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Global learning: is ‘Teaching at the Right Level’ a good buy?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital23 November 2020

Angela W Little, Republished from UKFIET, the education and development forum.

In 1900, the comparative educationist Michael Sadler wrote:

“We cannot wander at pleasure among the educational systems of the world, like a child strolling through a garden and pick a off a flower from one bush and some leaves from another, and then expect that if we stick what we have gathered into the soil at home, we shall have a living plant.”

Nowadays, the ‘children’ who wander the garden include philanthropists, NGOs, trade unions, international and comparative educationists, international businessmen and businesswomen, as well as the all important country policymakers and politicians.

Through their recently-released report ‘Cost Effective Approaches to Improve Global Learning’, the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel (GEEAP) offers some education ‘great buys’, ‘good buys’ , ‘promising buys with low evidence’ and ‘bad buys’. In short, they offer a ‘great buy’ flower here and a ‘bad buy’ leaf there.

Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL)

Among the ‘good buys’ are ‘interventions to target teaching instruction by learning level, not grade (in or out of school). This is known as ‘Teaching at the Right Level’ (TaRL). The essential idea is that students should be grouped for teaching, based (more…)

Universities enrich communities, as well as educating students – new research

Blog Editor, IOE Digital29 October 2020

Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

Elaine Unterhalter.

Education helps us share knowledge, develop understanding, and supports our connection with each other. As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued, governments have been preoccupied with how to re-open schools.

However, there has been more doubt about universities. Discussions about the rise in COVID-19 infections in student populations have often raised the question as to why students are at university at all, running risks for themselves and local populations. These questions often link with views of universities as expensive, elitist – and perhaps not worth it at all.

Together with colleagues, I have conducted research commissioned by the British Council to assess the value provided by higher education. We reviewed 170 research studies published since 2010 (more…)

Covid-19 and EdTech: a chance for HE to rethink quality of provision and equality of access

Blog Editor, IOE Digital10 June 2020

Diana Laurillard.

COVID-19 has radically changed the way we do higher education in the space of a few months. The pandemic should surely change the way we plan the future of HE across the world, in terms of both quality of provision and equality of access.

Education acts as a force for good when the decision-makers are committed to the values of a socially just and progressive future for all. A simple expression of this is to be ‘committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals’ – all 17 of them. They  are remarkably robust and appropriate for the world’s needs in the current crisis.

To name just three:

  • SDG3 is to ‘Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’;
  • SDG11 says ‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’;
  • SDG17 aims to ‘Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development’.

Had we carried these through more assiduously over the last five years HE in the UK would be better equipped (more…)

A more collaborative learning design is transforming Arabic MOOCs

Blog Editor, IOE Digital20 February 2020

Eileen Kennedy and Mustafa Habib.

In February 2019 UCL ran its first Arabic MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) on the Edraak platform, which provides free online learning in Arabic. One year later, we are about to launch the second run of our flagship course for teachers, Transforming Education in Challenging Environments / Educators for Change.

Our aim for this MOOC was to scale up professional development for teachers working in challenging environments, particularly those affected by conflict and mass displacement.

Teachers in such contexts can be highly dedicated professionals, but they are in short supply and may have moved into teaching from other professions. Schoolteachers in the refugee camps in Lebanon, for example, have formerly been engineers, doctors, artists, builders – people from all walks of life.

But even experienced teachers need additional support to create transformative educational environments for often very vulnerable learners. In these circumstances, no-one is better placed to advise than other professionals struggling with – and overcoming – the same challenges. 

(more…)

Never has there been such an urgent need for educational research that tackles our understanding of global forces

Blog Editor, IOE Digital4 July 2018

Douglas Bourn.
The impact of Globalisation on societies, economies and political systems has never been greater than it is today. Brexit, the rise of xenophobia and extreme forms of nationalism in Europe and the Trump phenomenon are in part due to the influence of global forces and people’s sense of powerlessness.
Globalisation has enabled instant access to knowledge for millions of people around the world but has also resulted in the rise of ‘fake news’. Therefore, there has never been a greater need for educational institutions around the world to address these global influences.
The IOE’s Development Education Research Centre has been at the heart of responding to this need, with its research, initiatives and publications.
One of the most important of these has been the International Journal of Development Education and Global Learning which this year celebrates its 10th (more…)

Evaluating social interventions: What works? In whose terms? And how do we know it works?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital13 August 2014

Sandy Oliver
What do farmers attending schools in the African fields have in common with women attending maternity clinics in England? Both groups have played a role in rigorous academic research. They have influenced studies evaluating programmes that were designed to improve their lives.
In the mid-1990s Farmer Field Schools were spreading across Africa. These schools use active, hands-on learning and collaboration to improve agricultural productivity. Their strong participatory ethos makes the field schools very relevant to those involved.
Logic tells us that these schools should make a big difference to the farmers’ yields and to their lives. However, a strong theoretical base, enthusiasm and participatory principles don’t guarantee success. A research study seeking to collect, analyse and synthesise a wide range of evaluations of field schools found their success is largely limited to pilot projects. Furthermore, success is less likely with poorer farmers and women farmers.
It would be helpful to know how Farmer Field Schools compared with other approaches to improving agriculture – but the authors found a dearth of such rigorous impact evaluations. They see a need for studies that track potential changes through the whole course of the project — from the preparatory work of training facilitators and identifying potential participating farmers through to the ideas they discuss, try out and share with their neighbours.
They particularly recommend rigorous evaluations assessing impact in broad terms – not just agricultural productivity, but also empowerment, health and the environment.
Carrying out such evaluations is highly skilled work. In fact, knowing how to commission research that will yield really practical information – that will answer the questions and concerns of the people whose lives it is seeking to benefit – is not straightforward either.
Such issues will be part of a short course in Evaluation for Development Programmes offered by the London International Development Centre (LIDC) later this year, on which I will be teaching.
The course will offer opportunities for participants and tutors to all learn from each other, and is designed for:

  • development professionals who commission and use evaluation studies
  • academics who plan to work in multi-disciplinary teams on future evaluation studies of development programmes and
  • postgraduate students who wish to gain a better understanding of the terminology and fundamentals of evaluation methods.

Our vision for the new course is that it will help to achieve effective and appropriate support for better health and wellbeing through training professionals who design social interventions. It will help them to understand, commission, use and interpret evaluation studies, and work with potential beneficiaries such as farmers in Africa or pregnant women in the UK.
Research on anti-smoking support for pregnant women in the UK offers a contrasting example of why rigorous academic evaluation of the impact of social interventions is not enough.
In many high income countries in the 1990s, pregnant women were commonly advised to avoid or give up smoking for the health of their baby. The success of this strategy was assessed by rigorous randomised controlled trials, which reported reduced proportions of women smoking and fewer babies born too soon, too small or sick.
However, these trials took little notice of other criteria considered important by health promotion specialists and pregnant women themselves. What, they wondered, were the effects of encouraging women to give up smoking, if smoking helped them cope with the daily pressures of disadvantaged lives? Might asking midwives to counsel women against smoking interfere with supportive midwife-mother relationships?
Concerned practitioners and women who smoked (some who gave up, and some who did not) discussed their theories about the impact of smoking cessation programmes in pregnancy. At that time these theories had not been tested. Drawing attention to this gap in our collective knowledge encouraged a new generation of randomised controlled trials that took into account the social and emotional consequences, not just biomedical measures, of smoking cessation programmes. Subsequent studies showed that concerns about potential harm, such as stressed mothers and damaged family relationships, were largely unfounded. Now national and international guidelines are based on rigorous evaluations designed with women, not just for them.
These two very different examples raise questions in common about theories of change, research methodology, criteria for success, equity and ethics. They also feature not just individual studies, but whole literatures of similar studies which strengthen the evidence underpinning current recommendations. These key characteristics for evaluating complex social interventions require research approaches that cut across traditional academic disciplines, and draw heavily on the policy, practice and personal knowledge of those directly involved.