Caroline Dusabe, Senior Education Advisor, Save the Children
Challenges Posed by COVID-19
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Rwanda, it did not just disrupt learning and cause learning loss. It also led to losses in previous gains on building high quality learning environments in pre-primary classrooms. After more than nine months of school closures, the Government of Rwanda faced concerns about teacher retention, loss of learning materials such as books and toys, and weakened classroom infrastructure. This led to a renewed interest among the education sector actors to put data at the center of decision making about school re-opening and post-closure learning efforts.
Adding a Classroom Environment Measure to Rwanda’s First Ever National School Readiness Assessment
In the wake of COVID-19 school closures, the Together for Early Childhood Evidence Task force in Rwanda recognized the need to have nationally representative data on the quality of pre-primary and primary classroom environments. Numerous studies have shown the positive correlation between quality classrooms and learning outcomes. For example, a 2015 Save the Children study found that children who attended classrooms with the highest quality standards also had the largest learning gains.
This year, Save the Children Rwanda is undertaking the country’s first ever nationally representative school readiness assessment, using Save the Children International’s International Development and Early Learning Assessment (IDELA). Through IDELA, Save Rwanda will collect data on children’s learning and development outcomes as well as data on home learning environments, parent/caregiver knowledge, and teacher attitudes and practices for supporting children’s learning at home. Funding from USAID-supported Together for Early Childhood Evidence has made possible the addition of a classroom environment tool (IDELA CE) and has also provided capacity building for government officials to administer the tool, and collect, analyze, and use the resulting data. The proposal for this work was shared widely across Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) stakeholders in Rwanda, and it was agreed that adding a capacity building component would help ensure that efforts are sustained and that data for decision making remains a central focus.
Building Capacity in Data for Decision Making through the IDELA Classroom Environment Tool
To prepare government officials to administer the IDELA CE tool, Save Rwanda trained 57 district education officers and ECCD focal points from all 30 districts of Rwanda. The training focused on developing their capacity to collect and use the data from this study, and to train other staff in their home districts on continued use of the tool for regular monitoring and supportive supervision.
The IDELA CE measures the quality of classroom environments across three core domains: general resources, literacy and numeracy instruction, and teacher-student interactions. The tool also collects background data on teacher qualifications, continuous professional development opportunities, and other enabling factors outside of the immediate classroom environment.
. Government of Rwanda staff taking part in capacity building training. Photo credit: Save the Children.
In addition to learning how to use the tool, government officials were trained to interpret real time data from classroom observations and to utilize the data for advocacy and decision making at different levels. They were also trained on how to promote learning and development using child-centered play-based pedagogy, which included practicing different games and activities used in early childhood education (ECE) classrooms, setting up and effectively using learning stations, and improving their teacher-coaching and supportive supervision skills. They also contributed to reviewing and further adapting the IDELA CE tool, adding scoring guidance to make rating easier.
A hallmark of the training was a practical pilot of the tool in real classrooms, which many officials said was an eye opener that challenged them to re-think how they support children’s learning. One training participant said, “I have pre-primary inspection, supportive supervision, and coaching in my mandate, but I did not have the tools or the skills to carry it out effectively! This training has really helped me!”
After visiting classrooms in his home district, a district education officer said, “I did not know the extent of need in my district. Our classrooms lack a lot in terms of quality of the environment, but I now have the data I can use for advocacy on increased funding. We will now go to budgeting and planning meetings with credible information on what is needed on the ground.”
Another highlight of the training for participants was the ability to use digital data collection tools that simplify reporting and allow the rapid use of data. The live IDELA dashboard aggregates data in real time and allows officials to view incoming data at the school, sector, and district levels. The trained officials have committed to working with their government colleagues and partner agencies to further promote the collection and use of data to inform decisions on education programs.
Sample Live IDELA Dashboard. Photo credit: Save the Children.
Looking Ahead: Reporting and Reflections to Inform Future Work
Following the deployment of the IDELA CE tool in pre-primary classrooms across Rwanda, Save Rwanda will host a reflection meeting with the 57 government officials to develop recommendations on the key interventions needed to ensure that children are learning in high quality and responsive environments. The learnings and recommendations from the IDELA CE study and the reflection meeting will be added to the report from the wider IDELA study, giving a comprehensive picture of the pre-primary sector in Rwanda, and the efforts to promote successful transitions for children from pre-primary to primary school amidst the pandemic. This work will contribute to Rwanda’s education sector response to COVID-19, helping safeguard children from further learning loss and stimulate learning recovery.
Anna Pettee, Kate Anderson, and Rebecca Sayre provided editorial support for this blog. This blog has been cross-posted from the Together for Early Childhood Evidence website.
First Image: Children in a Playful Classroom in Rwanda. Photo credit: Save the Children.