Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Digital innovation to improve child-friendliness of schools in Cambodia

By Stina Heikkila and Daniel Calderbank

District training and monitoring team (DTMT) member 
uses the table to collect data in the classroom for 
the child-friendly school assessment checklist. ©Open Institute

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, March 2017: Strengthening the role of school inspectors through the introduction of a new monitoring technology is aiming to help with the delivery of a better learning environment in schools across Cambodia.


UNICEF and development partners have been jointly supporting various intervention projects to improve the accountability and effectiveness of district training and monitoring teams (DTMT) in their role as internal school inspectors, as well as improving the overall school monitoring process.

With this greater responsibility, DTMT officials are taking a more proactive role in helping teaching staff implement the internationally renowned child-friendly schools (CFS) framework which is designed to create a school environment that is physically safe, emotionally secure and psychologically enabling.

The CFS approach is conducive to the delivery of inclusive quality education across Cambodia – especially in remote, hard to reach areas – which translates into improved learning environments.

The CFS framework promotes school performance through six key dimensions: inclusiveness; effective teaching and learning; a healthy, safe, protective school environment; gender equity; the active participation of the community, parents and students; and the support of the wider education system.

Each of these key dimensions includes various indicators designed to measure whether a school can be considered ‘child-friendly’.

Although the CFS framework has been operational in Cambodia since 2007, there is no guarantee its child friendly components are being implemented effectively on a daily basis through classroom practices and school management.

With this in mind, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) has been training district education officials in a pilot project over the last year to assess the child-friendliness of schools using the child-friendly schools checklist.

But, barriers that remain to the effective implementation of this intervention include time-consuming paper-based checklists, as well as physical impediments to officials actually getting to schools to conduct their work.

With support from Sida (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency), UNICEF and the Cambodian NGO Open Institute have worked on digitizing the laborious assessment checklist into a digital tool installed on electronic tablets.

The pilot project titled ‘Digital Innovation for DTMTs to strengthen School Monitoring’ makes it much easier to collect data across the key dimensions of the child-friendly school framework.

The checklist contains a digital questionnaire based on the reduced CFS checklist, formatted on tablets for DTMTs and school directors to carry out their school assessments.
The information gathered is easier for national and local government educational officials to access and visualise as it is collected in an online database, as opposed to the previous paper-based format.

Officials at national, provincial and district levels are given login credentials so they can rapidly visualise and respond to data collected on a dashboard.

This enables almost real-time monitoring of the child-friendly status of schools which allows problems to be identified more rapidly and resources allocated to resolve issues more effectively.

Having fixed answers to the questions has contributed to a more objective and comparable data collection process and it has also reduced the time needed to complete the assessment.

The system is further adapted to enable monitoring of schools with no, or limited Internet access and it does not require the inspector to be online while carrying out the assessment.
As soon as DTMT members or school directors reach a place with Internet access, the pre-saved completed checklist can be sent and uploaded automatically to a server in the cloud, making all checklists immediately available at district, provincial and national levels.

The assessment is undertaken with school directors – who have also been trained in using the self-assessment tool – so they can provide support and guidance on how to make schools more child-friendly.

District training and monitoring team (DTMT) member uses the table to 
collect data in the classroom for the child-friendly school assessment checklist.
©Open Institute 

It is critical that policy-makers possess knowledge of which schools are child friendly and which are not, as without this intelligence they are not in a position to track implementation and improve schools requiring attention.

Programme Director at the Open Institute and key collaborator in the project, Javier Sola, said: “We are very happy with the results of this pilot project. We have been able to improve the processes and expect this to bring great benefit to teachers, school officials, parents and importantly the students themselves.”

While there was some initial apprehension participants would shy away from using the new technology, field testing showed both district officials and school directors were able to utilize it without a problem.

The only initial teething problems were over the actual questions listed in the checklist as opposed to the use of the devices.

In response to this, partners collaborated on the use of language for some of the questions to ensure clarity and flexibility and to cover different issues across schools.

One way in which this was done was to create drop-down lists with pre-defined responses to each indicator which made the users feel more confident in providing objective answers.
For example, subjective answers such as ‘good’ or ‘average’ were made to correspond to specific answers such as ‘over 75 per cent’ or ‘class starts within five minutes of the official start time’.

The digital data system makes the use of such scoring criteria smooth and easy and provides decision-makers with comparable, standardized data to act upon.

Throughout the pilot project, the Open Institute worked to ensure a highly participatory approach to the design of the digital tool.

Their long experience in design processes was therefore an invaluable asset to ensuring that the innovation is actually ‘owned’ by the end-users.

A related issue has been the lack of a sufficient budget for some DTMTs to travel to schools to conduct digital school monitoring assessments. Therefore, UNICEF has advocated for an overall increase in DTMT budgets so that from 2017 onwards, DTMTs should have a sufficient budget for school monitoring exercises.

This combination of increased resources, capacity building of DTMTs and the utilization of technology will enable education professionals to collectively meet the goal of schools where Cambodian children enjoy their right to an inclusive quality education.

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