Knowledge sharing in action to improve foundational learning in lower-income countries

The Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) Academy gathered over 700 participants from 75 countries over more than one month for learning and sharing of experience and evidence, with one goal in mind: improving practices to ensure more children are acquiring foundational skills, even during crises like the current pandemic.

September 15, 2021 by Radhika Bhula, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, Kenneth Russell, UNICEF, Devyani Pershad, Pratham, and Mariam Aamir, Delivery Associates
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5 minutes read
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Children attending class at the Banagabana school in Niamey, the capital of Niger. Credit: UNICEF/UN0443353/Dejongh
Children attending class at the Banagabana school in Niamey, the capital of Niger. The poor performance of Nigerian students in French and mathematics, as noted by national and international studies (PASEC 2014), UNICEF supported the Ministry of Primary Education to develop a National Plan for the Monitoring of learning outcomes to contribute to improving the quality of teaching / learning through constant monitoring of student achievement at all levels.
UNICEF/UN0443353/Dejongh

While many countries have deployed distance learning strategies during Covid-19-induced school closures, inequitable access to resources and infrastructure means that over 460 million children may not have been reached by such programs.

A lack of access to quality education will have massive implications on children’s learning levels, especially given the fact that over half of children in low- and middle-income countries couldn’t read a basic paragraph with understanding by age 10 even before the pandemic started.

Failing to support the development of foundational literacy and numeracy skills for millions of children who were likely already behind in school pre-pandemic could result in irreversible consequences on an entire generation of learners.

The FLN Academy

As part of its Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) Initiative to support governments with scaling up evidence-based approaches to improve FLN, UNICEF in collaboration with Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Pratham, and Delivery Associates, hosted a multi-module online course, the FLN Academy, from June 24 to August 5, 2021.

Open to practitioners from all UNICEF regional and country offices, government and civil society partners, the FLN Academy aimed to provide timely and actionable guidance to participants. It was structured as a professional development and knowledge sharing journey to help enhance participants’ understanding of the evidence on FLN and strategies and approaches to improve implementation.

FLN Academy’s learning journey
FLN Academy’s learning journey

Over 700 participants from 75 countries attended the Academy. These numbers suggest a high demand for these learning opportunities.

The Academy's content and resources

In addition to sharing the basics of each theme and engaging participants through interactive features, the partners showcased different practical case studies and tools to guide and support action.

Module 1: Foundations of FLN

J-PAL provided a summary of evidence-based approaches to improve FLN, along with resources to support the evidence to action process, and presented a tool that allows users to look at evidence-based interventions to improve FLN.

Module 2: Formative assessments

Pratham provided motivation for the importance of formative assessment for FLN, guidance on designing and using them in different contexts, and shared resources to support the design and delivery of reading assessments.

Module 3: Remedial education

Pratham described how education systems can support children to catch-up on FLN in the post-pandemic period.

Module 4: Language of instruction (LOI)

RTI International outlined effective approaches to planning mother-tongue-based multilingual education. Resources include: LOI for Foundational Literacy and Numeracy: The Basics and Practical Guide to LOI.

Module 5: Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL)

Pratham dove into the details of its evidence-based TaRL approach including examples of programming at scale from India and Africa. Resources include: video on the TaRL approach; Guided tour of TaRL.

Module 6: Implementation of FLN programs

Delivery Associates shared guidance and tools on how countries can plan for and deliver evidence-based FLN approaches at scale. They also gave a sneak peek at the “FLN Hub”, an online platform that will be launched later this year, aimed at supporting a capacity learning journey around FLN.

The content across all 6 modules resonated with participants who indicated that while the challenge to improve learning is considerable, there is a clear opportunity to take action:

“My learning from the FLN Academy will help our efforts for effective policy implementation of early literacy and numeracy as well as the mother tongue based/multilingual education for the K-3 levels."

Forcefina Frias, Senior Education Program Specialist, Department of Education, Philippines

“The FLN Academy brought new experiences from experts who challenged us as well as shared practical strategies that we could implement in our country.”

Nicole Morgan, Manager, Training and Development, The Early Childhood Commission, Jamaica

“The FLN Academy was an eye-opener for me as some issues addressed were new to me when looking at other countries’ perspectives as compared to how we approach them here in Namibia. I shared the materials with other colleagues, who found them very useful for their day-to-day planning and activities.”

Robert M. Munganda, Chief Education Officer: Broad Curriculum and Curriculum Management, Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture, Namibia
Children at the playground of their school, in Kisangani, in the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Credit: UNICEF/UN0512358/Dejongh
Children at the playground of their school, in Kisangani, in the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, it was decided to shorten the holiday from two months to two weeks to make up for the missed lessons due to corona. The children seem very satisfied and happy with the decision.
UNICEF/UN0512358/Dejongh

What's next for the FLN Academy?

Based on the positive response and the demand for additional knowledge sharing opportunities, UNICEF and partners are keen to continue supporting learning opportunities for practitioners. This will continue to focus on increasing while simultaneously strengthening practices; it is not enough to know the “what”, we must increase capacity to deliver (know the “how”).

As education systems reopen and strategize on how to support children to learn, we envision a broad partnership through which practitioners can readily access support as they implement programming on teaching practices, parental engagement, assessment, education technology among other areas.

A future academy which engages a wide range of partners actively working to improve FLN will serve to ensure tools and resources are more widely shared and used beyond the individual organizations.

As the education community responds to the ongoing learning crisis, made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, the world needs to leverage our collective knowledge, skills and experiences to make rapid and real progress on learning outcomes in the immediate term. The FLN Initiative partners hope you will join us, share your insights, and engage with this growing community.

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FLN Academy modules were all very useful and very informative. I particularly learnt a lot from Teaching at the right level and Formative assessment. I wish this could be a recurring initiative. I received a very positive feedback from colleagues in Lesotho where I am based. They asked me if this learning opportunity will happen again. And my answer was, I hope so!

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