Governments across the world recognize the importance of providing an education to all children within an inclusive education system. Yet, despite great progress in getting more children into school over the past decade, children from disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to experience poor quality of education limiting chances of fulfilling their learning potential. Children who face multiple disadvantages related to disability, poverty, gender, caste, religion or where they live, are amongst those least likely to be learning. The project aims to identify strategies to raise learning outcomes for all children, regardless of their background.
It is widely recognized that teachers are central to a child's educational experience. Yet, in low income countries, disadvantaged learners often face poor quality teaching: many teachers are recruited without having a basic subject knowledge themselves, receive inadequate training with limited attention to strategies to support children from diverse backgrounds, and weak incentives and poor teacher governance can lead to low motivation and high levels of teacher absenteeism. The research will, therefore identify which aspects of teaching are most important for improving all children's learning, and so inform governments on the strategies needed to support children who face multiple disadvantages.
The research will be conducted in India and Pakistan, countries characteristic of other poor countries in terms of wide learning inequalities. India shows some advances in identifying strategies to tackle disadvantage, while Pakistan is similar to many other low income countries in not yet having such strategies. Recognising that limited information is available on learning levels of children facing different forms of disadvantages who are not in school, the research will assess children both in the household and in schools. The focus of these tests will be on achievement of foundation skills of reading, writing, reasoning and numeracy that children are expected to acquire in primary school. This will be followed up with a test a year later in order to identify what learning gains have been made, and the extent to which these gains can be attributed to particular teacher characteristics, or other factors such as family background. The research will further provide an in-depth understanding of the problems that teachers face in supporting students from diverse backgrounds within the classroom, the teaching practices they adopt, and the kinds of support they need in order to make sure they are able to help all children fulfill their learning potential.
The research will aim to make an important contribution to how measures of learning need to be enriched to include children with disabilities. In addition to adapting existing learning assessments for use in braille or using sign language, for example, it will also trial tests that measure other aspects of learning, such as self-esteem and peer relationships, taking into consideration how these could be adopted on a larger scale. This research will contribute to debates about the future of global goals on education after 2015 which are focusing on raising learning outcomes in ways that make sure no one is left behind.
Achieving these goals will require better identification of the characteristics of children not learning, and the implementation of strategies within countries to strengthen the effectiveness of teaching in ways that address diversity in the classroom.
The research will aim to have policy impact at two levels: - Nationally, on the development of education policies and strategies to strengthen the effectiveness of teaching to support children facing multiple disadvantages (in particular related to disability, poverty and gender) within India and Pakistan. - Internationally, on informing the setting of global development goals in education, and the development of appropriate assessment tools to measure progress towards these goals through measuring learning to ensure no one is left behind. As a result of this, the project is ultimately expected to have an impact for societies in low income countries by contributing to the improvement of learning outcomes for all children, regardless of their background, and particularly children with disabilities. The project will inform the development of national strategies by raising awareness of the problems, and identifying approaches to teaching that are most effective to make sure teachers are able to support children with diverse learning needs in the classroom. To achieve this, in India and Pakistan, developing country partners (CORD and IDEAS) will need to engage at sub-levels of the education system and also with selected politicians, government officials and researchers to discuss the importance of our research questions, create awareness of our research methods, discuss results of the research as they become available and have discussions on policy changes needed to address recommendations coming from the research. These discussions will need to occur throughout the period of the project, formally and informally, to not only keep the stakeholders informed, to build awareness of the importance for reform, and also to keep the issues on the agenda. Both country teams already have strong links with government officials and other key stakeholders, and substantial experience of such engagement from other research projects. In order to achieve the impact at the international level, an adivsory group, comprising representatives from international and national NGOs, multilateral agencies, teacher unions and academics will be established. This group will provide feedback at critical points during the research process, including during the inception and design phase, on draft outputs. They will also support the dissemination of the policy findings. Their role be vital to ensure the relevance and quality of the research. The research will seek to inform the setting and implementation of global development goals in education, which are replacing the millennium development goals after 2015. DFID is actively engaged in helping to frame these goals, and so the research will be of direct relevance to their work. The research will be disseminated via academic conferences in education and development studies, policy workshops in India and Pakistan as well as the UK. At least two academic articles will be prepared from the research, and plans will also be in place to prepare a special issue of an education and development journal. In order to reach wider audiences in a timely fashion, policy briefs will be developed and posted on the project website. The intention is also to prepare a reader friendly booklet for teachers and teacher trainers on the findings of the research.