By Hannah-May Wilson, Program Manager, PAL Network Secretariat
On the bus travelling from Mexico City to Xalapa, over 80 education activists and innovators from 19 Global South countries stared in disbelief, transfixed at the sheer size of these neighbourhoods. We found ourselves speeding past thousands of brightly coloured one-room houses, each one stacked carefully on top of one another. The shantytowns looked like they could be constructed from colourful playing bricks. Stretching as far as the eye could see, we all entertained the same thought: what would it take to conduct a household-based, citizen-led assessment of learning here? The scale seemed enormous.
The citizen-led assessments gain momentum
The Greater Mexico City Area has an estimated population of more than twenty-one million people. Xalapa is home to the citizen-led assessment effort in Mexico, Medición Independiente de Aprendizaje (meaning ‘Independent Measurement of Learning’ in Spanish, or ‘MIA’ for short) who were hosting the 5th Annual PAL Network meeting. PAL Network member countries are committed to piloting the citizen-led assessment approach. This year, TPC Mozambique was confirmed as a full member of the PAL Network family after having recently completed a 22-district pilot with plans to scale in 2017, and ASER Nepal gained provisional membership status, bringing the current membership to 14 member countries. An additional 5 countries were invited as observers to the meeting in Xalapa.
Power to the People
The power of the PAL Network lies in the fact that it is led by citizens themselves. Every year, more than 70,000 citizen volunteers across the network identify themselves to take part in the largest household-based, citizen-led learning assessment in the world. Our volunteers traverse some of the most difficult and remote terrain in their countries, walking from house to house to find out if children are learning.
The PAL Network philosophy is simple. You cannot begin to find a solution without first understanding the problem. The citizen-led assessment model allows hundreds of thousands of citizens to experience and understand the many learning challenges first hand in their own communities. This inspired the theme of the 5th Annual Meeting in Mexico: Power to the People! (or Poder para la Gente in Spanish)
Understanding and articulating the power of citizen engagement
The 5th Annual Meeting explored a number of sub-themes: from the opportunities and challenges of volunteer engagement to the retention of citizen volunteers beyond conducting the assessment. PAL Network members shared their experiences across the network, learning from each other and making commitments to work together on areas of common interest.
Participants also considered the role of member countries in strengthening citizen participation in local decision-making processes in order to demand greater accountability, as well as looking at the potential opportunities for using citizen-generated data on learning to monitor progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4).
Putting theory to practice: learning from MIA
Bringing the meeting to life, the MIA team organized 7 field visits to communities on the outskirts of Xalapa. It is in these communities that MIA has piloted summer learning camps in a variety of settings including community centres, primary and secondary schools. The learning intervention programs use an extended version of the MIA test to measure progress made by enrolled children.
Through an array of learning intervention programs, MIA demonstrated how they have harnessed the spirit of citizen volunteers to recruit ‘reading promoters’ – locally community-based volunteers who are trained to help children learn through fun activities in reading and mathematics. PAL Network participants travelled to Teocelo, Naolinco, Chiconquiaco and Tuxtlas to learn more.
Using data to isolate the problem; implementing learning interventions as the solution
As the agenda and ambition for moving beyond the assessment to taking actions to improve learning continues to grow, members of the PAL Network are excited about harnessing the power of the network to continue learning from each others’ experience in ‘what works’ and ‘why’? PAL Network continues to forge partnerships with diverse education activists, innovators, academics and measurement specialists to explore how citizens can participate in solutions to respond to the learning needs of their children.