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Evaluation database

Evaluation report

2013 Azerbaijan: “Out of the Box”: A Formative Evaluation of Active Learning Policy and Practice

Author: Christopher Jonstone, Lisa Burton

Executive summary

"With the aim to continuously improve transparency and use of evaluation, UNICEF Evaluation Office manages the "Global Evaluation Reports Oversight System". Within this system, an external independent company reviews and rates all evaluation reports. Please ensure that you check the quality of this evaluation report, whether it is “Outstanding, Best Practice”, “Highly Satisfactory”, “Mostly Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory” before using it. You will find the link to the quality rating below, labeled as ‘Part 2’ of the report."


The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Education (MOE) have partnered since the late 1990s to transition the country’s post-Soviet era education system toward a learner-centered system that encourages student participation, independent thinking, and a deeper understanding of concepts through an Active Learning (AL) initiative. The goal of this transition has been to improve educational outcomes and to develop students who are more prepared to enter a global economy. UNICEF has supported MOE in these efforts through the implementation of AL in-service trainings for teachers across the country.


The purpose of this formative evaluation conducted by Miske Witt & Associates for UNICEF Azerbaijan was to inform policy decisions on the overall Education System Reform in Azerbaijan; to inform next steps for UNICEF in its support of MOE initiatives; and to document the results achieved and lessons learned through AL.


The AL formative evaluation considered several key questions grouped according to five criteria to guide the evaluation. These criteria included relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact, and sustainability. Data was collected from 10 schools in five districts, including schools in Baku, Gabala, Masally, and Guba. These included eight schools from the 2004 AL evaluation, one IDP school, and one school from a remote village. Data from each school was collected during a one-day site visit. This included focus groups with teachers and parents, surveys with teachers and students, and two classroom observations. Additional data was collected during interviews with key informants. These individuals represented the MOE, the Azerbaijan Teacher Training Institute, the Pedagogical University, Parent-Teacher Association, Inkishaf, and the Center for Educational Problems. A utilization-based evaluation framework guided this study, with specific attention given to data that could inform next steps. In addition, a human rights-based approach was considered throughout the evaluation in order to address issues of educational equity.

Findings and Conclusions:

AL demonstrates high relevance to Azerbaijan's national priorities, to the policies of national and international partners, and to the United Nations guiding documents. There are direct links between statements in the national curriculum and national policies to the purposes of AL.

The data showed that the UNICEF model of sensitization is efficient in creating awareness of base-level understanding of AL, but not in creating authentic AL environments in schools. While the 10-day training model introduced a large number of teachers to AL through a relatively low-cost investment, it has not fully supported teachers in their day-to-day implementation of AL. Another source of inefficiency lies in the fact that teachers are not trained in AL until after their pre-service training. 

The AL program demonstrated various levels of impact on children, teachers, and parents. These encompassed social, economic, as well as environmental impacts across the groups. As the primary beneficiaries of AL, children demonstrated strong evidence of engagement in class lessons by asking questions, offering ideas, and working with classmates. However, it was unclear how this translated into increased cognitive development. There was little evidence of critical thinking and problem solving, but this could be assessed in the future through changes in the national assessment scores over time. On the other hand, teachers generally supported the shift toward AL because of the impact on pupil learning.


Several short-term and long-term recommendations are highlighted in this report for MOE, UNICEF, Districts, Schools (teachers and parents), the Pedagogical University, Teacher Training Institutions, and the UNICEF Regional Office. Key recommendations point to the importance of strengthening the policy efforts by considering a shift toward a coaching model and school-based model of professional development; increasing efficiency by purchasing materials in bulk; moving toward a pre-service training system that includes AL; increasing the teacher compensation package; promoting collaboration between teachers; and strengthening parent involvement in schools.

Lessons Learned:

Several global lessons were learned through this evaluation. First, the scaling up of initiatives requires support from governmental and non-governmental bodies. The solid integration of AL into the national curriculum has forged this key link in Azerbaijan. Second, full knowledge of how to implement AL cannot be achieved through a short workshop alone. In Azerbaijan, additional models for continuing professional development must be considered. Third, implementation of AL requires additional classroom resources beyond what many teachers can provide. The support of implementation from MOE should include provisions for government-supplied materials. Fourth, sustainability requires integration of the new methods into the pre-service teaching curriculum. Without this alignment, vast inefficiencies will continue to persist. Finally, sustainability depends upon the work done after a new policy has been instituted. Attention must continually shift according to the needs of those involved in the reform.

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