UKFIET interview: Assessing teaching and learning for sustainable development

http://www.ukfiet.org/conference/

UKFIET, the Education and Development Forum, provides a pro-active forum for research centres, non-governmental organisations, consultancy groups and professional associations to share ideas, knowledge and expertise on global education.

Young Lives has always been an active participant in the forum. This year's conference is to be held from 5-7 September and the theme is Learning and Teaching for Sustainable Development: Curriculum, Cognition and Context. I'm excited to be co- convenor for the sub-theme on assessing teaching and learning for sustainable development, a role which UKFIET interviewed me about last week.

What excites you about this sub-theme?

Following the media storm around the PISA and TIMSS results which came out in late 2016, I’m particularly excited to see submissions for this theme which look at the opportunities and challenges of international assessments, and whether they can really provide us with an accurate picture of what is happening across diverse education systems. This is an area which really interests me – at the moment, I’m working on the Young Lives’ School Effectiveness Survey, which is taking place in 2016-17 in Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana) and Vietnam. Assessing student learning outcomes at the beginning and end of the school year is an important part of these surveys, so my colleagues and I have spent a great deal of time thinking about how to develop rigorous assessments which can be meaningfully used across these three diverse contexts, yet still offer local precision. I’m hoping to hear more about how others have approached this challenge in some of the submissions. 

I’m also personally excited to see submissions relating to the assessment of what are often referred to as ‘21st Century Skills’ – things like problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication. In a world which is changing really quickly, it is the transferability of these skills which makes them vital for the children who are growing up now. In particular, it would be great to find out more about ‘unusual’ ways we can assess these, without relying on written tests which require a certain level of literacy, numeracy and familiarity with test-taking. I recently heard about an NGO using a scavenger hunt as a means to assess ‘life skills’ – that seems like such an interesting and unique approach to assessment.

How does this link to the overall 2017 conference theme?

With the launch of the SDGs, measuring student learning is now a really important part of educational monitoring – this matches the shift in policy focus from universal access to learning which is so important in terms of sustainability. Knowing more about how much children and adults are learning, and what is taking place in the classroom, is key for sustainable development. But it’s important to understand more about the quality of the assessments, the sampling decisions, the local appropriateness, and so on, before the results can be used to inform policy decisions.

What kinds of papers/ events would you like to see submitted under your theme?

In many ways, although this sub-theme has a fairly narrow focus on the assessment of teaching and learning, it covers a lot of different issues. Perhaps this is because there are so many questions about assessing learning: Who are we assessing? What are we assessing? Are we assessing the right things? How is what we’re assessing shaping what is taught? And so on… Assessments are also a really politicised topic: everyone wants to know how they’re doing compared to somebody else.

Within this theme, I’m hoping that we see papers which look at different angles on the debates around assessment. This might mean papers which explore how assessments can be used in a contextually valid way to understand teaching and learning across countries, or papers which consider the different types of assessments which can be used to assess different skills or competencies. I hope it also includes some papers which reflect on some of the challenges and unintended consequences of the current focus on assessment within educational monitoring. I think it would also be really interesting to see papers which look at policy perspectives – for example, how are assessments shaped by current policy interests? How is data from local, regional or international assessments translated into policy decisions? And how is the growth of citizen-led assessments like ASER interpreted within the policy domain?

This interview first appeared on UKFIET's website on 26 January 2017.