students may do well enough on portions of examinations that rely for the most part on memorization, they tend to do less well when asked to think creatively or solve complex problems. This post, which is part of a series on partnerships, innovation, and evaluation in Rotary, tells the story of an innovative teacher training program in Nepal that has the potential of improving student learning substantially.

NTTI

Importance of Teacher Training

Outstanding in-service teacher training programs can make a major difference in how teachers teach, how much students learn, and how much they learn, especially among disadvantaged groups. Many factors influence student achievement, including factors that are beyond the control of schools such as a student’s socio-economic context. But teachers are the most important factor under the control of education systems to improve learning. Teachers also account for the bulk of public spending for education in developed and developing countries alike. For these reasons, there is increasing interest in finding ways to attract, retain, develop, and motivate great teachers.

The tasks of attracting, retaining, and motivating teachers fall squarely within the scope of the mission of Ministries of Education. Developing teachers is also a key responsibility and priority for the Ministries, but in this area there is also scope for nonprofits and organizations such as Rotary to play a role by helping to create great in-service training programs for teachers. The importance of in-service training and professional development to improve instruction is recognized by practitioners and policy makers. Three lessons emerge from the literature.

First, opportunities for teacher training and professional development should be made available. But not all programs achieve the same results. When in-service programs focus on changing pedagogy, the evidence suggests that they can improve teaching and as a result student achievement. By contrast, programs that merely provide additional teaching materials for teachers do not generate substantial gains.

Second, the contents of training programs aiming to change pedagogy matter as well. In-service training programs that expose teachers to best practices in instruction and actually show teachers how to implement these practices are more likely to generate positive change. Promoting collaboration between teachers, among others through teacher networks where teachers can exchange ideas is useful. Mentoring programs whereby junior teachers benefit from the guidance of experience teachers also tend to be effective. Other approaches tend to be less successful.

Third, it is important that in-service training and professional development programs target in priority the teachers who need help the most. Teachers who are struggling may benefit more than already great teachers from various programs. Similarly, students from disadvantaged backgrounds or living in poor areas also tend to benefit more from a higher quality instruction than better off students who have more help from their family at home. Identifying priority pockets of needs is most beneficial when implementing and teacher training programs.

Innovative Program in Nepal

Traditional instruction in Nepal relies on lecturing by teachers and memorization by students. Together with the Nepali NGO PHASE, NTTI (Nepal Teacher Training Innovations) has implemented innovative teacher training programs in Nepal for several years.  NTTI aims to train public schools teachers to make the classroom more interactive by coaching them on how to lead classroom discussions, facilitate group work, and ask questions to students to encourage individual thought. Instead of relying on punishment and at times shaming in the classroom to control student behavior, teachers are trained to use dynamic inquiry-based instruction methods and provide positive encouragement to motivate the students to learn. As the classroom becomes more participatory, students engage in their own learning.

The PHASE-NTTI model does not rely on one-off training. Instead it involves a cumulative cycle of trainings and intensive follow-up support to individual teachers. The aim is to help teachers move from an awareness of effective teaching practices to actual implementation of the practices in their own classrooms. The training model includes a series of teacher development courses: Introduction to Best Teaching Practices; Girls’ Sensitivity Training; and a Training of Trainers for those selected as Mentor Teachers.

The model includes pre- and post-training classroom observations, individual feedback received by teachers from Master Trainers, and follow up individual teacher support by Mentor Overall, the program is implemented over a two-year period in each school.

While no impact evaluation is yet available to measure the impact of the program, quantitative data obtained through pre- and post-training classroom observation are encouraging. In contrast to teacher-driven and student-silent classrooms, classrooms with trained teachers seem to be closer to functioning as hubs of learning.

Instead of only lecturing trained teachers lead classroom discussions, facilitate group work, and ask questions to encourage individual thought. Students learn how to make their own novel connections and think critically about what they hear and read. Qualitative data suggest that the program is appreciated by teachers and students.

Remaining Challenges and Conclusion

There have been challenges to which the program has had to adapt. The program did not work as well in secondary schools, so it now focuses on primary schools. Support from principals for teachers changing their pedagogical approach is needed, but not guaranteed. Distances to schools in rural areas make it hard to maintain regular contact after initial trainings. Lack of time for teachers to prepare lessons as advocated by the program is also a constraint. The structure of classroom time may limit creativity and inquiry-based teaching. The persistence of traditions harmful to girls in parts of the country is a major challenge to keep girls in school.

The PHASE-NTTI program does not have all the answers to these challenges, but it does have the key features that tend to be associated with successful in-service training programs. The program is also a great example of partnership (with the Ministry of Education and public schools), innovation (in teacher training), and evaluation (at least through monitoring of teacher pedagogy). A Rotary global grant proposal has been submitted to help develop the PHASE-NTTI program further and implement it in additional areas.

Technology in Nepal’s classrooms: Using impact evaluation as a learning device

Students use laptops and digital resources provided by OLE Nepal
Students use laptops and digital resources provided by OLE Nepal

Impact evaluations are becoming essential in the way we think about development and service projects. Pilot programs suggesting statistically significant impacts are hailed as breakthroughs and as candidates for scaling up. Programs without such clear impact tend to be looked down upon and may be terminated. This may not be warranted. A primary function of impact evaluations should be to improve existing programs, especially in fields where evidence of positive impacts remains scarce. The experience of OLE Nepal, which is part of the OLE network and aims to improve learning and teaching through technology, is instructive in this regard.

Last week, Rabi Karmacharya shared his experience at OLE Nepal at a seminar co-sponsored by the World Bank, the Global Partnership for Education and the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill, a supporter of Rotary Club of Kathmandu Mid Town in expanding OLE Nepal’s programs. After a successful career in engineering and technology in California, he launched OLE Nepal in 2007. Now a social entrepreneur, Rabi wants to use technology to transform the way children learn through engagement, exploration and experimentation.

OLE Nepal has achieved quite a bit over the last eight years: deploying 5,000+ laptops in 100+ schools, training 600+ teachers on integrating ICT in the classroom teaching-learning process, developing 600+ learning modules for use by teachers, and creating a digital library with 6000+ books and other items used in schools and community libraries. Its ultimate objective is to help transform and improve Nepal’s education system with technology, working closely with the Ministry of Education and other partners.

What I found most interesting about Rabi’s presentation is how OLE Nepal – as well as donors that support the NGO such as the World Food Program, responded to an evaluation of its programs in 2009-11. The evaluation used a quasi-experimental design: English and mathematics tests administered to students, with collection of additional data through student, teacher and household surveys.

The results were disappointing, with no effect on student test scores even though both teachers and students reported liking the digital contents and finding them useful. The results contradicted field observations and other evidence from teachers and students on the fact that the program was making a difference.

Several factors may have led to an apparent lack of impact on student learning, according to Rabi. First, the program had been implemented only for a relatively short period of time, and improving student learning takes time. Second, it turned out that not all teachers reported to the one-week intensive training session that was held before launching the program, which may have decreased overall impacts in the schools that benefitted from the program. Third, some teachers may not have used as the available digital resources as much as expected due to the increase in workload that this entailed. Fourth, after the initial training, the support provided to teachers was limited. Fifth, it could be that the digital content, while following the curriculum taught in school, was too difficult for students to grasp.

These and a number of factors (including questions about variations in exam difficulty between the baseline and endline tests in the evaluation, and the possibility that some students spent more time on games available through the digital libraries rather than on study for examinations) may have led to the results.

What is important is that the evaluation did not lead to the demise of the program. Witnessing firsthand the changes in classroom dynamic and student engagement brought about by the program, donors continued to fund the NGO, which has been able to grow with support from the World Food Program, the Embassies of Denmark and Finland, and most recently the Air Asia Foundation.

In response to the evaluation, OLE Nepal introduced a number improvements in its programs:

  • It now promotes a shared model between grades for a more effective use of laptops and digital resources by schools and teachers;
  • The use of resources by students is better supervised and teachers receive more extensive support after the initial one-week training. In addition, a volunteers program is available for additional support;
  • The educational contents have been revised to follow the curriculum even more closely; and
  • More emphasis will be put on enhancing the ability of students to read in early grades, since this is a prerequisite for them to be able to learn subsequently and use digital resources effectively.

OLE Nepal’s experience is a great lesson in social entrepreneurship, humility, and resilience from an innovative NGO that strives to help teachers and students harness the power of technology in the classroom.

Note: this post is reproduced with minor changes from a post by the author for the World Bank’s Education for Global Development blog, available at http://blogs.worldbank.org/education/.