Dorothy Okatch, Advocacy and Communications Manager
Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL)
Flipping the education system for improved learning outcomes
Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) is a remedial education program developed by Pratham Education Foundation in India to support students falling behind in basic literacy and numeracy. The program is an education revolution and flips the education system on its head to improve learning outcomes. Young 1ove is partnered with the Ministry of Basic Education and UNICEF and USAID to scale the program nationally in Botswana.
In line with a pressing need and a ripe policy landscape, Young 1ove is scaling up the evidence-based program in Botswana, TaRL, which is simple, scalable, effective and learner centered. The goal of the program is to tailor instruction to a child’s level and use fun, level-targeted activities to enable students to learn basic literacy and numeracy. This is in contrast to the typical approach in which students are taught lecture-style using over-ambitious curricula and are treated as a uniform mass, promoted automatically from one grade to the next regardless of ability. Over the past fifteen years, TaRL has been evaluated in six randomized trials across Kenya, India and Ghana in partnership with the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and proven to be one of the most cost-effective ways to improve learning.
The programme is implemented using four basic pillars; i. Assess and group students by ability, ii. Use targeted instruction, iii. Employ fun and engaging learner appropriate materials, iv. Maintain strong implementation systems. The programme ensures that students progress at their own pace and allows for teachers to provide additional support to students. Our model is a 30-day intervention implemented with standards 3-5. In this period of time, facilitators come down to the level of the students, physically sitting on the floor and engaging them in activities targeted to their learning levels. In addition to the reorientation of the classroom, there is no corporal punishment in the TaRL classroom and this allows students to freely express themselves when they do not understand and creates an environment conducive for learning.
We have started with numeracy, where there is greatest need and political runway. However, we look to include literacy in the program. We have a direct delivery model, with independently hired and trained facilitators as well as a government delivery model with the national service program for youth, Tirelo Sechaba from the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development. The two are synergistic, with the direct model serving as an innovation hub, and the government model a route to sustainable scale. The end vision is for both models to achieve direct impact and stimulate demand at the grassroots level for TaRL principles to be incorporated into day-to-day teaching pedagogy.
Progress to Date
We have implemented in 162 schools in four regions, developed a curriculum, designed an M&E system, and held electric end of intervention celebrations at each of our schools with students, parents, teachers, and representatives from the Ministry of Basic Education, the University of Botswana and UNICEF. The results to date are promising. The percentage of students who learned a basic operation since enrolment in the program is at 89%. Furthermore, innumeracy was reduced from 40% to 4% and numeracy in operations such as addition, subtraction and multiplication increased from 7% to 55%.
Government Buy-In. In 2018, We signed a 4-year MOU to scale up the program nationally and received a signed letter of support from the Minister of Basic Education. The Ministry of Basic Education has assigned point people for the program at the regional level who we work hand-in-hand with on a weekly basis.
Partners. Our scale-up is being supported by UNICEF Botswana and the Ministry of Basic Education. We have also been working with Pratham, J-PAL, the PAL Network, and the University of Botswana as technical partners for the past two years.
With over 1.6 billion learners out of school, the COVID-19 pandemic has paralyzed education systems worldwide. This necessitates new education models, including the use of education technology for distance learning.
In response, we have developed and trialed a ‘low-tech’ solution that uses SMS messages and phone calls to provide educational instruction for students in 10,000 households across Botswana. Our results show that remote instruction by phone and simple SMS texts can improve children’s learning at low cost and at scale.
The intervention places parents in the role of a teacher and uses weekly SMS messages and/or phone calls to provide targeted instruction students.
We deliver phone-based education programming using two models:
1. Students receive an SMS message with maths problems once per week.
2. Students receive an SMS message with maths problems once per week and a follow-up phone call with guidance on how to solve maths problems.
1. Up to 52% reduction in innumeracy
2. 11-17% increase time spent by families on education
3. 23%-35% increase parents ability to correctly perceive child’s learning level
4. 99% of families expressing interest in continuing the intervention after schools re-open.
Plans and Next Steps
Using a phased scale-up to all primary schools, we plan to move towards scale in 5 regions in Botswana by the end of 2021 and national scale by 2022. In addition to the core scale-up, there are additional opportunities for learning, scale, and systems reform. These include:
(1) being an innovation hub for regional partners looking to scale TaRL, including hosting site-visits, co-training and providing technical assistance in the region
(2) conducting an evaluation on the effect of the program on the implementors. This will provide political saliency for government youth intern schemes, which are a sustainable and cost-effective route to scale in Africa (there are over 20 such schemes). We also aim to conduct A/B tests on operational questions which enable the program to come to be rigorously adapted to a new context, and to come to life in each context. There is also an opportunity to take a reduced-form version of TaRL (e.g. the levelling tool) to national scale faster, by the end of 2019, to complement the comprehensive scale-up by 2021/2022.
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