PASEC: Evaluation in the service of better management of educational systems

To ensure effective management of education systems, it is imperative to instill a culture of learning assessment, and to consider the results of these assessments when developing and implementing education policies. This is why initiatives like PASEC are so important for sub-Saharan African countries.

April 30, 2024 by Hilaire Hounkpodoté, Conférence des ministres de l’Education des Etats et gouvernements de la Francophonie (CONFEMEN)
6 minutes read
Schoolboys focused on their lesson in their classroom, in Cameroon. Credit: World Bank/O. Hebga
Schoolboys focused on their lesson in their classroom, in Cameroon.
Credit: World Bank/O. Hebga

This blog was previously published on PASEC's website.

The quality of education systems in sub-Saharan Africa, including in Francophone countries, concerns all education stakeholders. As such, the Education 2030 framework aims to ensure access to quality education for all on an equal footing and to promote lifelong learning opportunities.

However, in most developing countries, although 91% of children are enrolled in school, 57 million children are still not enrolled, and the quality of learning outcomes for those enrolled is often poor.

To ensure effective management of these systems, it is imperative to instil a culture of learning assessment, and of taking into account the results of these assessments in the development and implementation of educational policies.

International assessments of learning outcomes, such as those conducted by PASEC (Program for the Analysis of Educational Systems of the CONFEMEN), are therefore of paramount importance in efforts to improve educational systems, especially in sub-Saharan African countries.

PASEC assesses students in reading and mathematics at the beginning (in their 2nd/3rd year) and end of primary education (5th/6th year) (and), as well as at the end of basic education (middle school) with a module that was introduced in the PASEC 2024 assessment.

The program also collects contextual information through pen-and-paper surveys for students, teaching staff, school principals and parents. Furthermore, PASEC conducts a survey to assess the content knowledge and pedagogical skills of primary school teachers.

A valuable tool for the improvement of education in Africa

The assessments conducted by PASEC allow for measuring and comparing the quality of learning in countries from various regions of the world, providing a standardized and objective measure of educational performance, thereby enabling comparisons between regions and over time.

PASEC offers an in-depth view of the education systems of participating countries, helping policymakers to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the system, monitor progress over time, compare their results with those of other countries and draw inspiration from innovative policies.

By assessing students' knowledge and skills in reading and mathematics, PASEC provides essential data to inform policies and assist in implementing relevant educational reforms.

Measuring critical foundations of fundamental skills (e.g., phonemic awareness, comprehension, vocabulary and reading fluency) helps identify the need for early intervention, guide targeted educational policies and address the root causes of educational system gaps.

A contextualized approach co-constructed with participating countries

While it’s recognized that international learning assessments promote transparency, accountability of stakeholders, the development of a culture of continuous improvement and collaboration among nations, they must also be consistent with the reality of the systems being evaluated.

Indeed, to address the gaps in evidence-based data and to promote educational equity, it’s essential to have a tool that respects international scientific standards while being culturally and linguistically adapted to the served territories to highlight disparities in learning outcomes between countries.

This information can stimulate international collaboration and support initiatives aimed at improving access to and quality of education worldwide. Additionally, these assessments facilitate the sharing of best practices and innovative pedagogical methods among countries, thus promoting collaboration, especially among the countries involved, in the pursuit of quality education.

Understanding cost parameters

Certainly, developing and implementing an assessment that delivers on its promises represents an investment. All international assessments have cost parameters that depend not only on the reality of the countries being assessed, but also on international parameters.

The cost of international assessments such as PASEC consists of: 1. international fees shared by all participating countries, and 2. national fees related to the implementation of the assessment in the field (these costs can vary significantly from one country to another).

The main components that determine the overall cost include:

Main components of the cost of an international assessment

International Fees National Fees
  • International coordination
  • Development of assessment instruments and contextual surveys
  • Translation/local adaptations of instruments
  • School sampling and data entry
  • Training, capacity building, supervision and quality assurance
  • International data consolidation processing
  • Psychometric data analysis
  • Data analysis and development of international reports
  • International dissemination
  • National coordination
  • Relations, engagement and communication with stakeholders
  • Development of data collection instruments
  • Recruitment of test administrators
  • Data collection for pilot and main study (including printing, travel expenses and daily allowances, assessment administration, data entry and verification)
  • Data analysis and development of national reports
  • National dissemination

These costs are strongly influenced by factors such as the type of sampling, the size of the samples required for analyses at the national and international levels (including disaggregation considerations), the cost of international expertise, data collection allowances (including social benefits and daily allowances for administrators), the number and length of language versions of assessment instruments, and the level of analysis and dissemination (at international and national levels).

Due to economies of scale, the higher the number of countries involved in an assessment, the lower the international cost and consequently, the overall cost.

Evolution of cost distribution between PASEC2019 and PASEC2024 including PASEC Targets

Target groups
  • Students in 2nd/3rd grade
  • Students in 5th/6th grade
  • All teachers in sampled primary schools
  • School principals
  • Students in 2nd/3rd grade
  • Students in 5th/6th grade
  • Students in 2nd/3rd grade
  • All teachers in sampled primary schools
  • Primary school principals
  • Middle school principals
  • Teachers of assessed subjects in middle school
  • Parents of selected students
Number of Countries 14 21
International Costs 520,000 775,000
National Costs 625,000 1,102,000
TOTAL (EURO) 1,145,000 1,877,000
Average Number of Respondents per Country 7,920 16,960
Average Cost per Respondent and per Country (EURO) 144.6 110.7

Added value for monitoring Sustainable Development Goal 4

In order to address Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4), countries must continue to measure student performance through PASEC evaluations to ensure they can assess progress by 2030.

The PASEC 2024 assessment will allow for the following improvements:

  • Greater scientific rigor with larger and more representative samples
  • Expansion of the scope of evaluation with new targets such as middle school students, parents, middle school teachers and middle school principals
  • Expansion of territorial coverage with new countries from the African region and new linguistic areas
  • Collection of new data related to well-being, food security, insecurity, school violence and social cohesion.

As a result, the relative cost of the PASEC assessment has decreased by approximately 23% per respondent between 2019 and 2024. Additionally, it should be noted that the cost of PASEC covers data collection from 4 major groups (2nd/3rd-grade students, 5th/6th-grade students, 9th/10th-grade students and primary school teachers) in addition to the surveys of principals, middle school teachers and parents.

Thus, PASEC appears to be the only international survey covering such a wide range of respondents compared to surveys like PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment) which only concerns 15-year-olds, SEA-PLM (Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics) which only concerns 6th-grade students, TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) which only concerns 4th- or 8th-grade students, PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) which only concerns 4th-grade students, and LLECE (UNESCO’s Latin American Laboratory for the Assessment of the Quality of Education) which concerns 3rd and 6th-grade students.

It's also worth noting that:

  1. National costs represent the majority of costs;
  2. These costs are transparently communicated by CONFEMEN, which does not seem to be the case for other international/regional evaluations;
  3. National costs depend largely not only on the choices made by the countries but also on the unit cost of certain key parameters of the evaluation budget.

The added value of a learning assessment such as PASEC is undeniable. The incurred cost remains very low compared to the overall budgets of national education ministries and compared to the cost incurred in national certifying exams.

CONFEMEN proposes to conduct the next PASEC evaluation in 2028, in order to provide states and governments with the necessary data to monitor SDG4 and assess progress by 2030. The initial results of the PASEC2028 evaluation will enable states to consider post-2030 reflections.

Technical and financial partners as well as countries are invited to collaborate with CONFEMEN to establish this evaluation.

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