Jovid Juraev, a mentor helping to train teachers in Tajikistan, noticed an important interaction when observing Fayzali Oimahmadov’s classroom: “I was observing a Grade 2 Tajik Language class where the children were instructed to create a title for a short text. Most students decided to title the text ‘My mother.’ But one girl wanted to name the text ‘My father,’ even though the text’s content [appeared to lead] toward the first option (my mother). She believed and convinced the others that most of the qualities described in the text could be applied to the fathers as well. In [an] ordinary linear curriculum-led lesson, she would have been stopped or given lower marks, as she was not following the pre-determined scenario. But Oimahmadov, as a formative teacher, guided her to expand on her idea and gave her an opportunity to convince the others.”
Jovid Juraev’s observation may appear to be a very small change in a teacher’s classroom methods; however, it represents a significant shift in the approach being adopted in Tajikistan to help students improve their learning– not only in terms of academic outcomes, but also in their motivation for learning and attendance.
Like many countries, Tajikistan has embarked on ambitious education sector reforms to provide opportunities for younger generations to succeed and to ensure the social, economic, and political development of the country. As part of these reforms, Tajikistan is transitioning to competency-based
education, introducing changes to the design and implementation of the school curriculum and to pre- and in-service teacher training. The transition is a complex one because all resources, capacities (at different education levels), curricula, and education processes and procedures have historically been knowledge-based, teacher-centered, and linear. Competency-based education, on the other hand, requires student-centered, outcome-oriented teaching, learning, and assessment, along with active and interactive curricula.
In 2016, as part of the reform, Tajikistan introduced competency-based education in primary grades by designing a new curriculum. Although curriculum reform is key for the implementation of competency-based education, it alone is not sufficient to help teachers change their practices toward more student-centered approaches. As a result, the country also introduced a targeted pre- and in-service training system for primary school teachers.
To support successful and sustainable implementation of these reforms, the World Bank launched the Strengthening Classroom Assessment System in Tajikistan project, funded by a Russia Education Aid for Development (READ 2) Trust Fund grant. The project’s objective is to strengthen the classroom assessment system in Tajikistan through the development and piloting of teaching and learning materials as well as training and mentoring for selected primary-school teachers. Specifically, classroom-based formative and learning assessments will help teachers receive useful data about the depth of students’ thinking and learning. Teachers will also be able to use this data to adjust their instruction to student needs, making the learning process more differentiated and student-centered.
As part of its activities, the Project selected and trained 60 teachers from 15 schools across Tajikistan to pilot the formative assessment strategies and learning assessment instruments contained in the Classroom-Based Assessment Package, which had been prepared for the Ministry of Education. To support the pilot, the Project selected and trained teachers’ mentors, like Jovid Juraev, who visited schools, met with the teachers, observed classes, collected data, and provided feedback to improve teachers’ understanding and use of proposed strategies and tools. The results of the pilot were used to inform and update the Classroom-Based Assessment Package.
As one of the teachers involved in this pilot, Fayzali Oimahmadov believes that “formative assessment strategies helped him make teaching and learning practices in his classroom more alive and responsive to real classroom situation and students’ needs.”
Formative classroom-based assessment can also help under-achieving students be more successful. Sayora Asomiddinzoda, another primary teacher from a pilot school in the Varzob district, feels more confident that she can now manage to actively involve all students in her class. “Before, I kept weaker students after the lessons and worked with them, [by which time] I was very tired, and they were also--so all my efforts were not successful. Now, I am applying differentiated approaches and guided group strategies that help me work with children during given lesson time. Now we are partners in the teaching and learning process.”
Summative assessment of student learning is another type of classroom assessment that enables teachers to understand more about their students’ knowledge, skills, and abilities. New instruments for assessment of student learning, introduced by the Project, are more informative than traditional testing in that they provide teachers with more qualitative data about their students’ learning progression three times during an academic year. Teachers use these research-based instruments to assess students’ competencies at different levels of achievement.
Saodat Azimova, a pilot primary-school teacher from Dushanbe, believes that she now knows more about her students’ learning and can plan her teaching to differentiate among her students’ varying learning needs: “I piloted baseline and midyear learning assessment instruments and I was surprised to see the range of difference among my students. Before, I used to just test with multiple choice questions, and my judgment was about what the student ‘knows’ or ‘doesn’t know.’ But the new assessment instruments demonstrated my students’ learning trajectories and their levels of thinking, whether they achieved the proficiency level or are moving toward that outcome.”
Education sector reform requires a comprehensive, careful, and complex approach, and according to Mashhura Makhkamov, a leader of the Project’s mentoring team, the country is “just in the beginning of an interesting journey toward effective integration of formative teaching, learning, and assessment.” With the support of the READ 2 Trust Fund grant, Tajikistan has adapted and piloted a well-structured and research-based Classroom-Based Formative and Learning Assessment package. More time and additional support to teachers will be necessary to ensure effective scale-up of this package at the national level, which would support the transition to competence-based education in Tajikistan.