2009 Bosnia & Herzegovina: External Evaluation of the “Child-Friendly Schools” Project 2002-2007
Author: Joachim Friedrich Pfaffe, A. E. M. (Ans) Smulders
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(1) The Child-Friendly Schools (CfS) Project in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) was initiated in 2002 as a three year project. Following an evaluation in the autumn of 2004, the project was continued within the framework of the 2005-2008 programme cycle. It has two overall objectives, i.e. (i) to introduce and implement quality child-centred education and child-friendly environments in all primary schools in BiH from kindergarten to 4th grade (children age 6-10); and (ii) to create conditions for sustainable systemic change and ongoing professional development in primary education.
(2) The child-friendly school concept thus aims at promoting child-centred, gender-sensitive, child-seeking and inclusive, community-involved, protective and healthy approaches to education. These approaches are meant to increase the effectiveness of teaching and learning, and also the efficiency and accessibility of education systems. In BiH, the CfS project specifically focussed upon equitable access to quality basic education for Roma children and children with special educational needs (SEN), and at creating conditions for sustainable systemic change and ongoing professional development in primary education.
(3) The objective of this formative evaluation is twofold and comprises (i) an assessment of the potential modalities and strategies of the project to be replicated and scaled up with a particular focus on three elements of the CfS framework (inclusiveness, effectiveness and stakeholders' participation with the view of documenting and disseminating the best practices in order to contribute to the Education Sector Reform); and (ii) the formulation of recommendations regarding the future of the CfS Project depending on the outcomes of the first objective above, and related to the question if the project has sufficient potential to be scaled up, replicated and mainstreamed in the education system within a reasonable timeframe, at a cost that is affordable to the UNICEF Country Programme in BiH and the respective MoEs.
Evaluation design and methodology
(4) The evaluation revolves around the evaluation criteria stipulated by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), i.e. (i) relevance, (ii) efficiency, (iii) effectiveness, (iv) impact and (v) sustainability. In addition, the issue of inclusiveness will be assessed since the response of the CfS project to the diverse needs of all students in a multi-cultural society is regarded to be a core element of the CfS framework.
(5) Particular attention has been given to (i) assessing the status of the implementation of the project, (ii) providing detailed analytical information for future planning; (iii) reflecting upon lessons learnt; and (iv) strengthening existing synergies between different groups of stakeholders in terms of promoting child-friendly schools.
(6) A sample of 15 schools across BiH was visited by the consulting team. At every school, in-depth interviews with principals and pedagogues were conducted, together with Focus Group Discussions with teachers, students (Grades 5-7) and parents. In addition, 4,258 questionnaires were completed by principals and pedagogues (N=27), teachers (N=467) and students (N=3,764) from the fifteen schools included in the evaluation. Responses were differentiated between the three groups of the evaluation (N questionnaires Group I, most advanced=1,541; N questionnaires Group II, intermediate=1,770; N questionnaires Group III, only initial CfS training=947).
(7) By the end of 2007, 97% of lower primary school teachers and 58% of upper primary school teachers had received basic or advanced child-centred methodology training. This includes 82 trainers for School Improvement, advanced child-centred methodology, and for the advanced Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking (RWCT) programme. Principals and management teams received training in school improvement planning. Since all primary schools in BiH have implemented at least some of the CfS principles and approaches, it can be said that the CfS project has made CfS available and accessible to children nation-wide.
(8) The context of the CfS project is a challenging systemic issue which cannot easily be addressed by the project alone. The most striking results of the application of child-friendly principles by schools (inclusive, protective, and effective education in which communities are actively involved) were (i) an increased (gender) equality in enrolment, in particular the enrolment of children from minority groups and inclusion of children with special needs in regular classes; (ii) children reporting on positive learning experiences, more freedom of expression in communication with their teacher and classmates, and an increased sense of self-esteem; (iii) established local partnerships in education; (iv) girls and boys having been socialised in a non-violent environment; and (v) increased participation of children in school and community life.
(9) However, principals, pedagogues, teachers and students have similar opinions across all sample groups, with no hard evidence of differences in child-friendliness between schools. Differences between schools can most likely be explained by the people involved, in particular the principal, rather than being exposed to the CfS concept. It could be worthwhile for UNICEF to explore why some of the people involved accept the concept more deeply and completely than others instead of focusing on what has changed and how much.
(10) Within the concept of the “Whole school approach”, teachers in the schools require ongoing in-service support through mentoring and peer coaching. In particular, it will be important to reach operational consensus on how to operationalise key concepts of “child-friendliness”, and how to create the necessary flexibility between individual work, group work, participatory learning and learning by teacher instruction. There are quite considerable misconceptions in terms of setting boundaries and saying “no”, up to the perception that within the framework of a child-friendly school the learner is “always right”.
(11) The school environment needs to be put in context with the larger societal environment. By supporting processes of reconciliation and cross-cultural understanding at school and implementation level, the CfS project can make an invaluable contribution to reinforcing prospects for peaceful co-existence and social cohesion. The aim is to promote interculturalism among the peoples of BiH and lay a sound base for the future, which is prerequisite for economic revitalisation.
(12) The CfS project (through UNICEF) should exert a stronger influence when it comes to the selection of schools for support, and should stronger focus on divided (“two schools under one roof”) and remote/rural schools. Educational interventions at school level need to be based on data gathered from independent, external research on the root causes for ethnic segregation and the common elements for possible future cooperation. Research on the attitudes and value systems of individuals with regard to cultural identity will be used to define communication strategies at the national and community levels, including strategies to deepen understanding through ongoing exchange and debates. Behaviour change communication is a challenging, but critical developmental intervention, particularly in this highly sensitive area.
(13) The future direction of the CfS project needs to put a stronger focus on providing policy advice, thus utilising positive experiences (“best practice”) from the field to influence policy-making dialogue, also in order to contribute to the realisation of systemic impact.
(14) There is a need for providing concrete support to the finalisation of legal regulations regarding curricular issues and inspectorate services, also utilising experiences form the CfS approach to contribute to the development of common outcome-based framework curricula and quality standards.
(15) At policy and system level, policy development is dependent on sound feedback processes from the field to the policy-making level, and likewise on a functioning communication strategy from the policy-making level to the field. Within such a hermeneutic set-up, the CfS project also needs to ensure that activities delivering positive cross-cultural messages at the local level will incorporate strategies to address barriers to cross-cultural tolerance.
(16) The development of approaches to address issues of ethnic discrimination, exploitation and segregation in education at the community level is therefore directly related to the operationalisation of overarching policies. Likewise, through reporting procedures on the implementation of activities, experiences from the field level will inform policy makers who in turn receive valuable inputs into the policy debate.
(17) The issue of culturally-based social exclusion will need to be continuously addressed by enhancing the quality and inclusive nature of education at all levels. UNICEF‟s on-going work with technically specialised NGOs, such as Civitas and Step by Step, should continue, as will the facilitation of coordination and dialogue between NGOs and cantonal/entity ministries. Good practice models from the community level will be documented and vertical communication channels ensured to maximise upstream benefits.
(18) In order to develop appropriate multicultural educational approaches, external and independent research needs to be undertaken regarding the existing behavioural attitudes and mindsets of community members as far as different forms of segregation in education are concerned. Outcomes of the research can then be utilised for the creation of community-based educational interventions envisaged to take place both in school and school environments. These interventions will address issues of ethnic discrimination, exploitation and segregation within primary and secondary schools in the country.
(19) At UNICEF institutional and organisational level, UNICEF‟s leading position in supporting primary education in BiH needs to be utilised for increased policy support at Ministerial levels. The pursuance of policy involvement will thus lead to enhanced efficiency and strengthened sustainability of the project.
(20) Evaluation findings and recommendations were discussed with key stakeholders during a two-day validation workshop. Participants agreed that (i) findings and recommendations are in line with perceived needs for the school/community/implementation level as well as the policy/system/ organisational level; (ii) achievements need to be given a solid, formal base through legislation and certification; (iii) there is a need to clarify roles and responsibilities, for all levels of the education system; (iv) there is a need for continuous, professional support through professional networks and networking between teachers and schools, and professional associations, in order to avoid isolation, to ensure inclusion, and to consolidate achievements. In addition, participants felt a strong need for a framework (to be developed) to structure and harmonise future actions, i.e. the
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