In June 2016, the Regional Coordination Group on SDG 4-Education 2030 in West and Central Africa created the Teaching and Learning: Educators’ Network for Transformation (TALENT) as a dedicated coordination platform to address the learning crisis.
Led by the UNESCO Regional Office in Dakar, with support from a Steering Group comprising the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), the Africa Network Campaign on Education For All (ANCEFA), the Conference of Ministers of Education of French-Speaking Countries (CONFEMEN), the Network for Excellence in Higher Education in West Africa (REESAO) and UNICEF, TALENT’s objective is to share experiences, expertise and knowledge on effective interventions to improve learning outcomes in sub-Saharan African countries, build capacity of education stakeholders and expand the knowledge base on teaching and learning issues and best practices in the region.
The network has identified three areas of action:
- Promoting dialogue on teaching and learning
- Sharing knowledge and experiences through a dedicated online platform and via workshops
- Creating consensus and political advocacy between the member countries and the network’s regional stakeholders in order to integrate and align the priority themes for quality reform.
TALENT’s four priority themes
Within the monitoring framework for education quality indicators of SDG 4, TALENT has four priorities:
- Pre- and in-service teacher education at all levels of basic education (preschool, primary and lower secondary school)
- Proficiency in basic reading, written and oral comprehension, and mathematics in primary school and lower secondary school
- Strengthening national assessment systems of students’ learning outcomes
- Preparing students for primary school by providing universal access to one year of preschool education.
Since its launch, TALENT has focused its activities on national learning assessment systems as a tool to support quality education, professional standards and career paths within the teaching profession, as well as the teaching and assessment of 21st century skills.
Advocacy efforts to mainstream learning in the education agenda
TALENT published its first advocacy document on the learning crisis in Africa on World Teachers’ Day, October 5, calling for urgent action from governments to improve the quality of learning. The document, originally presented in April 2018 at the Pan-African High-level Conference on Education in Nairobi, calls for urgent action from governments to improve the quality of learning through the four priorities identified by TALENT
Its members share their experiences and expertise to improve the coherence and efficiency of educational reforms in sub-Saharan Africa.
Strengthening national assessment systems
In December 2017, TALENT held its first workshop on national learning assessment systems to support countries of the region in the self-evaluation of their learning assessment system using the World Bank SABER analytical framework (Systems Approach for Better Education Results) in the area of student assessment. This identified the focus areas where countries in sub-Saharan Africa want to strengthen their capacity and expertise.
These findings informed the design of a capacity-building program, which, with funding from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)’s Assessment for Learning (A4L) initiative, has been providing senior ministry officials with tools and methods to strengthen their assessment and information systems, as well as to guide quality teaching and learning quality reforms.
Within the framework of this new partnership, TALENT organized in July 2018 a regional capacity-building workshop in Dar-es-Salaam on the alignment between curriculum, teacher training and learning assessments, bringing together 18 countries of the region, followed by an online training program hosted on the platform of The Open University of Tanzania.
Throughout the training, senior officials of the participating countries have undertaken a self-evaluation of the linkages between curriculum, teacher training and learning assessments at national level. Country representatives agreed that the case for alignment in their countries is still very much lagging behind or even completely missing in policy discussions at national level.
A renewed cooperation among the departments in charge of these three elements of the education system has been identified as the first step to strengthen internal coherence by the majority of the countries.
More practically, countries have identified the following actions among others:
- review the current assessment system in order to respond to the objectives of the curriculum;
- maximize existing resources so that reforms can be coordinated;
- stop the undesirable practice of “teaching to the test”;
- use learning assessment data to improve teaching gaps and poor practices.
Last month, TALENT convened 18 countries to take part in the second capacity-building activity on dissemination, reporting and utilization of large-scale learning assessments. The topic is one of the most relevant for countries in the region as 40% of them have participated in a cross-national large-scale learning assessment and at least half have conducted a large-scale national learning assessment (UNESCO Institute for Statistics Information Paper N° 26, 2016).
During the four-day event participants worked on how to communicate and disseminate assessment results, with several practical activities based on the most recent PASEC report. National delegations have also started to develop a detailed plan on large-scale assessments data utilization to strengthen education policies.
Transforming teaching and evaluation of 21st century skills
In June 2018, via the Optimizing Assessment for All initiative (OAA), the Brookings Institution in partnership with TALENT and the GPE, launched a study on assessing 21st century skills, which aims to identify tools and assessment items (national tests or in-class tests) for these skills in a sample of schools in nine countries of the region (Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Mali, Senegal and Zambia). The results of this study will be published in the first quarter of 2019.
Still under the auspices of TALENT and GPE and the technical lead of the Brookings Institution, three countries (Democratic Republic of Congo, The Gambia and Zambia) have met at the end of November 2018 to start off the second in-depth phase of this initiative, which is going to focus on developing tools to assess specific transversal competencies over the course of the next year.
The delegations have agreed on the composition of their national research teams, with experts from curriculum, assessment and pedagogy and including at least one teacher. This second stream of the initiative will be a collaborative approach among the three countries.
At the same time it will look at how each country’s national education system can best construct its own way to teach and assess 21st century skills, ensuring that the countries can respond to the teaching and assessment needs outlined in their own curriculum.
Over the course of 2019, TALENT will host regular information sharing sessions so that all network members can benefit from the OAA initiative’s findings.
In addition, it will continue its overall program of capacity development, research and knowledge sharing supported by GPE’s A4L initiative, thereby making an important contribution to the strengthening of learning assessment systems of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
To learn more, please contact Valérie Djioze-Gallet (firstname.lastname@example.org), TALENT Coordinator and Program Specialist at the UNESCO Regional Office in Dakar.
The country members of the TALENT network are: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe. In addition, all GPE partner countries are eligible to participate in TALENT activities.