Improving the quality of education is a challenging task. Even though achieving this goal is a priority on the agenda of every country in Latin America, we do not know too much on how to get there.
Rigorous evidence is scarce, and results are mixed on what works. And when effects are found, they are usually small and contingent on a number of conditions dictated by the context.
In order to learn on what works, we are working with Worldfund to evaluate the Inter American Partnership for Education (IAPE) Program, which was started in 2007. As part of the program, teachers receive 80 hours of intensive instruction in English and 20 hours of instruction on how to teach using the Rassias® method.
This method was developed for training Peace Corps volunteers in the early 1960s and it encourages students to learn by speaking the language: “students speak to learn”.
Learning about whether or not IAPE works is relevant for four reasons.
First, the IAPE evaluation would help us determine whether the program succeeds at improving the students’ English level. Both the use of Information and Communication Technologies (TICs) and the ability to communicate in English are seen as tools that every student should learn in order to face a globalized job market.
Second, it will tell us whether improving teachers’ knowledge and pedagogical skills leads to more knowledgeable students. Even though this may be intuitively clear, there is no hard evidence that this is the case.
Most studies looking at the correlation between teacher’s education and student’s outcomes find no effects. There are no randomized control trial studies in Latin America on teacher’s training. Studies looking at effects in developed countries do not find significant effects on the quality of education. A significant amount of resources is invested in teacher training in the region and we would like to learn what the evidence says in complex and challenging contexts.
Third, we would like to better understand how the IAPE program works. We will explore which individual benefit the most.
For example, are teachers that have a strong English grammar those who benefit the most? What about students with initial low oral skills? We will also explore what mechanisms take place in the classroom as a result of the program. Do teachers change the way they teach in the classroom?
Finally we will explore if individuals benefit in other areas. For example, teachers with an improved English level may benefit by gaining access to jobs that require certain proficiency levels. Teachers may engage in secondary jobs such as translations and private teaching.
We also want to rule out the possibility that trained teachers move to private schools or entirely to a different job. In this case, IAPE may succeed at improving the welfare of teachers but not at improving the skills of students. Students may be more likely to use information and communication technologies or access information in English.
Learning more about what works to improve the skills that students obtain while in school, how to support the labor of teachers and how to better allocate resources is critical. We hope the results will provide us with some hints on how can we better help to improve the quality of education.
An for those that made it to the end. Here is John Rassias on language and learning: