The 2013 Zambian Education Curriculum Framework (ZECF) set out what learning is expected to take place in schools throughout the country. The next step was to develop a framework that established how that learning should be assessed.
The Ministry of General Education (MoGE) requested support from the Zambia Education Sector Support Technical Assistance (ZESSTA) facility* to develop the National Learning Assessment Framework (NLAF).
The challenge: Ensuring that assessment serves learning
At the heart of the challenge was how to ensure that the assessment system is fully exploited to promote learning and improve outcomes.
The ZECF is underpinned by two guiding principles: the curriculum should be learner-centered and outcome-based. These two principles have far-reaching consequences for teaching and assessment.
In a learner-centered outcome-based system, teachers need to be proficient users of formative assessment (assessment for learning) so that they constantly gauge learners’ understanding and tailor their teaching to ensure that barriers to learning are overcome. Thus, the effectiveness of assessment for learning (AfL) will require a successful paradigm shift away from the traditional teacher-centered approach common in Zambian schools.
Many practitioners regard assessment as synonymous with formal tests and examinations (assessment of learning/ summative assessment). Discussions about assessment often ignore the importance of formative assessment and refer only to the skill of writing good questions for tests and examinations. Furthermore, a substantial amount of time is spent revising for and sitting tests and exams; this is time that could be spent learning.
- Develop the National Learning Assessment Framework
- Ensure teachers are able to implement the framework
- Strategize for full implementation
The first step in developing the NLAF was the production of a detailed background paper exploring assessment in relation to the Zambian context. This document highlighted the existing challenges and the need for change. A writing team was identified from MoGE Directorates, the Examinations Council of Zambia and the Zambia Qualifications Authority. The team produced a clear and comprehensive framework, using plain English and covering the whole spectrum of assessment from daily formative assessment in the classroom through national examinations to international tests.
The effectiveness of the assessment framework depends on teachers having a good understanding of what is expected of them and being skilled in assessment techniques. Therefore, once the NLAF was approved, the next step was to ensure teachers were trained and capable of meeting these expectations.
A pre-service training module for assessment was developed by representatives from the colleges of education and universities responsible for teacher education, as well as MoGE officers from the Teacher Education and Specialised Services (TESS) Directorate. The pre-service module was piloted in seven colleges and two universities and has now been redrafted taking account of meaningful feedback from teacher educators and trainee teachers. It has been approved for national roll-out by the Director of TESS.
The pre-service module was then adapted to create an in-service program for teachers, also approved for roll-out by the Director of TESS.
The next step was to start formulating an implementation strategy for the NLAF to address all aspects of assessment at both the school and system levels. The overall aim of this strategy, which will be steered by the Director of Standards and Curriculum, will be to ensure that all assessment serves the purpose of improving learning and raising standards achieved by Zambia’s learners.
The results: Teachers appreciate the new framework
The full impact of the NLAF will be felt only after several years, when all teachers have had training in assessment and sufficient time and experience to develop their skills and confidence in the use of formative assessment techniques.
However, initial feedback from stakeholders to both the NLAF and the pre-service module has been strongly positive. During the development phase, one of the teacher educators said: “This is just what our teachers need and the time is right.” This sentiment was endorsed by others involved in developing the module and by colleagues in colleges and universities who used the module during the piloting stage.
Both teacher educators and trainee teachers reported that they found the NLAF and pre-service module easy to follow and that the NLAF in particular is understandable to the general public as well as to education professionals. The fact that concepts are explained not only in text but are also clarified with simple, clear diagrams made the documents more easily understood by both tutors and trainees.
All serving teachers have already had some professional development in assessment for learning as part of the training on the use of the Teachers’ Curriculum Implementation Guide. This was very well received around the country and one teacher commented: “So this is what we should have been doing all along.”
Similar reactions were reported by teacher educators and trainee teachers involved in the pilot of the pre-service module. The training was described as ‘eye-opening’ and colleagues from colleges and universities stressed that they themselves had learned a lot.
They also reported that their trainee teachers had engaged in some deep and interesting debates and discussions: "These (debates and discussions) had opened their minds and resulted in changes of mindset with respect to the nature and importance of assessment and the role of the teacher."
* ZESSTA is funded by the Global Partnership for Education and UK aid and delivered by the British Council.