March 26, 2010 - Sporting a big sunny smile and a voice deeper than his peers’, the second grader states, “My name is Dante Joel Arroyo and I want to be President of Peru.” Another child, a little bit older than him, resolutely says that he wants to do well at school in order to become a university teacher, while a classmate just settles for the fun of going to school every day and “having lots of friends who love me the way I love them.”
Even though their aspirations are wildly dissimilar, these Peruvian elementary students share a common sentiment: they all have great expectations about their future after completing school, no mean feat in Peru’s current education environment, as a newly released Bank video shows.
Second grade students from public schools across Peru face the huge challenge of becoming proficient in math and reading after disappointing national test results, according to Peruvian teachers and Bank experts.
While Peru has made strides in expanding access to its schoolchildren, findings show that only 20% of all second graders in the nation are at grade level in reading, and only 10% of second graders reach grade level in mathematics. The rest are lagging dangerously behind.
Fast-forward to the Bank video which, along other initiatives, is part of stepped- up efforts to support Peru’s commitment to raising learning levels in classrooms across the country. Do You Know How Much Your Children are Learning?, a co-production of the Bank and Peru’s Ministry of Education, shows the importance of students passing the national standardized test Student Census Evaluation (ECE), and walks parents through this process, which is key to their children’s success at school.
“If we want kids and schools to sprint ahead, three parties are crucial in this undertaking: students, parents and teachers, which are a trilogy in this effort,” says teacher and school principal David Arias Saravia, whose school in rural Puno dramatically improved its ECE scores after closely involving parents in their kids’ education and results evaluations.
Experts contend that efforts to improve the quality of learning shouldn’t be spared in the first few years of schooling, as these build the foundation for future success in later grades and career paths. The Bank has been actively involved in efforts to improve the quality of education in Peru by providing non-lending technical assistance in various forms, including multimedia products such as the educational video “Do You Know How Much Your Children are Learning?” and others such as 60 words per minute that went viral right after its launch in 2006 and has proved instrumental in advancing the government’s education agenda. As part of its increased collaboration with Peru, the Bank is in the process of preparing a Tertiary Education project and a Basic Education SWAp, according to officials.
Educating both school children and parents on the ins and outs of schooling seems to be the right approach to improve learning standards in Peru, says World Bank education expert Ines Kudo. She argues that Peruvian education officials are making a great effort to test all second grade students across the country and deliver reports with the results to each parent, teacher, and school principal so they know how their children are doing and how much have they learned. But, the expert adds, “Not all parents know what this evaluation is, many are unaware of the existence of the student reports, and even when they receive them, some are puzzled about how to use them to help their children.”
Kudo, who leads the joint project, explains that the video promotes the use of the reports by parents and teachers so they can plan strategies together to improve learning. “It is a communications tool to assist the education ministry in delivering the message to parents and teachers: that the focus is now on helping students learn, and test results can guide us,” she says.
In Plain Language
The language of the ECE materials and the supporting video package have been carefully crafted in consultation with education officials and local communities, especially in rural areas, where many of the most disadvantaged students live.
There, students may come from families with illiterate parents or without the tradition of knowing how to engage with teachers. Outreach to and integration of these families can help close the social gap Peru faces, according to experts.
An important point was to discuss student results in terms of relative position rather than scores or percentages. Were students able to master the main competencies of their grade level? If not, the ECE results reports showed areas for improvement that could be discussed. It was also helpful to underscore to both parents and teachers that there were not negative consequences linked to student performance.
Teachers would not be punished and schools would not be closed where students struggled. Rather, the evaluation was cast as an opportunity for greater transparency and community involvement in schools.
Investing in Human Capital
The success of Peru’s young pupils is tightly tied to the economic prospects of the nation. Although the economy has been largely spared by the global financial crisis and has resumed growth, experts have questioned its sustainability over concerns about low levels of education and human capital among Peruvians.
“The labor force is lagging behind,” says Felipe Jaramillo, Director of the Bank’s Peru operations. And since the region also places behind other regions on international student assessments, Jaramillo thinks that two of Peru’s top priorities for development – social inclusion and competitiveness in the global economy- depend on the strength of its public education systems.
Additionally, tracking learning outcomes and giving evaluation results to the public with the tools to understand and act upon underlines “the catalytic power of measuring things we care about,” says Elizabeth King, Director of the Bank's education sector.
“It is extremely important to involve the community in education and the video is just one such example of a powerful communications tool that can empower families and schools to improve children’s learning,” remarks King.
So much so that in the not-so distant-future children like Dante Joel do have a shot at one day becoming president of the nation.