Development that Works
  • About

    This blog highlights effective ideas in the fight against poverty and exclusion, and analyzes the impact of development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Notes from the field: help me improve



    In my previous blog, I shared some thoughts on the challenges of evaluating and measuring teaching methods innovations. More specifically, on the challenges of measuring the impact of an intensive instruction program using the Rassias teaching method on English as a second language teaching.

    The program is targeted at teachers with an intermediate to low level of English. In order to find these teachers, we randomly selected telesecundaria teachers which showed interest on participating and interviewed them.

    To our surprise, these initial phone interviews showed that only 12.7% (6 out of 47) of teachers interviewed were able to structure one basic sentence in English without errors.

    From an evaluation perspective two things came into my mind. First, we probably need an English program for teachers with a beginner’s level of English. Second, how would my partners in the government react to the news?

    Since education is a sensitive issue, I thought that my partners on the government side would feel that I was criticizing them. I did not intend this as they have been extremely helpful and optimistic about the evaluation.

    Would they ask me not to make public this information?

    Would the government, by opening up to a diagnostic study, be criticized because of the results that very likely emerged from the work of previous administrations?

    This troubled me as I have seen most of them work after hours, and pay from their own pockets some expenses just to make this evaluation happen.

    I sent them a private message stating the findings, reminding them that we are trying to help. To my surprise, they reacted very well. They recognized that there is a problem and are happy and eager to have information that can be used to help teachers.

    Moreover, they encouraged me to continue exploring the teacher´s English levels. They recognized they may be criticized and rather than showing a concern for the political criticism such findings would create, they thought about the teachers, first.

    How will they feel about this? Will they feel we are criticizing their work? Will they think we are blaming them? Will they feel we are making them look weaker in front of their students?

    I visited 3 schools and in all 3 of them teachers are working hard and even paying out of pocket for courses trying to improve. They recognized they need improvement and asked for tools. I do not know how most teachers will react to the news, but the ones I met were very interested on assessment and improvement.

    This is a huge step towards improving the quality of education in the State. The current leaders should be recognized for taking this risk in order to pursue improvements in education.

    The teachers should be recognized and supported for all the hard work in spite of their limitations.

    I believe that even though evaluation may be painful for our egos or political positions, it creates valuable knowledge that allows us to detect how we are doing, how everyone else is doing and some hints on which tools are needed to improve.

    I went to Santiago de Chile last week to participate in a workshop on impact evaluation. The conference had over 100 people attending, mostly working for governments, trying to learn more about how to evaluate social programs.

    A couple of people working on education in Mexico approached me after I finished delivering two lectures on methodologies on how to estimate the impact of a social program. They told me they were trying to help and were eager to learn more and receive support to generate information and evaluate.

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