In 2019, PASEC (the CONFEMEN Programme for the Analysis of Education Systems) will launch the final phase of data collection for the second round of the international assessment - PASEC2019. Fifteen countries will participate including, for the first time, Gabon, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The greatest challenges linked to attaining Sustainable Development Goal n°4 (SDG 4) are mainly in sub-Saharan Africa where, despite an improvement in the access rate to primary education, drop-out rates remain high among primary school pupils, and the acquisition of core competencies (written and oral comprehension, and arithmetic) is unsatisfactory. According to the findings of the PASEC2014 report, 70% of pupils do not have sufficient language competencies when they start school; this is 50% for arithmetic mathematics. At the end of schooling, 60% of pupils were found to be below the minimum competency threshold in these two subjects.
PASEC: a tool to improve the quality of education in Francophone Africa
PASEC, created in 1991 by the Conference of Ministers of Education of Francophone Countries (CONFEMEN), has an international coordination team in Dakar based at the CONFEMEN Permanent Technical Secretariat. PASEC is an education system support and management tool designed for the CONFEMEN Member States and Governments to improve the quality of education. It aims to provide information about the effectiveness of education systems in order to inform the design and monitoring of education policies. It also provides technical assistance to the participating countries in terms of the deployment and sustainability of their national learning assessment system, as well as ensuring the dissemination of the findings throughout the country, and their comparison at the international level. The quantitative data collected through these assessments makes it possible to steer and monitor (in time and space) the impact of education reforms aimed at achieving greater equity in accessing quality education for pupils, schools and regions within a country.
The PASEC methodology collects pupil data on written comprehension and arithmetic in the language of instruction at the start and end of primary school. At the start of primary school, the assessment makes it possible to identify any learning difficulties that may lead to pupils dropping out of school, etc. It also helps position policies on the effectiveness of education reforms (e.g. early education in the national language as a medium language towards French, remediation lessons, the availability of education resources, pre- l and in-service teacher training).
Adopting a participatory approach in countries throughout the preparation process
Each assessment cycle is preceded by a preparatory phase. The assessment instruments and procedures are first reviewed before being tested to see if any final adjustments are necessary.
For the PASEC2019 assessment, the process of reviewing the assessment tools (tests and contextual questionnaires) started at the end of 2016. The work continued in April 2017 with the design of new items by the national teams and finished the following October at an international workshop of the teams in Ouagadougou to select items to be trialled in April and May 2018 with a reduced of sample of schools. The workshop created an opportunity for the national teams to jointly assess the quality of the items in relation to the content, targeted cognitive processes, and editing criteria defined in the PASEC frame of reference. Among the selected items, certain ‘anchoring’ items were taken from the PASEC2014 report.
The contextual questionnaires concern the pupils, teachers and their classes, as well as the school principals and the schools for which they are responsible. The questionnaires are then adjusted to reflect the countries’ specific contexts (e.g. academic and professional diplomas of the teachers and principals).
Teacher survey - a new feature of the PASEC assessment
PASEC2019 has introduced a new feature i.e. an in-depth teacher survey. It involves asking teachers to take tests on reading comprehension, arithmetic, and the didactics of reading comprehension and arithmetic. It also includes a data collection questionnaire on the classroom environment, teaching conditions, etc.
The aim of this survey is to provide indicators to guide national policies (strengthening teachers’ capacity, improving working conditions, in-service training, etc.) to increase the number of effective teachers by 2030 as set out in Target 4 (c) of SDG 4.
Competency in the language of instruction other than French
For this second international assessment, some countries, which have adopted a bilingual teaching model, also decided to assess (in addition to French) the national languages used as languages of instruction in certain schools in the education system.
The assessment instruments and procedures will be piloted in all fifteen participating countries in April: the national testing sample will comprise twenty schools per the assessed language of instruction. In Cameroon, Niger, Mali and Chad, separate samples from twenty schools were identified; one assessed in the national language - depending on the language of instruction - and the other in French. In Burundi and Madagascar, the national language of instruction is used in primary schools. The findings from the pilot phase will be used to draw up a definitive list of items to be included in the tests and questionnaires.
Instilling a culture of assessment in the countries
In accordance with the decisions taken by CONFEMEN for the second edition of the PASEC assessment, the standard cost of the assessment will be covered up to 50% by the CONFEMEN; the remaining 50% will be covered by the country from its national budget or by seeking financial assistance from other partners. In this respect, CONFEMEN plays an advocacy role with ministries of education and finance to systematise the payment of the assessment by defining a specific budget line, which is discussed and approved during the vote on the annual finance law in parliament.
The budget earmarked for the PASEC assessment for a given country varies depending on the size of the sample and the levels of disaggregation of the results required by the country. The stratification of the sample is defined by the national educational authorities and the PASEC coordination team.
PASEC’s remit also includes strengthening national capacity to enable countries to engender an assessment culture, and having the necessary capacity to ensure the smooth running of national assessments and the availability of indicators for the formulation of sector plans.
Improving the planning and monitoring of education policies
The challenges related to these assessments lie in a country’s ability to use and disseminate the data for strategic purposes. PASEC, via CONFEMEN, supports countries with their communication strategy. In this respect, it helps organise national results-reporting workshops as well as with the decentralized authorities in order to encourage ownership of the results by local education communities, and the development of policies to reflect the specific issues of the local schooling environment and socio-economic context.
The PASEC coordination team works with partners of other international assessment programmes. Therefore, in collaboration with the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning, and, notably, in the context of monitoring progress to reach SDG4 by 2030, discussions are being held to ensure the production of internationally-comparable learning outcome indicators in terms of the instruments and methodology.