By Stina Heikkila and Daniel Calderbank
Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Introducing a new monitoring technology aims to help with the delivery of a better learning environment and strengthen the role of school inspectors in schools across Cambodia.
UNICEF and development partners are 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 proactive role in helping teaching staff implement the internationally renowned child-friendly schools (CFS) framework 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 – creating improved learning environments. This 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’.
However, even as the CFS framework has been implemented in Cambodia since 2007, there is no guarantee that its child-friendly components are being implemented effectively on a daily basis through classroom practices and school management.
Thus, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) has been training district education officials on a pilot project over the last year to assess the child-friendliness of schools through a child-friendly schools’ checklist.
But, time-consuming paper-based checklists as well as physical impediments of officials to get to schools to conduct their work still present barriers to the effective implementation of this intervention.
With support from Sida (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency), UNICEF and the Cambodian NGO Open Institute have migrated this laborious assessment checklist into a digital tool installed on electronic tablets.
The pilot project called ‘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.Also, having fixed answers to questions have provided an objective and comparable data collection process – reducing the time needed to complete the assessment.
Officials at national, provincial and district levels, are also given login credentials so they can rapidly visualise and respond to the data collected from the dashboard. Providing this access enables almost real-time monitoring of the child-friendly status of schools – identifying problems timely and allocate resources to resolve issues more effectively.
The system is adaptable – enabling school monitoring even with no, or limited Internet access. Also, 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.
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 make decisions towards which schools require 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 is some initial apprehension from participants to use the new technology, field testing showed that 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 to improve and tailor the language of some of the questions to ensure clarity and flexibility as well as to cover related issues across schools. Creating drop-down lists with pre-defined responses to each indicator was one way to address this – making users feel more confident in providing objective answers. For example, defining subjective answers such as ‘good’ or ‘average’ to correspond to specific answers such as ‘over 75%” 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 and manifesting UNICEF’s Innovation Principles, the Open Institute worked to deploy a participatory approach to the design of the digital tool. Their long experience in design processes was an invaluable asset to ensure that this monitoring technology is actually developed with and for the end-users.
Apart from the time-consuming paper-based checklists, the lack of a sufficient budget for some DTMTs to travel to schools to conduct digital school monitoring assessments was also addressed. 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.
The combination of increased resources, capacity building of DTMTs and the utilization of technology aim to equip education professionals to collectively meet the goal of schools where Cambodian children enjoy their right to an inclusive quality education.