“Using BEQI in Guinea Bissau has been like throwing a little stone in the lake and seeing the ripples make their way through the entire ECE system. This first step of using the BEQI has had a huge impact on the way we use data and a transformation of the way we view ECE in Guinea Bissau.”
– Carla Jauad (ECD Officer, UNICEF Guinea Bissau)
The need for BEQI in Guinea Bissau
While Guinea Bissau has made important progress advancing the early learning agenda and access to preschool, there are little data on the quality of preschool services in the country and there is no formal measurement or monitoring system for early childhood education quality in place.
In 2023, thanks to the generous financial support from the Spanish National Committee for UNICEF, UNICEF Guinea Bissau partnered with ECD Measure to use the Brief Early Childhood Quality (BEQI) tool to look at the quality of early childhood education (ECE) teaching practices and learning environments in Guinea Bissau. UNICEF Guinea Bissau is supporting the Ministry of Education to design and implement a new preschool curriculum and strengthen the institutional capacity to ensure quality school-based classroom assessment practices. Because of its ease in training and use and the ability to adapt the tool to the local context and needs, the Ministry of Education and UNICEF are using the BEQI to complement and support this work. The BEQI Classroom Observation tool captures information on classroom practices and environment and the BEQI Teacher Survey captures key information on teacher experience, background, and other demographic information.
Building ownership of the BEQI
ECD Measure worked closely with a local team made up of members from RENAJI (the Guinea-Bissau ECE network) and staff from the Ministry of Education (preschool, inspection, data and evaluation, curriculum development, professional development) to build ownership and local understanding of the BEQI tools and process. The team went through an initial alignment of the BEQI tools with the Guinea Bissau Early Learning and Development Standards (ELDS) and the Guide for Minimum Preschool Criteria (Guia de Critérios Mínimos). Following this alignment exercise, an in-country adaptation workshop was held to adapt the BEQI tools to ensure alignment with national/ programmatic goals and cultural expectations for early learning environments.
In March 2023, following a 4-day reliability training, the local team of Ministry officials and RENAJI members collected BEQI data in a pilot sample of 20 classrooms in three regions in a mix of pubic, private, and community schools. Many of the team members reported that their participation in the BEQI reliability training already had transformed the way they viewed classrooms, teacher practices and behaviors. They were able to look at and take note of specific play-based learning strategies, or to listen to the types of conversations and dialogue the teacher was using with students.
What the BEQI shows in Guinea Bissau
While the sample size was small and cannot be interpreted to draw general conclusions on Guinea Bissau pre-primary classrooms, there are some trends from the pilot exercise that have already generated discussion within the pre-primary sector in Guinea Bissau. For example, in most of the classrooms observed, children spent most of their time in teacher-led activities and did not have any type of free choice or open play time, which are key elements of play-based learning- a core component of the newly developed preschool curriculum. Furthermore, children went outside to play in only half of the classroom observed. Only a minority of classrooms provided adequate access and use of books: 55% of the classrooms did not have any books at all; only one classroom reported children reading or looking at books on their own; and only one classroom reported the teacher reading a story book to the children. While these outcomes may not necessarily be surprising, it is the first time Guinea Bissau has actual data to support and concretely show what is happening (or not happening) in pre-primary classrooms.
BEQI provides consistency in a context of inconsistencies
Guinea Bissau is one of the most coup-prone and politically unstable countries in the world. Since independence, four successful coups have been recorded, with another 17 coups attempted, plotted, or alleged. In a context with extremely high turnover in government officials and leadership, BEQI data provides some form of consistency as to what is influencing and driving early childhood education policy in the country. The BEQI pilot report and results were disseminated with the national BEQI team, the General Directorate of Basic Education and the preschool service directorate. The team is now planning to present BEQI findings and recommendations to the National General Directors and to showcase how the ECE subsector can accelerate results by using data and systems to inform planning.
Having reliable BEQI data has empowered ECE within the national education system. Bringing in an evidence-based global tool to collect data has helped decisionmakers in Guinea Bissau view ECE as a legitimate part of the education system. Through using the BEQI, the government (no matter who is in a position of leadership) now has concrete information to be able to make data-driven decisions; teacher training schools are revising their program and curriculum based on the data collected through the BEQI; and internal capacity is being built throughout the country to understand the importance of collecting and using data to make quality improvements. The government has now expressed interest in scaling up BEQI and incorporating the tool into its quality assurance system to build a strong data-driven quality ECE system. The BEQI continues to cause ripples and promote change through the entire system.
By Jem Heinzel-Nelson Alvarenga Lima (ECD Measure) and Carla Jauad (UNICEF Guinea Bissau)