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Evaluation report

2009 Armenia: An Assessment of Armenia’s Child-Friendly School Pilot Projects and CFS Standards for UNICEF Armenia



Author: Jane G. Schubert

Executive summary

 

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Background:

Context of the Consultancy. UNICEF-Armenia issued Terms of Reference (TOR) for an external consultancy to assess the Child-Friendly School (CFS) pilot projects and the Child-Friendly standards document. The results were to enable UNICEF to support the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) in developing a comprehensive strategy to mainstream the Child-Friendly Schools approach in Armenia. The overall goal is to shift from CFS as pilot projects to CFS as mainstream education policy. This shift strengthens the effort to improve the quality of education in Armenia, which began immediately following independence. The Government of Armenia (GoA) and UNICEF share a common purpose. Each emphasizes the well being of the child, as promulgated by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), at the center of education reform.

The CFS standards document was developed in 2006 by a national team that used the National Curriculum Framework and the Secondary Education State Standards as a template for aligning national priorities with CFS dimensions. The three core CFS principles (UNICEF, 2009) are: child-centeredness; inclusiveness; and democratic participation. The CFS standards document was intended to be the entry point for a school to become a CFS. The document would serve as a self-assessment instrument for a school to: determine the extent to which it incorporated CFS dimensions; to identify gaps; and to make necessary adjustments. In 2007-2008, an awareness campaign in Syunik marz1 introduced the CFS approach to approximately 100 schools and communities. This campaign was followed by a competition in which 22 schools applied this self-assessment framework to become a pilot school. Seven schools won the competition. In 2008 a CFS awareness campaign was conducted in two other regions. During this overall time period, 364 schools participated in the CFS approach. Additional competitions for more pilot schools were postponed. Before proceeding, UNICEF wanted to assess CFS pilot projects and CFS standards document and provide a “snapshot” of CFS in Armenia.

Education Reform in Armenia. As presented in Education in Armenia (2008), the Law on Education (1999) formed the legislative framework for succeeding reforms at all levels of the education system. That framework has continued with the Law on General Education (2009) and the draft Strategic Programme for Education Development (2008-2015). The reform includes preschool through general secondary education (primary, basic, and high school), vocational or professional education, and post-graduate education. It addresses persons “needing special education conditions” such as children with exceptional abilities as well as those with mental or physical disabilities. The value throughout the reform is inclusiveness – no child in Armenia shall be left behind as the country moves forward to improve the quality of its education system.

Education Reform in UNICEF. UNICEF has been working globally since the 1990s to improve the quality of education by focusing on the well being of the child. This is grounded in the belief that schools should operate in a child’s best interests and in the commitment to the CRC that all children have the right to a quality education. UNICEF’s “signature school model,” the Child-Friendly School, promotes an approach that addresses the social, emotional, and pedagogical needs of all children. The CFS model now functions in context-specific educational settings in more than 90 countries (Actions for Children, Geneva, 2009). UNICEF-Armenia began working closely with the MoES in 2000 to introduce CFS dimensions in Armenia and to engage in pilot activities. Examples of collaboration include introduction and establishment of student councils at schools; integration of life skills based education into the state curriculum; promotion and piloting of inclusive school model; a CFS concept paper (2004); the CFS standards document (2006); an awareness campaign and competition in one region to become a pilot school; another awareness campaign in two more regions; and a preliminary action plan in 2009 to mainstream CFS in Armenian education reform.

The Terms of Reference (TOR)2 for this study state that it is an “Assessment of Child-Friendly School (CFS) Pilot Projects and CFS Standards Document.” The purpose of this assessment is to use the findings to support the Ministry of Science and Education (MoES) in developing a comprehensive strategy to implement the CFS approach in all regions of the Republic of Armenia (RA). While focusing on the specific efforts within Armenia, this assessment also considered the next steps for the country within the larger context of UNICEF’s focus on CFS and education quality both globally and within the region. The Central and Eastern Europe/Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS) Regional Office is in the process of developing a conceptual framework and a roadmap for standards revision according to research-based, CFS principles. UNICEF/Armenia can continue to draw on both the documents cited in this report and on other documents produced by UNICEF Headquarters as it moves forward in its own standards development process; it can also continue to interact with the Regional Office in order to ensure that a participatory process is used to refine Armenia’s CFS standards as well as take into account the various evidence-based suggestions offered in the longer document developed for this consultancy.

The report begins with the context to provide the overall perspective of education reform efforts in Armenia as they relate to global initiatives. The methodology section describes the approach to information gathering from stakeholders at all levels of the education system and from a sample of pilot schools. The next section presents specific findings among the types and organizational levels of stakeholders, highlighting some key issues for consideration and specific observations on CFS using UNICEF criteria. The report concludes with suggested actions that use the results of this assessment to develop a comprehensive strategy for implementing CFS in all regions of Armenia. A companion report focuses specifically on an Analysis of Armenia’s Child-Friendly Schools: Rationale, Criteria, Indicators and Benchmarks, also known as the “CFS Standards Framework.” (This companion report also appears in this report as Annex 2.)3

1 A marz is a region. There are 11 marses in Armenia.
2 See Annex 1 for the Terms of Reference.
3 In 2010, UNICEF’s CEE/CIS Regional Office plans to develop a conceptual framework and roadmap for the CFS standards in countries of the region.

Methodology:

The conceptual framework for collecting data to meet the defined TOR tasks was to construct an “information needs” matrix so as to pinpoint the type of information gathered from each data source. The focus was to learn how and why stakeholders were interested in the CFS approach, what it “looked like” to be engaged in CFS, and how these experiences might inform the shift from CFS as a pilot activity to policy integration. A 10-day on-site visit (29 September – 9 October 2009) was devoted to gathering information from a diverse and purposive sample of national, regional, and local sources. The procedures included: individual interviews with key stakeholders; focus groups; school visits, including class observation; and review of national, regional, and global documents. A feedback loop (i.e., reporting back) was built into the process so that UNICEF and stakeholders were informed about the progress of the data collection and any preliminary conclusions based on those activities. Stakeholders were invited to comment on and also to clarify any misunderstandings or errors. Documents reviewed included reports and other literature relevant to the education reform in Armenia; UNICEF/Armenia and UNICEF globally; and selected literature regarding global activities and lessons learned in improving education quality worldwide. The intent was to gain a perspective of CFS in Armenia, then consider this perspective through the global lens of education reform, including UNICEF’s CFS experience in other countries. The results are to inform the development of a comprehensive strategy to bring CFS to all regions in Armenia.

An analysis of the CFS Standards document explored the relationship between the National Curriculum Framework and the State Secondary Education Standards, and the UNICEF global CFS principles. The results are briefly described in this Summary, and a companion report to the Final Report will be submitted to UNICEF and included as an annex in the Final Report.

Key Findings:

1. It is “prime time” for CFS to move into the mainstream of education reform in Armenia. The political will exists. The policies and practices of the MoES and UNICEF converge around a nourishing, child-centered environment of teaching and learning. CFS brings the Government reform efforts under one umbrella to strengthen the vision of improving educational quality.
2. Implementation partners at the marz level are critical stakeholders because they functionally connect the national policy to local practice. They provided essential support in conducting the awareness campaigns and competition for pilot schools.  They continue to strengthen technical support by developing guidelines for school councils (e.g., student councils) and a school management information system.
3. Implementing the CFS approach requires time, support, and strong leadership. Stakeholders at all levels recognized that full integration of a CFS vision and practice is a work in progress that requires several years to implement at both the policy and practice levels. In addition, implementation support to fully integrate CFS is necessary as schools put decentralized mechanisms into place (e.g., shared decision-making is a new idea); educators have time to reflect on their successes and near successes in using new teaching methods (e.g., shift from didactic to active teaching is dramatic); and parents adjust to the expectation that they more fully support the school programme (e.g., parental support appears weak). Despite these challenges, the teachers and principals in the pilot schools feel empowered by the connection to a national priority and an international movement.
4. Systematic data on the pilot school experience do not exist. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence about the successes and challenges of engaging in CFS pilot activities and the use of the CFS standards framework. But a comprehensive description of what happened in the pilot schools after they won the competition (e.g., how they used the new materials they received, changes in classroom relationships between students and teachers, and where there were noticeable changes in student learning) would enrich an understanding of what it means to be a CFS and how CFS makes a difference in teaching and learning. Such knowledge also contributes to decision-making about school management and programme revision.
5. The CFS Standards document, as a school self-assessment instrument, was informative but challenging. It is a technically complicated document and difficult to follow. Although it draws upon many elements of the CFS principles, they are not consistently articulated within each element of the framework. Local committees (e.g., school officials and parents) worked through the framework together in applying to become a pilot school. Some principals reported that using the framework providing an organizational structure to the school programme (both pilot and non-pilot). If school self-assessment is the entry point to use the CFS approach, then this instrument will need to be revised.
6. The CFS Standards document is based on content that reflects the national curriculum and state standards but it does not use (or select) the core CFS principles or dimensions as the basis for specifying desired behaviors and outcomes. CFS characteristics do appear in the framework (e.g., gender; special needs; parent involvement; safe environment) but they do not appear consistently across the content areas. This presents a challenge for a school to track progress in implementing a CFS approach because desired behavioral changes that reflect CFS are not specified. The global CFS key principles recently were elaborated on in the CFS Program Manual (2009), which will facilitate a revision of the framework.
7. Pilot schools won the competition because they produced evidence that demonstrated their existing alignment with CFS, although one principal mentioned that no school reported having more than half of the CFS characteristics. This appears inconsistent with the UNICEF mandate to focus on the most vulnerable children in a society. Awareness of this should be included in discussions about how and when CFS moves into all regions.

Recommendations:

1. Prepare a five-year action plan 2010-2015 (i.e., a road map) that articulates the connections between the MoES and UNICEF priorities. Identify long-term and intermediate goals and outcomes and specify who is responsible for what tasks.
2. Create a coordinating committee whose membership represents all levels of education and all stakeholders. This will demonstrates a visible presence of CFS as a priority and will serve as a liaison to policy makers and practitioners. It will also provide a feedback mechanism for necessary revisions.
3. Revise the CFS Standards document. Prior to a revision, clarify the intended users and intended purpose of this document (e.g., Is this document to be the school self-assessment tool or is it to be used as the basis for creating a school self-assessment tool?). The CFS core principles should be developed more thoroughly and used to set school-based performance indicators. For example, in each section, define a specific theme and develop all ideas, criteria, and benchmarks within that theme. Such consistency will strengthen the usefulness of the framework. Define all terms such as dimension, theme, benchmark, and indicator.
4. Develop a methodology for expanding CFS in Armenia. If the goal is to reach each of the 11 regions, then one way to proceed is to develop a “readiness” list of preconditions for becoming a CFS. Schools may be selected based on a range of “readiness” factors so that participation may include schools that are the least ready (i.e., most vulnerable), the most ready (i.e., meet some of the conditions), and those in between. Tracking progress for each type of school would provide evidence-based experience for continued expansion.
5. Track progress and performance. School data need to be routinely gathered, analyzed, and used to learn what is working and not working in the implementation. It is essential to gather information about student academic performance since this is critical for monitoring the effectiveness of the CFS approach.
6. Other suggestions are presented in the Final Report. Examples include: using small grants to local educators to fund school improvement activities; leveraging CFS participation to engage public and private stakeholders to support schools; engaging post-secondary institutions to contribute to the documentation of CFS in Armenian schools; developing guidelines to facilitate some of the new concepts (e.g., democratic participation); and targeting parents and communities to engage in the school programme.

The Child-Friendly School concept is an evolving and flexible model that each country uses to meet national education priorities. By incorporating CFS into its systematic education reform policy, Armenia accelerates its path to improving teaching and learning so that no child is left behind.



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