|Project Rationale and Linkage to Country/Regional Strategy
Over the past decade, the United Nations' Education for All campaign and the Millennium Development Goals have focused their attention on educational achievements. This attention has led to measurable success. On the whole, Pacific island countries (PICs) have made significant progress toward universal access to primary education. However, almost all PICs have identified that student learning outcomes still lag significantly behind improvements in access to schooling (ADB, 2007). Evidence from most PICs that participate in international assessments such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) indicates that Pacific students are greatly under-represented in the high achieving groups in literacy and mathematics assessments. Nearly one third of students in PICs could only complete the simplest reading tasks that PISA measures, compared with only 9% of European students. Similarly, for mathematics, nearly one third of students in PICs performed at the lowest levels in the PISA assessment.
Challenges with learning in many schools - whether in PICs or in high income countries - often begin during the first year of a child's schooling. The failure of children to acquire basic skills in literacy and numeracy in the early grades leads to increased grade repetition and dropouts, and ultimately reduced life-chances and social skills. Yet few developing countries, including PICs, give priority to measuring how well children are acquiring reading and mathematics skills in the early grades. Many countries develop national assessments in an attempt to measure learning outcomes against nationally defined standards (UNESCO, 2007) , but nearly all national and international assessments are paper-and-pencil tests administered to students in grade 3 and above. In the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), the Ministry of Education began using the Marshall Islands Standardized Achievement Test (MISAT), but MISAT is only intended to measure the learning outcomes against students who are above grade 3. Because these tests assume that students can read and write, it is not always possible to distinguish between students who score poorly because they lack the knowledge tested by the assessments, or because they lack basic reading and comprehension skills.
Countries in the Pacific region have made some advances in terms of systematic assessment of student performance, although more progress is needed. Most PICs have conducted at least one national student assessment since 2000, but the scientific reliability and validity of these assessments is said to vary greatly (UNESCO, 2007). Ministries of education in most PICs lack the experience and expertise to carry out rigorous assessments of learning outcomes. In September 2010, representatives from the 11 Ministries of Education in PICs met in Papua New Guinea and agreed to support a new learning assessment tool at early grades in primary education. The early grade learning assessment (EGLA), which includes both literacy (EGRA) and numeracy (EGMA), has been referred as a preferred assessment tool. Three PICs have already begun implementing EGRA in partnership with the World Bank while several others have considered starting a pilot EGLA (EGRA) in 2011. EGLA is a simplified assessment tool that could report on the foundation levels of student learning, including an assessment of the first steps students take in learning to read, recognizing letters of the alphabet, reading simple words, and understanding simple mathematics. The initiative was started in Africa in partnership with US Agency for International Development (USAID).
EGLA will support the PICs to begin the process of measuring, in a systematic way, how well primary school pupils in lower grades are acquiring literacy and numeracy, and ultimately spur more effective efforts to improve performance in this core skill. In Tonga, EGLA is integrated as part of primary school curricula and learning materials and teaching strategies are tailored according to each student's learning achievement. Based on the successful outcomes of Tongan EGLA, many PICs have now expressed interest in replicating EGLA in their countries.
During discussions in the September 2010 meeting, two northern Pacific countries signaled their intention to introduce EGLA in their countries. The proposal was also discussed with other development partners and agreed that all PICs should follow the Tonga model, to the extent possible, as a successful example in order to set common parameters for future regional comparisons. The PICs have also agreed to work closely with the Asia South Pacific Board for Educational Assessment (ASPBEA) which has been supporting the literacy survey in the region.
The proposed TA supports RMI, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau to initiate EGLA at grades 2 and 5 of selected primary schools. The objective is to help the target countries begin the process of measuring, in a systematic way, how well children in the early grades of primary are acquiring reading and mathematical skills, and ultimately spur more effective efforts to improve performance in this core learning skill. The TA will replicate Tonga's integrated approach to EGLA in the above three northern Pacific countries. To strengthen the linkage between learning assessment and learning method, the TA will also support improved teaching techniques and learning approaches in reading and numeracy, adopting a methodology of individualized learning and assessment based on repetition, accuracy and speed. This approach has been successfully trialed in more than 46 countries including India, Indonesia, and Vietnam and has a proven track record. Individualized learning and assessment methodology providers have existing operations in the Pacific region through their operation centers in Australia and New Zealand.
The TA is proposed to be funded by Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (JFPR). ADB will work closely with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) volunteers who already have significant experience in this area as a result of their role as school teachers in the three countries. To the extent possible, EGLA core strategy will be aligned with other development partners who are supporting EGLA elsewhere in the region. This will promote further regional consistency and efforts to monitor the learning outcomes in primary education.