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.
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.
Maths and concentration games promote motivation and joint learning.
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.
The evaluation study
Evidence-based project work
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.
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.