Quality pedagogy for learning and equity
To maximise the return on investment in girls’ education, we need a combination of general interventions to increase the quality of teaching and learning for all children and girl-specific interventions. Our model of good quality pedagogy for learning and equity equips stakeholders with the knowledge, skills and behaviours to improve learning for all girls and boys.
Why do we need gender-responsive pedagogy?
The severity of the learning crisis around the world is clear for all to see – and a lack of quality teaching and learning is a key driver. Even before Covid-19 hit, 258 million children of primary and secondary school age were out of the school and the learning poverty rate in low- and middle-income countries stood at 53% – meaning that over half of all ten-year-old children could not read and understand a simple text. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the figure was closer to 90%.[i] Educationalists around the world, including Education Development Trust, point to the lack of quality teaching and learning as one of the main causes of the learning crisis for girls and boys alike – and the need for significant improvements in teaching to ensure that all girls – and boys – learn.
Girls also face gendered barriers to learning: in some contexts, this means that girls’ learning is falling behind that of boys. This is especially the case where gender intersects with other forms of marginalisation, such as extreme poverty, remote communities, the effects of crisis or conflict, and living with disabilities. Barriers can exist at various levels of the education system and wider society. Curricula can reinforce gender stereotypes in what children learn about, while teacher training, recruitment and career progression processes often reinforce or sustain gender biases. There is also too often a lack of enforcement of safeguarding policies, while system incentives are not geared towards ensuring that pupils (both girls and boys) learn foundational skills. Meanwhile, cultures within schools can reinforce norms which limit girls’ learning, participation and aspirations, and school leadership may not be focused on quality instruction. Even where school leaders have the relevant data and will to enforce change, they often lack knowledge of how to address gender issues in their schools. Girls often also face additional barriers outside school – for example, gender-based violence, low aspirations for girls in their community, increased domestic responsibilities, and limited support for their learning at home.
There are specific barriers at classroom level which prevent girls from learning: these pedagogy-related challenges further hinder their ability to learn and thrive in school. Research shows that teaching and learning methods, materials, language, school, classroom and behaviour management approaches and curricula can all consciously or unconsciously reinforce gender stereotypes that disadvantage girls and negatively affect their ability to learn. Girls are disadvantaged in learning when teachers have low expectations about their abilities, when curricula reinforce negative gender stereotypes, when assessments over over-reliant on multiple choice and closed short answers, and when opportunities for collaborative and group learning in the classroom are lacking.[ii] Girls – and their peers, teachers, and communities – may have limiting beliefs about what they can do, leading to lower confidence and participation, which can be perceived as a lack of ability, and result in less support to succeed in learning, perpetuating the negative cycle. It is therefore critically important for all practitioners to focus on improving the quality of pedagogy for learning and equity to ensure that all girls and boys can reach their full potential.
We need to address gendered barriers to learning to ensure that all girls are able to complete their education. Where girls’ learning falls behind, this can lead them to drop out or fail to transition to subsequent stages of education. Addressing these barriers to learning is therefore essential. Classroom teaching should also seek to address non-cognitive learning outcomes, particularly challenging negative gendered stereotypes and social behavioural norms – including attitudes to and behaviours around gender-based violence.
There is a small but growing body of evidence which shows that gender-responsive pedagogy approaches – which we call ‘pedagogy for learning and equity’ – can lead to improved learning outcomes for girls, both cognitive and attitudinal. In Rwanda, it has reduced dropout and repetition rates for girls at primary level,[iii] while in Malawi and Tanzania, schools that adopted gender-responsive pedagogy in their teaching and school management practices experienced a 10% improvement in girls’ retention and academic performance.[iv] Where teacher training colleges and schools implement gender-responsive pedagogy, it follows that teachers use less discriminatory, abusive and threatening language, making learners feel more encouraged to participate and support each other, and improving girls’ self-esteem.[v] Teachers trained in this pedagogy also see higher retention rates, more girls participating in school committees and leadership roles, a reduction in teenage pregnancies, greater awareness of gender issues among boys, and success in implementing gender empowerment projects in their schools and communities.[vi]
What defines our approach to quality pedagogy for learning and equity?
Our approach is based on ten principles derived from the evidence base and our own experience of delivering system reform and school improvement at scale.
To create meaningful, sustainable change, we work to change behaviour and practices at every level of the system. Our approach to improving outcomes for girls through better quality pedagogy is based on a rigorous and holistic understanding of what it takes to change the behaviour of all actors in schools and across local and national systems to focus on more inclusive pedagogical practices. This includes policymakers, leaders, curriculum material developers, teacher trainers, teachers and learners.
Girls in different contexts face different barriers to learning at different times and stages of education: our pedagogy for learning and equity approach reflects this and is co-constructed at the local level. It is shaped in collaboration with school and local leaders, teachers and government officials, based on data and a thorough diagnosis of the barriers to learning – looking at absolute barriers faced by the majority of girls and boys, and at differences in learning outcomes between girls and boys and among marginalised groups. This includes the use of diagnostic tools and analyses – such as gender equity and social inclusion analyses and data systems audits – and in-country learning and evidence bases, to ensure that problems and barriers are effectively identified and articulated, and that the solutions we propose are appropriate in scope and fit for both purpose and context. We also recognise that meaningful change can happen by building on bright spots. So we use our diagnostic tools to identify, analyse and understand existing good practice and positive deviance from which all practitioners, including our own teams, can learn. To operate at scale, we equip system leaders to strengthen gender-responsiveness across the systems they work in, highlighting the importance of sex-disaggregated data, and providing policy briefs, guidance and technical assistance on teaching for learning and equity.
School leaders have a critical role in creating the right conditions for girls’ learning: we build their capacity in instructional leadership for quality, equitable pedagogy. This includes training in specifically gender-responsive instructional leadership and school improvement planning. Through our expertise in leadership for learning, we build the capacity of school leaders to focus on evidence-based teaching and learning, to build safe learning environments and behaviour management approaches, and to make effective use of data to further equity and improvements (see Box 1). Specifically, we advocate for the use of formative assessment systems for individualised learning and disaggregated data to help school leaders understand – and act upon – gendered barriers to attendance, learning, and the completion of schooling (see Box 2).
Box 1: Gender-responsive leadership in Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, through our TARGET programme, we are scaling up two programmes of leadership for learning which explicitly develop the skills and competencies required for leaders to establish and develop gender-responsive and inclusive schools, in partnership with regional/cluster coordinators and local Woreda (area) officers. The content for both programmes allows leaders to provide training for teachers and community stakeholders on gender-sensitive teaching and to embed these in teaching and learning strategies. Leaders are supported to develop processes and systems which monitor and evaluate the impact of these strategies through lesson observations which identify professional development needs for individual teachers and across each school. Leaders share good practice and identify shared resources to support each other in developing gender-responsive pedagogy through professional learning communities.
Regular school visits by the TARGET team, carried out in partnership with regional and Woreda officers, have provided data on regional variations in practice, which will allow for focused additional training and support.
Box 2: Understanding girls’ challenges with learning in Kenya
In Kenya, in our Girls Education Challenge programme, we use our tailored formative assessment process to identify gaps in learning and understand the specific challenges faced by girls in the classroom. We use the data to support leaders and teachers to reflect individually (with coaches) and in groups at the school level (through subject panels) and across schools (working through clusters) to develop individualised learning plans that meet differentiated learning needs of all girls and boys. The insights that teachers receive from their coaches, and from peers within and outside their schools, help them plan their responses at both the classroom level and the school level.
At Viriko Primary School in Kilifi County, the assessment process has led to the establishment of multi-grade catch up classes for girls struggling with foundational literacy. Assessment for learning has thus become part of the school culture. Meanwhile, at, Saint Theresa Secondary Girls’ School in Nairobi County, teachers found that their own biases of what girls can do and achieve were negatively impacting their teaching and the girls’ learning. Additional support in gender-responsive pedagogy and assessment protocol training was provided. As a result, not only have teachers changed their mindsets, improved their delivery and assessment practice and developed specific strategies to support girls to access and learn in STEM, but the girls themselves have gained a greater understanding of what helps them learn and now proactively ask for additional assignments. Saint Theresa School now prides itself on the number of girls choosing to study physics and move into traditionally male-dominated STEM courses at tertiary level.
Our assessment processes, including classroom observation and witnessing teachers’ interactions with their students, enabled our GEC project team to identify learning gaps in literacy and numeracy. In response, during the nine-month period of Covid-19-related school closures, they developed a series of tutorials to address these gaps, which were issued to learners at the community level with the help of community health volunteers and remedial teachers. Learners worked individually and in groups with the support of educated individuals in their households or communities and roving remedial teachers. The remedial teachers marked the tutorials and gave written feedback to learners, who used this to inform their corrections and further studies. Following schools reopening, remedial teachers used the insights they had gained during closures to organise individualised remedial programmes. We conducted a rapid assessment study (RAS) of learning levels in February 2021, following reopening, which indicated that statistically significant learning gains in numeracy skills were attributable to the tutorials and individualised support. No learning loss was experienced in literacy during the period. A follow-on study conducted in November 2021 revealed an overall marked improvement in literacy and numeracy scores from the RAS, a gain that has been attributed specifically to remedial strategies adapted by schools for individual and group learners.
Teachers, with the support of school leaders and coaching, can be empowered as agents of change in support of greater gender equity within their classrooms and beyond: we enable leaders to support teachers in this way. Specifically, we help leaders to build teachers’ capacity to recognise and challenge gender bias and negative gendered behaviours and attitudes within their classrooms: in curricular materials, in pupil relationships and behaviours, and in their own teaching and classroom management practices. Teachers are best placed to identify which learners are being left out, and the extent to which gender plays a role in this. We equip them with teaching strategies that are effective at producing learning gains that are equitable – raising learning aspirations and outcomes for all whilst ensuring that learning gaps are reduced. Through ensuring equitable learning, and working with learners, we build their own understandings of gender equity, and support them to become agents of change for gender equality in the wider society.
There are many ways in which teaching can either enable or inhibit gender equity in learning: we work with teachers to promote effective, gender-responsive practices at the classroom level. Many teachers have not been trained in these methods, so we train, mentor and coach them in quality pedagogy for learning and equity – including language, methodologies (such as collaborative learning and project-based learning), learning materials, and classroom set-up. In addition to coaching, we also provide high-quality professional development materials, such as manuals, guidelines and our gender-responsive teaching practice tool. We also equip them to reflect on and critique their own practice and materials, and promote collaboration and peer review and coaching through communities of practice. As the key actors interacting with girls themselves, it is also critical that teachers are equipped to not only involve girls appropriately in classroom and leadership activities, but also to set high expectations for all pupils and actively support girls’ progression, especially in STEM subjects, where female representation is typically lower (see Box 3).
Box 3: Encouraging girls in computing through our Connected Learning Centre
Our Connected Learning Centre in London designs teaching and learning materials for computer science and computational thinking based on the known differences in how girls and boys engage with and learn through technology, sometimes separating boys and girls where there is pedagogical value in doing so. Through these approaches, they aim to solidly dispel persistent myths about gendered aptitudes in computing and technology, to foster enjoyment in the learning process, and mitigate the risks of an ever-increasing gender divide in STEM.
Quality pedagogy for learning and equity is one very important element of our holistic approach to empowering girls through quality teaching and learning – but it is not the only one. For more information on the other elements of our solution, please contact us and/or visit https://www.educationdevelopmenttrust.com/our-expertise/girls-education.
[i] World Bank (2021): https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/immersive-story/2021/01/22/urgent-effective-action-required-to-quell-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-education-worldwide
[ii] See UNESCO (2020) Global Education Monitoring report gender report. A New generation: 25 years of efforts for gender equality in education. UNESCO, Paris and Postles, C. (2013) Girls' Learning: Investigating the classroom practices that promote girls' learning. Plan UK, London
[iii] Ministry of Education, Rwanda (2015). Education for ALL 2015 National Review Report. Rwanda. Retrieved from UNESCO
[iv] Atangana-Amougou, T. (2017). UNESCO and Gender Equality in Sub-Saharan Africa. Innovative programmes, visible results [e-book]. Paris: UNESCO. Retried from: UNESCO and gender equality in Sub-Saharan Africa: innovative programmes, visible results; 2017 (gcedclearinghouse.org)
[v] Wanjama, L.N. & Njuguna, F.W. (2015). Documented Gender Responsive Pedagogy (GRP) Good Practices. Case study. Nairobi: Kenya.
[vi] Bever (2014). Creating Supportive Learning Environments for Girls and Boys: A Guide for Educators. IREX. Retrieved from: creating-supportive-learning-environments-girls-boys_2.pdf (irex.org)