1200 hours wasted
It is no wonder that the lessons in the CAL project are an incomparable and exciting experience for the children. In El Salvador, lessons are usually limited to children copying abstract formulas from the blackboard into their notebook and then memorizing everything to reproduce it in exams. Thus learning has hardly anything to do with understanding, thinking, discovering – and certainly nothing with the world in which the children live. And without seeing the point of the exercise, only little is actually remembered. The results of a mathematics test we carried out on 600 primary school students in Morazán show this with frightening clarity. For example, the sixth-graders could only answer one third of the questions that, according to the curriculum, belong to the subject matter of grades one to three. The situation is even worse with the contents of the higher grades. For an estimated 1200 hours of mathematics that sixth-graders should have attended in their life, this is a sad result. And such deficits can hardly be made up for in later educational careers.
Even more worrying are the results of our unprepared mathematics test with prospective teachers: Only 40 percent could add fractions correctly, merely 25 percent could convert seconds into hours and even fewer were able to calculate the area of a triangle. Of course, those who have not understood the material themselves cannot pass it on. And those who have never experienced an exciting lesson themselves can hardly figure out how to make school lessons engaging and interactive. That is how bad education replicates itself.
A project idea is born
Our CAL project is looking for a way out of this vicious cycle. We want to show that with suitable aids, good preparation and support, young people in El Salvador can inspire children to learn. The mathematics platform “Khan Academy” offers an excellent basis for this. It contains learning units with videos and interactive exercises – on a wide rage of topics and levels of difficulty – that enable children and teachers to learn independently and at their own pace. In this way, each child can work through its individual gaps and teachers have more time to coach individual students.
Lest children feel isolated in front of the computer, the teaching concept includes a second component: With the help of mathematics and concentration games, motivation and joint learning can be promoted with simple methods. Last but not least, the project follows a strictly evidence-based approach: Through a scientific study we want to find out whether our approach works and how best to implement it.
With this vision, we started the project step by step in September 2017. Over the past year, we have been delighted to welcome more and more people on board – from Swiss university professors to the SDC, the Ministry of Education in Morazán and a dedicated group of Salvadorian teachers, IT managers, coordinators and educators. Together we have launched this ambitious project that will affect the lives of countless people in El Salvador and at the same time serve as a scientific basis for our future work and that of other institutions throughout Latin America.