Worlds of Education

"Can we assess if school and classroom practices align with national educational goals?", by Kate Anderson, Helyn Kim, Seamus Hegarty and Martin Henry.

published 6 April 2018 updated 25 March 2019
written by:

Now more than ever, countries are orienting their policies toward equipping children and youth with a broad range of skills to succeed in the 21st century [1]. Given this widespread endorsement at the policy level, why don’t we see it happening in more schools? Could it be that schools lack a means of examining how to assess and teach these skills?

An important step in this process is examining whether school and classroom practices align with the national educational goals, so that different levels of the education system are working together to provide quality learning opportunities to develop breadth of skills in students. The focus tends to be on assessments of learning outcomes, but if no opportunities are available to learn the skills, how can we expect students to perform adequately? What if, in addition to evaluating an education system on the learning outcomes demonstrated by students, we also looked at the opportunities students have to learn a broad range of skills?

The BOLO (Breadth of Learning Opportunities) initiative was designed to fill this information gap. Convened by the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at Brookings and Education International, the BOLO initiative seeks to develop an alternative and complementary approach to existing evaluation of education quality by providing tools to measure the breadth of learning opportunities to which children and youth are exposed in an education system at the national, school, and classroom levels. The tools can be used to document 1) whether opportunities are provided for learning across a diverse group of domains, and 2) how key components of an education system (curriculum, assessments, teacher supports, monitoring, and school resources) align across the different levels of the system to support delivery of breadth of learning opportunities. The initiative has its origins in the Learning Metrics Task Force, which sought to offer recommendations for measuring learning globally that would not result in narrowing of curriculum and instruction.

The BOLO toolkit was developed by a consortium of researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. CUE and EI convened an international working group to develop the framework and early drafts of the tools, and then worked with governments and partner organizations in nine countries to pilot the tools.

How the tools work

Teachers get to say how they are engaging with the curriculum across all seven learning domains.  In Kenya secondary teachers were amazed at how they were expected to teach ICT skills without the infrastructure to do so, but were also pleasantly surprised by how much they covered in terms of social and emotional skills through an infrastructure that included school councilors and rich cultural whole school programme.  The Kenyan report on surveying secondary schools is available here.

In Zambia where the initial pilot surveyed primary school teachers, they too were amazed by issues of access to ICT, but were encouraged about being asked questions around curriculum design and delivery.  Their ability to define the seven learning domains in the terms of their own country meant that adaption to the local context was both possible and practical. The full Zambian report is available here.

Both these teacher level tools influenced the final teacher tool which can be used in conjunction with the school level tool and the policy level tool to measure breadth of learning across the system.  This highlights where government says something is being taught when the reality is that it is impossible to do this, such as is the case with ICT in both Kenya and Zambia.

This toolkit represents a first step in measuring the breadth of learning opportunities an education system offers, but more piloting and research needs to be done before using these tools for making decisions about education reform. We hope that as governments approach education reform, they can use this toolkit as data points that inform policy.


[1] See https://www.brookings.edu/research/visualizing-the-breadth-of-skills-movement-across-education-systems/

Note: This blog is a summary of the new report and toolkit "Breadth of learning opportunities: A fresh approach to evaluating education systems," which is available here.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.