Rotary International’s New Website and its Story on Literacy

Rotary International launched a much anticipated new website this month. The Rotary Leader January newsletter mentions five reasons to check out the new site, but I must admit that my main reason to look at it right away was the story on literacy because I knew it would feature a great Nepal project.

NTTI

The literacy story talks about the importance of training teachers. It features several great projects, but the one I know well is implemented by NTTI (Nepal Teacher Training Innovations) and PHASE, two great NGOs my club is working with together with the Rotary Club of Kathmandu Mid-Town. The aim of the project, which will hopefully soon benefit from a global grant, is to improve instructions in Nepal’s primary schools.

Below is a brief excerpt of the story as it relates to NTTI. The story is featured on the “supporting education” section of the new website:

“Before taking part in the NTTI program, one teacher relied heavily on memorization, having her students copy words off the blackboard. After training, the teacher made her lesson on animate and inanimate objects more interactive, says Ashley Hager, NTTI’s director. The teacher asked children to point to objects and describe how they were different. She then listed the differences on the board and paired students up to discuss them. As a final exercise, the class went outside to find examples in nature.

One student approached the teacher with a live ant in her hand and inquired, “This is an animate object, yes?” The teacher agreed. The child then squashed the ant and asked, “Is it still an animate object now?” Caught by surprise, the teacher asked the rest of the students what they thought, and a lively conversation followed. 

Other teachers agree that the training taught them the value of interactive teaching. “It’s transformed my way of teaching and given me brilliant ideas to employ the best teaching practices I have learned,” says Goma Khada, who teaches fourth grade at Shrijana Higher Secondary School in Thumpakhar.”

The literacy story is available at the following link (https://www.rotary.org/en/teaching-teachers-key-literacy). If you would like to contribute to the global grant, let me know!

This story is just one of many great stories on the new website. Stories are provided for each area of focus of the Rotary Foundation. Other stories focus on what it means to be a Rotarian or other topics of interest to clubs. So please check the new website out!

And just for the sake of completeness, let me end by mentioning that the five reasons highlighted in the Rotary Leader January newsletter to visit the new website are (1) Better organization; (2) Improved readability; (3) Compelling storytelling (what I just focused on); (4) Prominent calls to action; and (5) Enhanced metrics.

 

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/.