Basic education and gender equality

Monitoring learning achievement

© UNICEF Iraq/2007/Arar
Fifth graders and their teacher in Baghdad, Iraq. The school was rehabilitated and equipped by UNICEF in 2006 as part of the Integrated Basic Services Project.

Monitoring learning achievement means assessing the knowledge, skills and values acquired by students.

In UNICEF programmes we want to know what children have learned in the classroom, how effective schools are, whether children are passing external (public) examinations for promotion and how children compare educationally with others at national and international levels.

Classroom-based assessment occurs simultaneously with learning and is designed to improve the students’ ability to learn. Literacy, numeracy and life skills can all be assessed at the classroom level.

School level assessment in some countries uses students’ test results as an evaluation of individual schools. Rewards are sometimes given to schools with good results and action plans are developed to correct problems identified by the tests.

External public examinations are used to select students for higher levels of education. Unfortunately, the quality of such examinations is sometimes questionable. For many countries this is the only method of assessing learning. This often leads to teachers teaching to the test, covering only what will be on the examinations.

National and international assessments of achievement are designed to evaluate the effectiveness of education systems or of nations rather than the achievement of individual students. UNICEF has collaborated with UNESCO on the Monitoring Learning Achievement project in nearly 50 countries in areas of Literacy, Numeracy and Life Skills.

The Southern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality has helped develop national assessments in 14 countries in east and southern Africa. And many countries, particularly in Latin America, have developed their own national assessment systems. In 2002, UNICEF completed a study of national systems of learning achievement.

UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics is developing with UNICEF and others a new assessment tool for literacy called LAMP. LAMP will use a small sample group in each country and, using sophisticated statistical models, will predict literacy levels within countries. We expect literacy levels to fall because they will be assessed on the basis of a test rather than self-reporting, as is generally the case now.

UNICEF and Learning Achievement: two examples

Literacy levels can be different between what people report and what tests reveal. For example, in the recent Lao PDR National Literacy Survey, the reported adult literacy rate for the population aged 15 and above was found to be 68.7 per cent, with 77 per cent for males and 60.9 per cent for females. However when tested, basic literacy and functional literacy percentages plunged to 37.8 per cent, with 31.3 per cent for males and 16.3 per cent for females. Half of the test participants who had reported being literate were in fact not literate at all.

The test findings identified the following:

  • Differences between literacy rates are large for the poorest of the poor;
  • Primary education does not assure literacy acquisition, and in fact literacy levels are decreasing for those currently in primary schools in relation to earlier periods of time;
  • Ethnicity influences illiteracy; and
  • Literacy rates are higher among those taught in formal educational settings than those who had completed non-formal education. (This finding, however, is not true throughout the world. In Zambia, for instance, those taught in community schools outperform those taught in formal schools on primary level exams.) 

Monitoring learning achievement in eastern and southern Africa supports the development of systems for Monitoring Achievement in Lower Primary (MALP) Schools in Botswana, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Southern Sudan (OLS), Uganda and Zambia from Grade 1 to Grade 4. The Regional MALP will measure the following educational outcomes and processes:

  • Differences in learning and performance between boys and girls;
  • Similarities and differences between urban and rural learners;
  • The effectiveness of the formal school setting as compared to the non-formal setting and non-conventional methods;
  • How socio-economic status affects learning achievement;
  • How factors (pupil, parent, school environment) influence performance and how these can be addressed;
  • What teaching/learning processes enhance performance of boys and girls

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