The CAL Project

Interactive Learning in El Salvador

Project summary

Education is an effective instrument for combating poverty. It enables people to take their own future and that of their communities into their own hands and thereby creates the basis for a sustainable development process. While access to education has improved impressively in almost all countries in recent years, the quality of education in the Global South often remains alarmingly low according to World Development Report 2018. El Salvador is also struggling with a very poor education system. Teachers often lack adequate knowledge of the subject matter and solid didactic skills and they are overwhelmed with the large and heterogeneous classes, with students at several different learning stages in any given class. As a result, many young people can hardly read, write or do maths once they have finished primary school.

Our new project CAL-IMPACT (Computer-Assisted Learning) shows that young teachers in El Salvador – with suitable resources and adequate preparation and support – are quite capable of inspiring children to learn. The project focuses on the mathematical skills of third to sixth grade children and combines the use of computer software with games, group work and workshop lessons.

Thanks to the SDC’s Impact Evaluation Award 2017, CAL-IMPACT was carefully and scientifically evaluated in collaboration with the University of Bern. The results show that the project had a substantial and significant impact on children’s math skills.

Successful project start in April 2018

After collecting and shipping over 700 computers and carefully instructing 40 teachers, the project started on April 16 throughout the department of Morazán. During the year, 2,400 children in almost 30 different primary schools in rural north-eastern El Salvador participated in additional mathematics lessons that are based on innovative pedagogical methods. With the help of the “Khan Academy” software, students can watch learning videos and solve exercises at their individual level for two afternoons per week. The time at the computer is supplemented by group work and games, so that the social aspect of learning is not neglected.

The first impressions at the start of the project are touching: both the Ministry of Education, the children and their parents are enthusiastic about the project. One of the CONSCIENTE teachers sums up his experiences in the CAL project as follows: “In the last few days I have understood something essential: that learning does not have to be boring”.

Scaling and continuation until 2022

Based on the positive evaluation results, the project is to be continued at least until 2022. In 2019, it was supplemented by a further central component: subject-based teacher training.

  • Additional lessons for 120 school classes

    2400 students attend additional mathematics lesson twice a week. There, they can systematically work through their individual learning gaps.

  • Interactive learning on the computer

    With the help of the “Khan Academy” platform, children can learn at their own pace.

  • Playful methods

    Maths and concentration games promote motivation and joint learning.

  • Scientific evaluation

    The project was scientifically evaluated in collaboration with the University of Bern during the pilot phase in 2018. Thanks to the positive results, it is to be continued and scaled at least until 2022.









Dany Efraín (24), Consciente teacher in the CAL project:

«I was placed in a third grade; most children are eight or nine years old. When I first saw them in the classroom with their teacher, I must admit, they intimidated me a little: they looked extremely hyperactive! When I came into the classroom, I realized I was right – they were actually very lively. First I had to calm them down because they kept asking me when they could finally use the computers. They were eager to learn with the computers and anxiously begged me not to take them out of the project. When we then introduced ourselves, it was love at first sight – as the romantics used to say. I fell in love with the laughter of these children, for it had a peaceful melody that even the great Beethoven could not have composed. Their appearance was tender and sincere – they were all very excited. In truth, I believe that we will not only teach mathematics, but also change lives. [….] I am very happy to be part of a team as committed as that of Consciente’s CAL project. Much more important than promoting mathematical knowledge and improving grades and statistics – we adults sometimes let ourselves be blinded by numbers and stop paying attention to what is really important – much more important is that we will change lives; lives that need a light of hope and words of encouragement, motivation and longing to overcome barriers. Let us inspire children to be the next transformers of our social reality!»

Read more in Spanish…

The evaluation study

Evidence-based project work

Why evaluate?

Consciente’s work is based on the “innovate, test, then scale” approach. This means that our projects must first pass a trial phase in which they are carefully evaluated using scientific methods. Only if a project proves to be effective will it be continued and expanded. In this way we want to ensure that our work is not only well-intentioned, but actually achieves the desired results. This also applies to our CAL project. A randomized controlled trial was conducted to measure the impact of the project on students’ mathematical skills. In addition, we wanted to find out which program variant works best.

How did we proceed?

Initially, 200 school classes were randomly divided into four groups: Group 1 (40 classes) received computer-based mathematics lessons with a teacher, group 2 (40 classes) participated in additional CAL lessons with a technical supervisor (without pedagogical training), group 3 (40 classes) received mathematics lessons without computers and group 4 (80 classes) did not yet participate in the project thereby serving as a control group. In all groups, a math test was carried out before and after the project. The impact (“causal effect”) of the project can be estimated by comparing achievements in control and treatment groups.

Who evaluated?

With this evaluation design, CONSCIENTE has won the SDC and the ETH Center for Development and Cooperation (NADEL) Impact Evaluation Award 2017, endowed with 50,000 CHF. The evaluation was carried out in partnership with the Center for Regional Economic Development and the Institute of Sociology at the University of Bern. After completion of the study, a scientific article and a policy brief will be published. The results of the study provide the basis for our current and future project work.

What are the results?

Statistical analyses show that the project lead to significantand substantial improvements of children’s math skills. In particular, the computer-based lessons (groups 1 & 2) proved to be more effective than traditional lessons without software (group 3). Detailled results can be found in the evaluation report by the University of Bern.

The study in detail

Aymo Brunetti, Professor of Economics at the University of Bern:

«Our team from the Institute of Economics at the University of Bern is happy to be involved in such a promising evaluation project. Not only can we use modern scientific methods to measure whether software-based teaching (CAL) is useful, but we can also compare different implementation variants. This creates a reliable basis for meaningful policy advice. If, for example, the CAL approach is to be used more widely in El Salvador in the future, our evaluation can help to identify the variant with the best cost-benefit ratio. That such a promising evaluation can be realized is first and foremost due to the enthusiasm of the entire Consciente team. What impresses me above all is the real will and dedicated effort of this young NGO to understand and scientifically explore whether an intervention really works and, if so, which variant is the best.»

Project and evaluation partners