Un blog sur l'éducation dans les pays du Sud – A blog on education in the developing countries

28 mai 2017

The teaching and learning of Mathematics in Ghana primary education

Filed under: Uncategorized — Étiquettes : , , , , , , — education_south @ 13 h 05 min

Pierre Varly, Anthony Saarpong

This blog post address the issue of the poor performance of Ghana in Mathematic achievement in primary education. Ghana scores among the last countries in the TIMSS international assessment. The national education achievement (NEA) survey show important learning gaps in Mathematics for a decade.  What are the national standards? Are these standards the same as in other countries? Are these national standards achieved by pupils? How well are teachers trained to teach maths? How do teachers teach maths? What are the future challenges and opportunities?

National standards

 According to the national syllabus, in order to achieve the general aims of the Mathematics curriculum, teachers must provide opportunities for children to realize the specific minimum objectives which are the National Minimum Standards (NMS) for Primary 6 numeracy. NMS for Primary 6, which are the main terminal objectives for education, listed below are intended to give the teacher an idea of some of the things ALL the pupils should be able to do by the end of primary school. Some targets may be more complicated than they seem and so the syllabus has been designed for the teacher to revisit some of these objectives more than once in the year and possibly again at Junior High School (JHS) level.

At the end of grade 6, pupils are expected to:

  • Multiply and divide decimals mentally by 10 or 100, and integers by 1000, and explain the effect.
  • Order a mixed set of numbers with up to three decimal places.
  • Reduce a fraction to its simplest form by dividing through by common factors.
  • Use a fraction as an operator to find fractions of numbers or quantities (e.g.  of 48,  of 30,   of 200 centimetres).
  • Understand percentage as a number of parts in every 100, and find simple percentages of small whole-number quantities.
  • Solve simple problems involving ratio and proportion.
  • Carry out column addition and subtraction of numbers involving decimals, up to 3 decimal places.
  • Derive quickly division facts corresponding to multiplication tables up to 10 × 10.
  • Carry out short multiplication and division of numbers involving decimals.
  • Carry out long multiplication of a three-digit by a two-digit integer.
  • Use a protractor to measure acute and obtuse angles to the nearest degree.
  • Calculate the perimeter and area of simple compound shapes that can be split into rectangles.
  • Read and plot co-ordinates in all four quadrants.
  • Identify and use the appropriate operations (including combinations of operations) to solve word problems involving numbers and quantities, and explain methods and reasoning.
  • Solve a problem by extracting and interpreting information presented in tables, graphs and charts.

International issues in Mathematic curricula in upper primary grades (5 and 6)

The national syllabus is typically found in other African countries though it is organized by objective while many African curricula are now based on competency. At international level, analysis of national curricula showed that data representation and analysis, and proportionality are relatively new challenging in curricula worldwide and. More specifically collecting data; arraying them in simple tables and graphs; understanding simple measures of central tendency and dispersion; and sampling have only recently entered pre-service teacher training programs.

Proportionality and the attendant topics in the area of fractions represent some of the most abstract and challenging subjects in primary school Mathematics. They are considered vital to developing strong mathematical reasoning skills and represent the most cognitively demanding subjects in the primary school curriculum – often equally challenging for students and as it is for teachers. A number of authors observe that common and decimal fractions are the first serious exercises in the type of abstract mathematical reasoning.

Many common performance expectations are found in Mathematics across countries and document types. These shared skill standards mainly revolved around routine and basic skills in mathematical problem solving and reasoning but did not include more cognitively demanding Mathematics skills. Alignment between textbooks and intended curricula is low (maximum is 42%).

 Are the national standards achieved ?: Learning results from NEA and EGRA tests


The NEA findings indicated that primary school pupils were challenged by both English and Mathematics, with no more than 37% of pupils achieving proficiency levels in any grade or subject.

Performance was noticeably lower for Mathematics than for English, with only 22% Ghana 2016 of P4 and 25% of P6 pupils achieving proficiency in Mathematics compared to 37% of P4 pupils and 36% of P6 pupils achieving proficiency in English. It is also important to highlight that for both grades and for English and Mathematics, at least 29% of the pupils failed to correctly answer 35% of the questions correctly, the cut-point for minimum competency. That is, 29% of the P4 English pupils and P6 Mathematics pupils, 30% of P6 English pupils, and 45% of P4 Mathematics pupils performed below the minimum competency level.

% pupils per category in maths (NEA)


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Source : NEA report (2016)

The Numbers domain assessed how well pupils understood basic numerical expressions, such as place value, numerical symbols, and the use of a number line. The Measurement domain involved understanding basic measurement and applying measurement skills. The Shape and Space domain (Figure 10) involved understanding the basic properties of plane and solid shapes and using the skills to evaluate the relative size of shapes and spaces. The Operations domain involved having pupils compute basic mathematical operations involving addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The Data and Chance domain required applying Mathematics operations to data to perform ‘real life’ Mathematics problems and finding out how certain real life events occur.

Pupils demonstrated having the most difficulty with tasks in the Measurement domain and the Shape and Space domain, with Measurement tasks being particularly challenging (34% for P4 and 29% for P6) compared to Shape and Space (38% for P4 and 39% for P6), NEA (2016).

The results to the fraction sub domain was noticeably low.

% response correct by domain, by grade (NEA)

image 2

Source : NEA report (2016)

Boys and girls performed similarly in P4 mathematics. Although girls and boys also struggled with P6 mathematics, males outperformed females by two percentage points, a difference that, while not substantive, is statistically significant. Only 14% of P4 pupils and 18% of P6 pupils from rural areas achieved proficiency in Mathematics.  With the exception of P6 mathematics, the majority of pupils in private schools in 2016 reached the proficiency level in both grades and subjects. In P4 Mathematics, 52% of pupils in private schools achieved proficiency in 2016, as opposed to 14% in public schools. In P6 mathematics, 47% of pupils in private schools achieved proficiency as opposed to 20% in public schools.

There was considerable variability in performance across regions, with distinctly lower performance for pupils attending schools in the three regions of northern Ghana (Northern, Upper East, Upper West) compared to pupils attending schools in other regions. As in previous NEA administrations, in general, pupils attending schools in Greater Accra were shown to outperform those in the other regions of the country. The relative proportion of pupils who achieved proficiency was highest in Greater Accra, for both grades and both subjects.


The overall results for the EGMA survey are summarised in below. The EGMA showed that by the end of primary 2, pupils were doing reasonably well on the most procedural items—number identification, addition level 1 and subtraction level 1—with pupils scoring on average nearly 50% or better on these subtasks. That said, the pupils did better on addition level 1 than on subtraction level 1, with nearly 20% of the pupils unable to answer a single subtraction level 1 item correctly—the easiest of these items being: 4 – 1 = iiii.

When it came to the more conceptual items, the pupils still scored reasonably well on the quantity discrimination subtask. However, on the missing number, addition level 2 and subtraction level 2 subtasks, there was a sharp drop-off in performance, with nearly 70% of the pupils unable to answer a single subtraction level 2 item correctly—the easiest of these being: 19 – 6 =  . This stark difference in performance between the procedural and conceptual subtasks suggests a lot about how children in Ghana are likely to experience school Mathematics. That is, it is likely that they experience Mathematics as a subject in which you have to know the answer rather than having a strategy for developing it: Mathematics as the memorisation of facts, rules and procedures.

image 3

Source : EGRA report (2013)

 These results interrogate the level of preparedness for teachers to tech maths.

 Teachers training

There are different categories of training in Mathematics. First, the Universities and the colleges of Education. The universities run a 4-year B.Ed degree in Basic Education. In this programme the students are given pedagogical training on how to teach Mathematics in basic schools together with other subjects taught at the basic level. Additionally, they are giving the option to specialize in at least one of the basic level subjects which can be Mathematics. There is a minimum of a semester teaching practice included in the programme.

The colleges of Education, traditionally mandated to train teachers for the basic schools, run a 3-year Diploma in Basic Education that consist of training in Mathematics that enables trainees to teach Mathematics at least in the primary school level. In the 3-year diploma, the first year is used to mostly cover Mathematics content similar to the Mathematics done in SHS. In second year, a 2-hour a week Mathematics methods or pedagogue and a 2-hour content is done for the two semesters. Thus primary methods for first semester and Junior high school methods for the second semester. There is also a one year teaching practice in a basic school included in the programme.   On completion of the 3-year Diploma, teachers can upgrade to B Ed in Basic Education through sandwiched course and top ups that last for two years. Here, they are giving the option to specialize in a basic education subject which can be mathematics. However, only few opt for Mathematics.

The type of instruction learnt by future teachers are the activity, demonstration, group and hybrid/blended methods. Teachers also learn how to prepare teaching and learning materials for mathematics and improvisation. Despite this training, do teachers have enough content knoweledge to be able to teach properly ?

Teachers content knowledge

According to the STEP data survey that target urban adult population 15-64, in Ghana, only 20.3% of the primary teachers reach the minimum literacy level to teach and 36.2% in secondary (where 88.5% of teachers have tertiary education).  While noting that the tests were administered in national languages, a fair proportion of teachers operate at literacy levels way below the minimum requirement.

The table below show teachers content knowledge in several African countries.

Teachers SDI scores by domain (% correct response)

Mozambique Kenya Nigeria* Tanzania Togo Uganda Average SDI
Mathematic (average core) 33 77 42 65 33 58 55
Adding double digit numbers 87 98 89 97 79 96 92
Subtracting double digits 65 86 70 86 65 79 77
Comparing fractions 17 40 16 50 13 21 28
Subtraction of decimal numbers 39 83 45 67 18 57 54
Source : Mozambique SDI technical report.

Note: * Surveyed states in Nigeria are: Anambra, Bauchi, Ekiti, and Niger.

 The World Bank in its Service Delivery Indicators (SDI) survey do test teachers in language and Mathematics. Unfortunately, Ghana is not part of the recent data collection. However, the table above is quite descriptive of teachers’ content knowledge (grade 4 teachers).

Adding or subtracting two digit numbers strands have high score, but on average 8% of the teachers fail to add two digits and 23% fail to subtract two digits ( grade 2 or grade 3 pupil level items). Teachers are challenged with the fraction domain (only 28% correct response on average). The average scores are just above 50% of correct responses. Kenya teachers outperforms the other countries in the SDI survey and so are pupils in the SACMEQ and EGRA data collections. The situation is particulary challenging in Togo and Mozambique where 35% of the teachers fail to subtract two digits. How can these teachers properly teach ?

All this lead us to think, that the problems experienced by the pupils in Mathematics are driven by a poor content knowledge from teachers. Recent analysis (forthcoming) show that teachers pedagogical practices have a higher impact on children test scores than the teachers content knowledge.

 Teaching methods in classroom

A study in the Winneba district found that, though there was rhetoric in the introduction of the curriculum materials on the use of discovery teaching methods, few learning/teaching activities that would encourage the use of such discovery methods were included in the materials. It was observed that both the official curriculum and the teachers who implement it emphasise expository teaching methods.

As a consequence of the infrequent use of teaching/learning materials and practical activities, pupils have little chance of asking questions. Just about 17 per cent of the teachers were found to have provided meaningful answers to pupils’ questions mainly because many of the teachers hardly engaged pupils in activities that will urge them to ask questions. Though about 70 per cent of the teachers were found to be teaching challenging Mathematics, as many as 98 per cent of them were found using solely examples and exercises set in the official textbooks. Teachers make pupils to use only the standard textbook methods irrespective of their abilities.

According to this study, Mathematics lessons in most classrooms visited followed a similar pattern. There was little difference in the sequence of presentation, form of classroom organization and classroom discourse patterns. The sequence of presentation generally followed the pattern that can be described as ‘teacher-led class discussion using situations and examples, followed by pupils’ examples and exercises. The failure of the teachers to use structured teaching materials and practical and game activities, and to rely solely on textbook routine tasks, indicate that the few who attempt to teach for conceptual understanding and application rely mainly on exposition and teach for reception and not discovery learning.

image 4

Source :  Kofi Mereku methods in Ghanaian primary Mathematics textbooks and teachers classroom practice in Williams, J. (Ed.) Proceedings of the British Society for Research into Learning Mathematics 23(2) June 2003.

 Teaching is overly based on textbooks. As a consequence, children tend to fail items that deviate from the textbooks content or format.

 Another author found that Mathematics teachers act before a passive audience that is supposed to absorb the knowledge transmitted. Usually when students do not understand a teacher’s method of presenting a mathematical concept, the teacher would not change the method of presentation. Instead, the teacher would blame the students for being lazy or unintelligent.  Mathematics teachers are mostly interested in answers or solutions to mathematical questions or problems rather than the processes or methods used to obtain the answers or solutions.  Mathematical concepts are taught as objective, discrete facts without linking them together. Students are hardly encouraged to ask questions, make comments or suggestions about what is being taught. Mathematics teaching is decontextualized.

Teachers hardly connect mathematical concepts that they are teaching to the lives of their students or cultural practices in our society. Examinations or tests are the only instrument for assessing students understanding of mathematical concepts. Scarcely do Mathematics teachers include class or homework assignments as a part of the weighing of the final marks. Mathematics is taught without using any other materials except chalk and chalkboard. Mathematics teachers have a hidden assumption that only the most brilliant students are capable of learning Mathematics. Some students are made to recite the multiplication table in a parrot-like fashion in the belief that once mastered it would facilitate the learning of other mathematical concepts.

Challenges and opportunities

The national syllabus is currently being revised to overcome these problems, and so should be teachers’ training. The changes should occur in the way teachers deliver lessons.

Recent research findings from Mathematics education show that integrating of ICT changes the nature of teaching and learning. ICT seems to provide a focal point which encourages interaction between learners and the technology itself. This implies that ICT used in instruction support constructivist pedagogy, where learners use technology to explore and reach an understanding of Mathematical concepts. Teachers must adapt to new roles.

To go further : Akyeampong K. (2017), Teachers educators practice and vision of good teaching in teacher education reform context in Ghana, Educational researcher, Vol. 46, May 2017, pp 194-203, AERA.


10 novembre 2016

Interview with Luis Crouch on early grades reading projects

Filed under: Uncategorized — Étiquettes : , , , — education_south @ 20 h 35 min

There are 97 articles on the blog. To get to 100, interviews of senior international experts are conducted.


Interview with Luis Crouch, Chief Technical Officer, International Development Group, RTI International.

Interviewer : In the last few years, there was a shift from donors to concentrate on reading in the early grades in the developing countries . Interventions and measurement tools such as EGRA have been developing rapidly. What are the reasons of this success? To what demand this endeavor has responded?

Luis Crouch : I think that initial entry into school, and even primary completion, had improved, by the early 2000s, many people started to wonder whether this was sufficient. It was clear that many countries were providing their children with about as many student-years of schooling (not grades of education) as, say, France or Finland in 1970. Yet, to common sense and anyone with experience observing classrooms, and based on measurements such as PASEC or SACMEQ, it was quite clear that children in, say, Uganda or Zambia, were not learning at anywhere close to the level of French or Finnish children in 1970. This was an efficiency concern, in some respects. It was also clear that, by the late 1990s, access to knowledge was much more inequitably distributed than access to entry into school, using any measure of inequality—so there was an inequality concern as well. But, what to measure in order to track whether learning (and the equality of its distribution)? At that point a debate started as to what should be some ways to track, and have advocacy, around learning. Some advocated for a measure around 15 years of age, since that is the legal age of entry into the labor force in many countries. Some advocated that if measurement at 15 is what drives the policy agenda, and that this is what helps countries focus, then focusing on, say, achievement by Grade 9 is insufficient. It was argued that traditionally, in most developing countries, the problems start with the foundation years. This was evident from very high rates of both formal and informal repetition in Grades 1 and 2, and from casual assessments that started to be conducted in the middle of the first decade of the century—around 2005.  In the event, assessments such as ASER (from Pratham in India), EGRA (at first associated with RTI), and then Uwezo and others, started to gain popularity—not as an alternative to assessment in later grades, but as a complement. These typically restricted themselves, or at least made possible, assessment in Grades 2 or 3 (ASER goes on to later grades).

 The demand might be rather originated from donors than from the governments themselves. What is the level of appropriation of theses tools by the governements in developing countries? Can you cite an example country where the ownership of these initiatives was high?

I would say that there is little doubt that donors initiate a lot of this. This is somewhat understandable, as donor agencies respond to parliamentary constituencies that being to ask whether the money spent on foreign aid in education does much good. DFID and USAID were subject to parliamentary reviews in the mid 2000s that, basically, asked, what is our money doing to help children learn? In addition, some multilateral organizations such as the World Bank, which are ultimately ruled by their members, started wondering the same thing. (Actually, the World Bank started thinking about these things earlier than DFID or USAID.) Speaking generally, one could say the level of appropriation is not that high—yet. However, while the tools themselves may not be appropriated, it is clear that the tools influence national assessment approaches and systems. They awaken interest, at least in some countries, in measurement (in all grades, including the early ones). In some cases the assessments are used to evaluate countries’ own projects and efforts, without donor support. Cases that could be cited are Uganda, Egypt, South Africa, and Mexico. One should also note that sometimes the appropriation is not by governments, but by local NGOs and civil society, who use the assessments to pressurize governments around the issue of quality. It is also important to note that in some cases there might be a backlash against some of these ideas.

Small scale interventions and experimentation have been multiplicated. However, there seems to be little coordination. For instance, Mali has had around 10 EGRA evaluations. The way the donors and NGOs operate in this field is not optimal in terms of political economy. What could be done to improve the coordination of early grades projects?

I think in some ultimate sense the responsibility is with the countries themselves, ultimately. If there is too much assessment going on, and it is interfering or causing confusion, the countries themselves ought to, in some sense, resist. However, that is easier said than done. Donors can be very persuasive, or can even withhold their enthusiasm for a country, or even the funding, if there is not some assessment performed. So, to some extent it can also be the collective responsibility of the donors to coordinate with each other. This can best be done at the country level, instead of having the home offices in Washington, London, or Paris (to name the cities where the donors with most responsibility for assessment sit) coordinate with each other. Finally, the NGOs themselves could push back a little. I think it is their professional responsibility. That too is easier said than done, but is at least worth mentioning.

Moreover, small-scale projects even when really successful are not always rolled/implemented on a large scale. Let’s take the example of deworming pupils in Kenya. It is a well-known example of successful measure, however at national level, there is still large proportion of pupils not benefiting from deworming (I could throw in data if you want). Small-scale interventions are relatively easy to implement, that’s the south face. Convincing a govt to change the national syllabus, textbooks and teachers training is something completely different, like climbing the north face. How do you achieve this, how do you ensure transitions from small scale to large-scale ?

That might be the most difficult issue of all. I would suggest a few things. First, don’t necessarily try to take the intervention (a particular implementation of reading in the early grades, say), but instead take to scale the fact that children should be learning to read by the end of Grade 2, and that there are specific things that can be done that do not necessarily require the specific “Brand” of NGO intervention. (E.g., make sure reading is an actual subject, and not just part of “language,” devote more time to it, make sure teachers have very specific support in how to teach reading, make sure that the reading materials for the children line up with the teachers’ lessons, etc.). Second, if possible, make sure that the intervention’s recurrent costs (that is, taking away the initial costs of design, research, evaluation, etc.) are lower or at least not much higher than what the country’s budget could absorb, at least assuming that the government takes education seriously and budgets reasonably. Third, make sure that the evaluations are as well-designed as possible, because, in spite of the role of politics and political economy, good evaluations can help. As the saying goes, having good data does not necessarily drive good policy, but having no data can often ensure bad policy.

Despite hundreds of workshops on reading, some key issues are not really discussed. In France, UK, the whole word method of teaching reading is not used anymore, after years of debate. Neurosciences experts like Stanislas Dehaene clearly said that this method is not the right one from a cognitive point of view. In the developing world, there is little debate on this. Most early grade reading interventions rely on phonics approach and syllabic method. However, no organization (donors or NGOs) clearly took position against the whole word method. Don’t you think international community does lack on courage on this topic in particular and in general when the time comes to take position?

Well, maybe.  Or maybe it is just good tactics.  But it varies a lot. In some countries the phonics (or some blend) method is actually the preferred method in the curriculum. But the approach is pretty theoretical and teachers do not know how to use it, and they do not know how to assess their children in the framework of phonics, namely, in terms of what in fact is in their curriculum. In these cases the donor or NGO intervention is just showing the counterparts how their own curriculum can be implemented better. In other countries, the whole language method is so entrenched that anything related to phonics cannot even be mentioned, though this is also decreasing in developing countries. This is all fairly ironic, because in languages that are more transparent than English or French, phonics is a no-brainer: the orthography of the languages is almost made for phonics!  So, it varies a lot. And maybe it is wise, good tactics, not to take this issue head on.

On languages, as you mention, there is a wide acceptance that teaching in national languages fosters learning how to read; and the use of national languages have been promoted as medium of instruction. That probably make sense from a pedagogical point of view but they are several aspects to it : diversity of languages and ethnic groups, political aspects and so on. For instance, a country where there is a large number of endangered languages is the USA (the natives languages), probably since the policy is assimilation. What do you think of national languages as medium of instruction in the developing countries?

This is a pretty « fraught » issue.  I don’t think it is only (or even mostly) a technocratic issue. From a purely pedagogical or technocratic point of view, and all other things being equal, my read of the evidence is pretty clear, especially in situations where the teachers are good at the home language: work to teach reading (and maybe other fundamental skills) in the home language for at least the first few years. But there are all sorts of practical difficulties in urban areas where there might be a big mix of home languages in the classroom. And, political issues (both in the « good » and not so good senses, e.g., in terms of nation-building and creating a unifying ethos, or in the « bad » sense of imposing one language on others) are also important. So I think one has to temper the pedagogical with the practical and the political. There is also the issue that sometimes what parents value about schooling is precisely the acquisition of skill in the language of commerce and power, and that might often be a Western language, or a regionally-dominant language such as Arabic. And, they might think that starting right away in that language is best. And, if a program of education that starts in the home language is poorly designed and implemented, the parents may well be right. What would « good » mean? A program that simultaneously ensures that the child is a really good reader in the home language, and has started to have a really good oral dominance of the Western language. Then the transition is pretty effortless, and the reading skills in the Western language would be easier to develop. But it seems to me that those circumstances are not often found in many countries. I can think of my own case. Spanish is my mother tongue and I was a good reader in it by age 8 or so. At the same time I learned oral English by being immersed in English with children of my own age, who did not speak Spanish, for hours and hours over many months. My transition to reading English, then, happened relatively effortlessly, with just a little help from my mother, who used a simple English reader to help me.  But, kids in rural Africa will typically not have these privileges. So, this is a difficult issue. But I think the « technical » case for simultaneous use of the home language in reading, oral acquisition of the 2nd language at the same time, and then transitioning to reading in the 2nd language, is pretty clear.

If there are things that might not work, there are others that could work. Accountability and reporting to the population on education results is often cited as a good way to improve the quality of learning. Do you think it is key? What do you think of the population led assessments such as UWEZO in eastern Africa?

I think that, in general, the notion that “pure” accountability could do it, is very attractive, because in some ways it is the least expensive thing you could do. I myself (as an economist) used to think that way: that if you have enough public accountability (and given the fact that some schools seem to know what they are doing even without NGO or government help), schools would copy good methods from each other, or teachers would seek out the methods and copy from other teachers in other schools. Much as say, barber shops copy popular styles from each other. But schooling is more complex.  And, therefore, I think that the experimentation of the last few years is showing us that this is not as easy as one had hoped. I think that in most cases it is necessary not just to pressurize schools, or have league tables, or parental activism, and so on, but also to support them with very specific, practical advice. Coaching, for example, has emerged as a pretty respected practice.

What other things (let’s say that would not cost much) can be done?

Well, one thing is to start thinking not in terms of cost per student but cost per completer. In some simulations I have been doing recently, I find that if you can improve reading in the early grades, and that leads to a reduction in repetition and dropout of reasonable magnitude, the expense per child may go up (coaching is not cheap!), but the expense per completer may go down, because the internal efficiency of the schooling system has gone up. If you make some very efficient interventions in the first couple of grades, then repetition should decrease, and since it is repetition that is partly responsible for dropping out, then the cost per completer will go down. Maybe not hugely, but likely by 10% – 15%, even if costs per child have gone up by 10% to 20%. That said, there are some aspects of the interventions that are not that expensive, but “simply” require some policy changes and political will. An example is making the decision to allocate more time to reading, so that children can master this fundamental skill.  That’s costless in some ways, it just means reallocating time around.

Do you think that the election of Donald Trump (that claims to reduce federal budget of education and very likely development aid) is going to jeopardize all the efforts and money invested in the early grades reading in the developing countries ?

It is much too early to tell!  Any policy stance that reduces spending on education assistance is likely to have negative consequences for the agenda. That said, we all know that donor expenditures are not always efficient. So, my argument is that efficient donor expenditures are defensible, and necessary, if the international community is going to continue to assist in making sure children are actually learning.

Interview by email by Pierre Varly

Luis Crouch, PhD, is a recognized international leader in providing high-level advice to governments involved in complex educational systems change. From 2011 to 2013, Dr. Crouch served with the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Education Secretariat as head of the Global Good Practices Team.

He currently leads work addressing important challenges in education, workforce and youth, and « Data Revolution for Development. » He provides input and oversight to key areas of work in all of the International Development Group’s themes.

Dr. Crouch is also researching fundamental issues at the leading edge of applied scientific work on education while continuing to pursue his policy advisory work with specific countries in areas such as school funding and educational decentralization.

This interview does not engage the responsibility of any organisation.

4 juin 2011

La lecture : Ça va faire Mururoa dans ta tête à toi

La lecture : « Ça va faire Mururoa dans ta tête à toi » -L’imagerie cérébrale à la rescousse pour atomiser l’analphabétisme

Pour reprendre cette phrase culte du film Les frères pétards, nous allons voir, grâce à l’imagerie médicale, en quoi l’apprentissage de la lecture et le calcul activent certaines zones du cerveau (allument une mèche), et quelle mécanique magnétique est à l’oeuvre pour assembler les lettres en mots, comme les atomes en molécule. L’individu qui arrive à lire d’un trait le mot « magnétoencéphalographie » (la mesure des faibles champs magnétiques) n’a pas le même cerveau que celui qui reste bloqué sur « magnéto ».

Le Point est un excellent hebdomadaire français, où l’on trouve les éditos de Patrick Besson, auteur du très bon roman : « Mais le fleuve tuera l’homme blanc », dont l’action se déroule au Congo. Dans ce roman, le « héros », un consultant !, tente d’activer les zones magico-cérébrales quelque peu enfouies dans les méandres de son cortex afin de décrypter les signes de la jungle de Brazzaville et de survivre au bord du fleuve Congo. Ce processus d’acculturation ou de retour aux sources lui sera fatal…

Le numéro du 2 juin 2011 du Point consacre quelques pages aux aventuriers de la science et accessoirement à l’introduction de la langue amazigh (berbère) à l’école marocaine.

Dans un article consacré à « Stanislas Dehaene, le défricheur du cerveau », le Point publie, avec un peu de retard, des résultats de recherche utilisant l’imagerie cérébrale. Grâce aux outils du CEA (Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique), ce chercheur identifie dans le cerveau le « lieu où tous les hommes, quels que soient leur culture ou l’alphabet, apprennent à décoder les lettres». « Dans cette zone dite visuelle, chaque enfant qui apprend à lire opère une reconversion, plus ou moins réussie, des cellules aptes jusque là à reconnaître les objets ». Les recherches démontrent que : « chaque alphabet s’est développé sous des contraintes neuronales liées à la forme des objets».

Pour aller dans ce sens, les premiers alphabets ont d’ailleurs été pictographiques avant de faire intervenir des signes en forme de coins ou de clous (cunéiforme). Plus d’infos ici.

En décembre 2010, S. Dehaene a publié la première cartographie comparant des sujets étant passés par l’école avec des individus non scolarisés ». « Si nous partageons une même architecture du cerveau, l’impact de l’éducation est cérébralement décisif ». « Ces travaux démontrent « l’existence d’un patrimoine cérébral commun à l’humanité », qui font écho au « substrat universel » cher à Levy-Strauss : « Posons donc que tout ce qui est universel, chez l’homme, relève de l’ordre de la nature et se caractérise par la spontanéité, que tout ce qui est astreint à une norme appartient à la culture et présente les attributs du relatif et du particulier ».

Vous pouvez écouter une conférence prononcée à l’Académie Royale de Belgique par S. Dehaene « Cerveau et lecture » sur ce lienAudio2011SeanceouvertureDehaene9308.mp3.

Ces travaux montrent aussi tout l’’intérêt des enquêtes sur les compétences en lecture basées sur le nombre de mots lus par minute.

On voit qu’à partir d’un seuil de 60 mots lus par minute (pour les alphabets/scripts latins et grecs), certaines zones du cerveau s’activent et la lecture devient « automatique ». Retrouvez l’article de Science en anglais ou un résumé en français sur le site de l’Inserm, où l’on apprend qu’il n’est jamais trop tard pour apprendre à lire « Les circuits de la lecture restent plastiques tout au long de la vie ».

Pour rendre opérationnels ces travaux, dans le sillage des études EGRA, un test simplifié de lecture a été administré aux élèves de 5ème année au Cameroun par votre serviteur, test qui permet de classer les élèves en lecteurs « muets », partiels et autonomes.Le test, judicieusement 🙂 couplé à un test de calcul mental, fournit au sortir de la salle de classe une estimation raisonnable de la proportion d’élèves en grande difficulté, permettant par exemple à l’inspection, si elle le souhaite…, de débriefer à chaud le personnel de l’école et d’envisager des actions de rémédiation/soutien aux enseignants ou de cibler l’école pour la fourniture en urgence des matériels didactiques.

.Les neurosciences nous montrent donc que les lecteurs autonomes (qui lisent couramment) utilisent une zone de cerveau qui n’est pas activée par les autres types de lecteurs. Les politiques éducatives ont donc pour nouvel objectif de stimuler les dites zones.

Voir cette présentation carnegie-mellon-reading from Abadzi par Helen Abadzi, qui soit dit en passant ne décrit pas bien les références des recherches de la neuroscience présentées

Carte des régions activées par le calcul (en jaune) et par les mouvements oculaires ( saccades en bleu), avec leurs intersections

Des faits similaires sont observés par l’imagerie cérébrale pour le calcul mental.

« De même, grâce à l’imagerie cérébrale par résonance magnétique à 3 Teslas de NeuroSpin, ces équipes viennent de mettre en évidence un rapprochement inattendu entre les représentations des nombres et celles de l’espace dans le cerveau. […] « Ils en ont conclu que le calcul mental ressemblait à un déplacement spatial. Par exemple, dans une certaine mesure, lorsqu’une personne qui a appris à lire de gauche à droite, calcule 18 + 5, son attention se déplace « vers la droite » de 18 à 23 dans l’espace des nombres, comme si les nombres étaient représentés sur une ligne virtuelle. « 

Les neurosciences ont incité les organisations internationales à réorienter leurs activités vers des recherches actions sur l’apprentissage de la lecture dans les premières années, via Helen Abadzi du Secrétariat de l’Initiative Fast Track. Ce document très complet et récent de Colette Chabbott fait le pont entre recherche et programmes d’interventions sur le terrain. La fondation Carnegie-Mellon souhaite poursuivre ces recherches dans les pays en développement tandis que les équipes du CEA travaillent déjà avec les indiens d’Amazonie, chers à Lévy-Strauss : « Utilisant des méthodes de psychologie cognitive, les chercheurs viennent de mettre en évidence que ce peuple possède un sens intuitif des relations nombre-espace. En revanche, le sens de la mesure est acquis par l’apprentissage« .

Vous trouverez ici un inventaire et regard critique sur les différentes méthodes d’apprentissage de la lecture.  Ces différents travaux tendant à montrer que les mécanismes cérébraux d’acquisition de la lecture sont universels ne remettent-ils pas en cause la diversification des méthodes pédagogiques et ne relancent-ils pas le débat sur les méthodes syllabiques et les méthodes globales ??

De même, ces résultats n’invitent-ils pas à maintenir les financements de la recherche française et européenne en matière de nucléaire, qui a énormément de retombées non radioactives ? Malgré un effort de décloisonnement des disciplines, on peut constater par cet article que la recherche française est très peu valorisée et sous-utilisée, contrastant avec la pratique Nord-Américaine. On incitera nos amis grands penseurs du développement à aller faire un tour du côté de Saclay. On suggérera aux chercheurs de procéder à des images cérébrales des hommes et femmes politiques, lecteurs « muets » des travaux de la neuroscience et aux membranes totalement hermétiques à l’élaboration de stratégies rationnelles d’alphabétisation de masse.

Consultez le dossier complet sur l’imagerie médicale Neurospin du CEA. Pour vous détendre, vous pouvez aussi visiter la grande barrière de corail, avant qu’elle ne disparaisse.

Les coraux ressemblent étrangement à des cerveaux (« La morphogénèse est proche des labyrinthes des cerveaux », Stanilas Dehaene)

La grande barrière de Corail en Australie est le plus grand organisme vivant de la planète, sorte de réseau internet fossilisé.

Voir ici un livre sur le corail de Mururoa bien sûr ! Les requins, qui côtoient les récifs coralliens, disposent d’un organe qui leur permet de détecter les champs magnétiques très faibles, les ampoules de Lorenzini. Si vous avez suivi, les requins sont quelques peu, vous l’aurez compris, « encéphalomagnétographes ».

Cet article est dédicacé à mon père, André Varly.

Pierre Varly

Sources/crédits images :  http://www.collegedevinci.com/Civilisation-des-pictogrammes-a-l et © CEA.

12 mai 2011

Une école au Burundi

Filed under: Post par pays, Uncategorized — Étiquettes : , , , — education_south @ 22 h 20 min

Une école au BurundiLe Burundi est un petit pays d’Afrique de l’Est, bordé par le Lac Tanganika et fait de collines. La population est essentiellement rurale, vit de l’agriculture et seuls 3% des burundais ont accès à l’électricité, principalement dans la capitale Bujumbura.


==> L’école X est conventionnée, créée par les communautés religieuses, elle est maintenant financée par l’Etat qui rémunère les enseignants. Les manuels scolaires de lecture en Kirundi, langue parlée par plus de 95% de la population, sont très peu disponibles dans les classes.


==> L’école a reçu un don d’une association. Les manuels sont encore dans le bureau du directeur, en compagnie de nombreux matériels didactiques (compas, équerre, dictionnaires …)


==> Le Burundi est célèbre pour ses tambourinaires et son crocodile Gustave ! A l’école, le rassemblement dans la cour se fait au son des fameux tambours. Les élèves font le tour de la cour en chantant l’hymne national, tandis que le drapeau national se lève. La discipline est de mise dans beaucoup d’écoles africaines.


==> Ci-dessus, une petite classe de 46 élèves  de 2ème année; dans un pays où les classes de plus de 100 élèves ne sont pas rares. Le taux de redoublement est de 35%.

==> La mission avait pour but de mettre à l’essai des tests de lecture rapide EGRA auprès des élèves, qui se sont prêtés au jeu, tout comme le personnel de l’école, que l’on remercie. Une vidéo a été tournée afin de servir de support de formation pour les administrateurs de test.

Photos prises d’une mission par Pierre Varly.

31 mai 2010

Curricula analysis in Francophone Africa

Filed under: Comparaisons internationales — Étiquettes : , , , , — education_south @ 18 h 03 min

In 2007, the PASEC program has commissioned a curricula analysis for Francophone developping countries. The PASEC is the Program for the Analysis of Education Systems of CONFEMEN created in 1991 within the Francophonie . See their website here. In French.

What is beeing taught in the classrooms of Francophone Africa? Are the official instructions followed by teachers? Are there significant differences in national programs between countries?

The objective was to identify a common set of skills, as a base for the developemnt of new assessment tests. This work has been performed by the University of Liege (AsPe) and National Institute for Education and Action for Development in Senegal (INEADE), a technical adviser PASEC (your servant), a young statistician and national PASEC teams. Focus was on the fifth year of primary education and on the French language and mathematics.

The analysis method and process

Previous curricula work has been done by several organisaions. The International Bureau of Education (UNESCO IBE) stores a database and a set of documents on curricula. ADEA has also worked on the place of national languages in the curriculum. An analysis of global curricula is underway within the Institute of Statistics of UNESCO. But this was the first time a comprehensive review of curricula was conducted in francophone Africa with this level of details.

The national program, textbooks and teacher’s guidebook has been analysed. The originality of the PASEC work were questionnaires designed to inform teachers classroom practices (implemented curricula). A quantitative approach was used to « measure » the curriculum and establish the distribution by teaching fields, educational objectives and cognitive processes targeted by both the official instructions and in classrooms. Analysis grids were built upon the work of IEA, the OECD and the French Community of Belgium. Teachers were also asked to correct proofs of students and what evaluation questions (exercises) they were using with their students, which was chosen as the key measure for the implemented curricula.

The curricula tornado in Africa

Since the making of the PASEC tests in the 90’s, curricula in Africa have changed considerably. The competence based approach has been promoted and adopted by many countries but its integration into the teacher training programs and the classrooms is not fully effective. This educational approach is widely discussed in Africa, see an overview (in French) by Xavier Roegiers or the paper by Jean-Marc Bernard (in French).

The analysis reveals large between countries differences in areas covered by the national curricula. The results were presented to Ministers of Education by Michele Lejong at the 53rd Ministerial Conference in Caraquet in June 2008. All documents are in french. See here the three comprehensive powerpoints, presenting the approach, tools and results with recommendations. The key findings are presented below.

Between countries variation in curriculum

In French language, an agregate of the teaching fields was set to ease the presentation of results with the following definitions :
• « formal learning » : tools in the service of written and spoken language out of context (spelling, grammar, conjugation, vocabulary, writing, reciting, rhymes and songs).
« Non-formal learning » on the specific aims of the language: reading, writing, speaking, listening

Countries that have already implemented the competency-based approach like Mauritania, Benin and  Madagascar, among others, seem to focus more on non-formal learning in the official program, but it is not systematic –see Congo. In mathematics, the cognitive processes mobilised vary greatly, the problem solving is sometimes absent or in negligible amount in the official programs in half of the countries. The analysis also showed a significant differences between the programs and textbooks. Cognitive processes of low-level taxonomy (according to Bloom) are common in the official instructions but what happens in classrooms? Do teachers’ pedagogical practices follow the recommendations of the Ministries?

Gap between official instructions and teachers practices in classroom

Five countries have collected information on curricula in the classroom : Benin, Cameroon, Madagascar, Niger and Senegal. The graphs below shows the distribution of evaluation questions by subject and comparison with the official curriculum, french language.


Teachers assess their pupils at 83% on « formal learning », which occupies only half of the official program. The graph shows a clear gap in the  weights of reading and grammar fields. This may be related to the content of national examinations which remains the main objective of teachers and which are often based on formal learning.

Similarly in mathematics, a big difference between the curricula lies in the place of problems solving. The reasoning is virtually absent from the cognitive processes (1%), but the problem solving process weighs 18% of mobilized skills, although virtually absent from the official programs.

In French language and mathematics the situation is very heterogeneous within the same country and there are large variations among teachers.

The place of reading in classroom practice

It is necessary to focus on the role of reading in the official programs and classroom practices, as a foundation for more complex skills (reading to learn). Out of the 150 teachers surveyed, half spent less than two hours of teaching reading in class, while the geometry roughly occupies four hours of instruction for almost all teachers. Geometry might be here simple drawing.

This unsufficient time spent for reading might result in little reading skills for pupils as noted in several EGRA studies. See the EGRA Senegal report, or read my post for Mali.


Michele LEJONG finds that the failure of some teachers in the school system generates strong  social inequities. Based on the factors of pedagogical effectiveness established in the literature (see Verspoor) and the results of its analysis, she recommends to :

  1. « Increase instructional time by implementing (central) standards to respect and support measures by local steering ;
  2. Identify priorities in the program (give tags to teachers. Provide a collection of situations) ;
  3. Increase the level of teacher training, particularly through distance education or other in-service training . Interactive radio has a positive effect on performance ;
  4. Improve quality of teachers by providing well-constructed manuals and teaching guidebooks ;
  5. Train and mentor teachers to diagnose errors and omissions in the responses of students ;
  6. Make available textbooks, teaching guides that focus on certain skills such as lesson sequence, formative assessment testing, error analysis, with text dealing with  various issues and high-level taxonomy processes ;
  7. Given that the guidebooks are very popular among teachers, they must become a major vehicle for changing teacher practices and must include : variety of situations, consolidation or improvement of knowledge on teachers, indications on how to deal with students situation and
  8. Train teachers to expert solving problems and to construct assessment tasks on the aims of language ».

From political and scientific perspectives , this work deserve to be better exploited.

16 avril 2010

L’apprentissage de la lecture au Mali

Filed under: Post par pays — Étiquettes : , , , , — education_south @ 16 h 21 min

Ce post résulte d’une mission de consultation menée au Mali du 29 mars au 3 avril 2010 et n’engage pas les organisations citées mais seulement l’auteur.

Le 1er avril 2010 une présentation des résultats de l’étude EGRA sur la lecture s’est déroulée à Bamako en présence de nombreux représentants de la société civile. L’atelier avait pour objectifs de mobiliser le corps social (enseignants, parents d’élèves, communautés, …) en faveur de la lecture en provoquant une prise de conscience à partir de résultats d’évaluation.

Pour faire court, écoutez ce reportage diffusé sur une radio malienne:  JP DU 1 AVL 10 13H

Après cinquante ans d’indépendance, le constat sur le niveau des élèves dans les premières années d’enseignement est amer. Plus de 80% des élèves ne sont pas capables de lire un mot correctement en 2ème année que ce soit en français ou dans les langues nationales.


68% des élèves de 4ème année ne sont pas capables de lire à haute voix la phrase « Mon école est jolie ».

Même après six années d’études, beaucoup d’élèves ne savent pas lire. Le tableau ci-dessous présente clairement l’évolution des capacités de lecture en français au cours du cycle, entre filles et garçons et selon le type d’écoles. Les écoles « curriculum » sont des écoles utilisant les langues nationales jusqu’en 3ème année avant de basculer vers le français. Les écoles classiques n’enseignent qu’en français. L’indicateur est le nombre de mots lus par minute à partir d’un texte simple, une petite histoire.

A partir d’un seuil établi à 45 mots par minute par les spécialistes des neurosciences puis validé empiriquement par des études menées dans divers pays, les élèves sont plus à même de passer du stade d’une lecture autonome et peuvent davantage « lire pour apprendre ». Si les capacités de lecture des élèves augmentent au cours du cycle, même en sixième année, on est loin du seuil à partir duquel la lecture devient plus automatique.  La chance ou la probabilité pour qu’un adulte soit alphabétisé durablement après six années d’études n’est que de 54% au Mali, selon les enquêtes réalisées auprès des adultes. Cela se traduit par un fort taux d’analphabétisme dans la population (77% de la population des plus de 15 ans), un des plus élevés au monde. Voir la fiche pays du Pôle de Dakar sur le Mali. Néanmoins, les écoles privées et certaines école publiques obtiennent de bons résultats et il est donc possible d’apprendre à lire au Mali !

Les résultats en français des écoles curriculum utilisant les langues nationales au départ ne sont pas vraiment différents de celles où l’enseignement n’est qu’en français. Un intérêt des études EGRA au Mali réside dans la passation des tests de lecture dans quatre langues nationales (le Bamanankan, Bomu, Fulfuldé et Songhoï). Les résultats dans les langues nationales des élèves de deuxième année sont aussi bas que ceux du français, avec deux mots lus par minute en moyenne. Ce pays francophone a depuis de nombreuses années introduit les langues  nationales dans l’enseignement. La « pédagogie convergente » a été en particulier utilisée. Les langues nationales ne sont pas la panacée et il faut chercher les raisons d’un tel gaspillage.

Parmi les hypothèses généralement avancées, la question du niveau des enseignants revient souvent. Le Mali a fait largement appel aux enseignants contractuels et communautaires qui représentent 70% des enseignants. Recrutés au niveau BEPC ou BAC, les enseignants contractuels n’ont qu’une formation de quelques semaines. Or, les réformes pédagogiques sont allées bons train au Mali et le décalage entre la théorie et la pratique sur le terrain est criant. L’enseignement en classe est largement basé sur la répétition et la transcription de textes écrits au tableau. L’association entre lettres et sons n’est pas bien enseignée dès le départ.

Au niveau des manuels scolaires, comme dans les autres pays, les élèves des classes de fin de cycle sont mieux dotés que ceux de 2ème année par exemple, qui ne sont qu’un quart a avoir des manuels, selon leurs propres déclarations. Si on ajoute à cela des effectifs pléthoriques, les conditions d’un bon apprentissage de la lecture dès les premières années ne sont pas réunies. Le temps d’enseignement peut être également invoqué comme facteur limitant les acquisitions des élèves. De plus, des représentations fortes parmi les enseignants grèvent les moyens d’actions en faveur de la qualité. Bon nombre d’enseignants fixe mentalement à l’âge de 8 ans le moment à partir duquel les enfants peuvent véritablement apprendre à lire.

Le modèle classique de scolarisation montre ses limites et les pouvoirs publics n’arrivent pas à redresser la situation. Faut-il rester les bras croisés face à cette situation ?

Lors de l’atelier, des discussions ont permis de débroussailler le terrain pour améliorer la situation. L’implication des communautés apparaît un élément clé et les stratégies proposées par les participants (en majorité des ONG) dépassent le strict cadre des murs de  l’école. Pour les participants, un encadrement (tutorat) par les pairs plus âgés peut contribuer à relever le niveau et à revaloriser le rôle des tuteurs ou en faire des modèles sociaux.

Les extraits ci-dessous en gras sont les messages produits par les participants de l’atelier.

« Cher parent, trouve un tuteur, soit juste, aide les enfants afin qu’ils lisent mieux. Nos enfants ne savent pas lire, ne compromettons pas leur avenir, impliquons nous. »

« La lecture est le plier de la connaissance, or nos enfants ne savent pas lire. Aidons- les à surmonter cette difficulté par le tutorat car la connaissance est la base de tout développement. »

Mais consacrer plus de temps à l’enseignement n’est pas toujours bien accepté par les parents pour lesquels les enfants travaillent parfois. C’est une barrière à surmonter. La mise en place de mesures de remédiation ciblant les élèves les plus faibles a été aussi citée comme un moyen.

Selon ce schéma, les parents viennent épauler voir se substituer à un système public défaillant. Ainsi, pour parvenir à mettre en œuvre de telles actions, il faut aboutir à un consensus entre enseignants, parents et communautés. Les questions de communication apparaissent incontournables. La décentralisation des responsabilités au niveau des communes et la mise en place des Comités de gestion (CGS) apparaît un terrain favorable à davantage de dialogue sur l’éducation au niveau local. Dans la pratique, les CGS ne sont pas tous fonctionnels et même si la loi d’orientation leur donne des prérogatives, sur le terrain, les parents ne sont pas bien outillés pour se mêler des questions de pédagogie par exemple.

« Les enfants sont l’avenir de nos familles et nos communautés pour cela, nous ne devons compter ni le temps, ni les moyens pour aider les directeurs et les maîtres à avoir un bon rendement. Le niveau des enfants en lecture étant très bas, nous ne devons pas nous permettre d’échouer car l’avenir de nos enfants et du pays en dépend. »

Le but de cet atelier sur la communication et de la mobilisation sociale est précisément de replacer l’apprentissage de la lecture au centre de l’école primaire, en faire un cheval de bataille. Le parti pris est que si les parents sont en mesure de voir si leurs élèves savent lire (à partir de la cadence de diction), ils pourront demander des comptes aux directeurs, enseignants, et interpeller la communauté éducative. Les stratégies purement gouvernementales ont montré des limites. Il faut produire des messages simples et clairs, qui vont droit au but et touchent les communautés, via les radios locales par exemple.

« Chers enseignants, la réussite de vos élèves c’est la votre. Améliorer la qualité des apprentissages des élèves en lecture par l’identification des élèves en difficultés de lecture et l’organisation des cours de rattrapage une fois par semaine par le maitre en impliquant les parents d’élèves. »

L’article wikipédia sur l’éducation au Mali est de bonne qualité, voir ici.

Crédit photos : rapports EGRA Mali, wikipédia pour la première photo.

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