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Title: Facing the hidden drop-out challenge in Albania : evaluation report of hidden drop-out project
Authors: Sultana, Ronald G.
Keywords: Dropouts -- Albania
School attendance -- Albania
Education -- Albania
Issue Date: 2006
Publisher: United Nations Children's Fund
Citation: Sultana, R. G. (2006). Facing the hidden drop-out challenge in Albania : evaluation report of hidden drop-out project. United Nations Children's Fund: Tirana.
Abstract: This report presents an account and evaluation of the Hidden Drop-Out project being implemented in Albania by the ‘Development of Education’ Association with the support of UNICEF and the backing of the Ministry of Education and Science. The initiative, which was launched in 2001 and piloted in five regions, set out to address the widespread but largely hidden phenomenon, whereby teachers engage in whole-class teaching, and consequently focusing solely on achieving students and ignoring the rest of the class. Such practices lead to a process of disengagement on the part of thousands of pupils in the first cycle at the basic school level, a process that leads to lack of achievement in learning core competencies, and eventually to the abandonment of the school. The report describes the initiative, its design and piloting, the difficulties encountered in implementing it and how such problems were tackled or overcome, particularly with a view to ensuring its sustainability. The report also considers the extent to which the initiative proved to be relevant, effective and efficient, given the specificity of the overall sociocultural and educational environment in which it was introduced, and the broader reform effort in the country. The research methodology used in this review was largely qualitative, with the international consultant spending a two-week period in Tirana, Korçë and Gjirokastër interviewing students, parents, teachers, Principals, deputy Principals, inspectors and Regional Education Directors, and observing classes which were being taught by teachers involved in the project, in schools that were piloting the approach. Interviews were also carried out with key staff from the DoE Association, UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and Science, and several NGO’s working in the field of education. Fieldwork was supplemented by desk research, as well as by preliminary data provided by a local consultant on the review team. The report describes the key strategies used by the project in order to address the hidden dropout phenomenon. Focusing on the first cycle of the basic school sector, i.e. Grades 1 to 4, and on two key curricular areas, i.e. Albanian language and Math, the initiative: 1. Trained teachers to design ‘Minimum Necessary Learning Objectives’ (MNLO’s) relating to the learning units for the Grade that they taught. 2. Helped teachers and Principals develop continuous assessment techniques, through the use of ‘mini-testing’, in order to constantly gauge the extent to which different pupils were mastering the MNLO’s, and to keep track of progress or lack of it. 3. Provided teachers with support in the goal of supporting at-risk pupils by initiating peerlearning programmes, and by engaging adult volunteers from the community. 4. Trained Principals in a new approach to annual school planning, ensuring that the process was more open to partnership with teachers and the community, and more focused on learning achievement and learning outcomes. The findings suggest that after four years of piloting, the project has had a positive impact on the pupils, schools and communities were it was implemented. It has also had a broader ‘multiplier effect’ on several other aspects of educational policy and practice in the country. The achievements and impact of the HDO initiative are detailed in Chapter Four of the report: 1. All qualitative and quantitative evidence suggests that there were significant gains in learning achievement for pupils involved in the MNLO approach, and that consequently there were less ‘hidden drop-outs’ in the pilot schools. 2. The focus on learning outcomes led to a valuing of accountability and transparency, with schools and teachers being more open about the learning objectives that had to be reached, and more willing to facing up to their responsibilities when such objectives had not been attained. 3. Teachers became much more aware of the variegated needs of different learners in their classrooms, and organised their teaching, assessment and homework-setting practices in ways that took account of such difference. 4. Teacher evaluation practices on the part of Principals and inspectors became more supportive and formative in scope, leading teachers to becoming less insular and defensive, and more open to considering alternative ways that could enhance effectiveness. 5. Teachers also found it easier to work together in the planning of MNLO’s for their classes, and were prepared to move away from their classroom isolation in order to be pro-active members of a community of reflective practitioners. 6. Teachers and schools developed a heightened awareness of the fact that improved learning achievement for all required the support of other partners, including members of the student body (through peer learning programmes), and members of the wider community. Despite such achievements, the evaluation report also highlights challenges that the project has to face up to in order to reach its goals more effectively. Two types of challenges are considered, those that are internal to the initiative itself, and those that related to the environment and context in which the initiative is embedded. Endogenous challenges include: 1. The difficulties that teachers are finding to cater for the learning needs that are present in a heterogeneous classroom setting. Included in this challenge is the difficulty that teachers tend to face in designing MNLO’s and minitests that, while respecting the principle that there are minimum competences that all students must master, nevertheless are articulated in such a way as to take into account of the different abilities in the classroom. 2. The propensity for competency approaches to present knowledge in fragmented ways rather than holistically, leading students to see lessons as a series of isolated, discrete sequences rather than as a part of a network of connected knowledge structured around powerful ideas. 3. The need to develop a more integrated, whole-school approach to educational change, given that piloting in only the first four Grades and in only two curricular areas creates discontinuities of practice that are confusing for teachers and pupils alike. 4. The unintended consequences of the public display of the results of learning outcomes per Grade, and the comparison of these results within and across schools. Such practices tend to perpetrate the belief that achievement is unrelated to school intake, and that schools and teachers, on their own, can completely address injustices that have their origins elsewhere, i.e. in the way resources, power and life-chances are allocated and distributed in Albanian society. 5. The persistence of whole-class, traditional teaching styles among teachers who are involved with the HDO project, to the extent that few seem to be implementing childcentred, joyful forms of learning that are normally associated with primary schooling. 6. The negative impact that the term ‘hidden drop-out’ can have on pupils thus labelled, given that it reinforces a perception of oneself as a weak student, thus proving damaging to the process of the construction of their selfidentity. Other challenges—that are not the responsibility of those leading the initiative, but which nevertheless need to be addressed if the project is to be successful and replicated on a nationwide basis—include the following: 1. A more unequivocal and enthusiastic support of the project and MNLO approach on the part of the MoES, given that both the DoE Association and its partner UNICEF have completed the phases for which they had responsibility for. While UNICEF will certainly support the MoES in attaining EFA and quality education—through, for instance, promoting whole-school, holistic interventions that build on the experience gained in implementing the HDO project—it now behoves the Ministry to mobilise its resources to take the pilot project to scale. 2. A greater connectivity between the different educational reforms, so that each initiative complements and sustains the other. This is, in large part, the responsibility of the Ministry, given that they have the overall responsibility for the system, and the duty to ensure that the different parts of the mosaic come together in meaningful ways. This is especially important in the case of the HDO project, where the assumption is that teachers are being trained in interactive, learner-centred pedagogies through their involvement in other projects. 3. A more principled appointment of leading staff in directorates and schools, given that political appointees take the place of persons who have received training to implement the HDO project strategies, and that their unwarranted replacement jeopardises the stability and continuity of the initiative, leading to demotivation and disengagement on the part of many. 4. A more clear articulation of the roles and obligations that are proper to the teaching profession, in such a way that inhibits the present practice of expecting extra remuneration for work which, in most countries, would be considered part and parcel of teachers’ regular duties. Such expectations can seriously threaten the sustainability of the project, which has hitherto proven itself as low cost, high impact initiative. Recommendations for the future and for the way forward flow naturally from a consideration of the above-mentioned endogenous and exogenous factors. The report concludes that the HDO project is now at a critical stage, when a firm decision has to be made about going beyond the piloting phase to one that is more national in scope. Despite the challenges that the project has to overcome, there is little doubt that the initiative has grown strong roots in educational communities in the country, and that it has developed the breadth of vision, the effective tools, and the legitimacy and credibility that any project aspiring to go to scale must have. As importantly, the HDO initiative has shown that it is sufficiently well-conceived as to promote ‘multiplier effects’—in other words, it has the ability to vehicle with it the paradigm shift that is much talked about in Albania, and to help bring about a radical change in outlook that will have an impact on the way educational communities go about their work. UNICEF has gained much experience in supporting the piloting of the initiative, and has much to offer in ensuring that this knowledge is applied in deepening the impact of the project in the pilot schools, and taking it to other regions across the country, and beyond. No project, however, can go to scale without the State’s backing and the State’s resources. It is the State that, with the strategic help of its international partners, has the capacity to sustain a fledgling initiative that has proven itself, but which now requires major investment so that training programmes can be implemented, and practices that have been piloted in a few schools replicated across all the regions—particularly the poorer and more remote ones. This is particularly important given the fact that Albania is one of 25 countries selected in the framework of the EFA-Fast Track initiative. Vigorous State support in improving, deepening and extending the principles underlying the HDO initiative would certainly assist the government face the major challenges of MDG 2 and EFA-FTI implementation, which are crucial and critical issues for Albanian education in the next decade.
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