ASER South Asia, a hub of the People’s Action for Learning (PAL) Network, comprising ASER Bangladesh, ASER India, ASER Nepal and ASER Pakistan, hosted a webinar on “Understanding foundational numeracy: South Asian perspectives on ICAN, a new global tool” on Monday, August 10, 2020.
The panelists for the webinar included Asif Saleh, Executive Director, BRAC Bangladesh; Rukmini Banerji, CEO Pratham; Shehzad Jeeva, Chairman The Inter Board Committee of Chairmen (IBCC) Pakistan; and Marguerite Clarke, Senior Education Specialist, World Bank, New Delhi. The discussion was moderated by Ramya Vivekandan, Senior Education Specialist, Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
South Asia is the only region that does not already have a common assessment. Hence, the webinar aimed at advocating for a common regional tool that can be used in diverse contexts (school, household, refugee camps etc) and is particularly important in the post-COVID era when we will see learning loss and increasing equity gaps.
The webinar began with a presentation on the International Common Assessment of Numeracy (ICAN) report, explaining the Citizen-led Assessment (CLA) approach and its relevance for the Global South. The webinar was interpreted simultaneously in Urdu, Bangla, Nepali and Hindi languages to facilitate participants from the South Asian region to listen to the discussion in their respective languages.
World Bank’s Marguerite Clarke talked about how Citizen-led assessments are liberating and tend to be more transparent on many levels. “ICAN is a citizen led assessment of the people, by the people and for the people – With citizens involved, it helps in empowering them and truly understanding the data,” she said. Clarke wished for all children in the region, no matter where they live or who their family is, to achieve their maximum potential.
Pratham India CEO Rukmini Banerji said, “The simplicity of the tool, the possibility of doing this with so many children was a step for us to think about learning for ALL,” adding, “It’s not just ICAN, it’s WE CAN and WE WILL.”
BRAC Bangladesh Executive Director Asif Saleh, while highlighting the importance of a common assessment tool for South Asia, stressed upon the need to involve the community and parents in the discussion on quality education. “The ICAN tool helps us assess children not just in school but also out of school. This helps engage parents and communities which is very important,” he further said.
IBCC Pakistan Chairman Shehzad Jeeva said that since ICAN is available in multiple languages and is easy to understand, it becomes a vital tool that helps assessing children more effectively. “We have done away with pass/fail system and are now more focused on school based assessment,” he said, adding that ASER Pakistan is the only organization that assesses learning and numeracy for children in Pakistan; its findings are an eye opener to understand the urgency of learning.
In her concluding remarks, Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) CEO Baela Raza Jamil said ICAN is a dream come true and is surely a gift from the South to the world while all the panelists wished for this conversation to continue, especially from the South Asian perspective, and for every to child to have equal learning opportunities.
ICAN is an open-source, robust and easy-to-use tool that assesses foundational numeracy and is available in 11 languages. For South Asian contexts, the tool is available in Urdu, Hindi, Nepali and Bangla as well as in English. As the world grapples with defining the ‘new normal’ in the wake of COVID-19, tools like ICAN can provide rapid, cost-effective, easily scalable mechanisms that can help to understand how best to support children’s learning.
The ASER approach to measurement that originated in India, catalysed by the non government organisation Pratham in 2005, has resonated across the Global South. In these 15 years, it has been adopted and adapted by organizations in Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Mozambique, Botswana); America (Mexico and Nicaragua); and Asia (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal). In 2015, these organizations came together to establish the PAL Network in order to advance our common agenda on ensuring that all children acquire at least basic reading and arithmetic skills. Together, PAL Network members reach and assess more than a million children.
Today, the importance of measuring foundational reading and numeracy in early grades is widely acknowledged, and is reflected in indicator 4.1.1(a) of the global Sustainable Development Goal for education (SDG 4). However, tracking progress towards this goal has been hampered due to lack of data. In 2018, PAL Network members took on the challenge of developing a common assessment model and got its fruition in the form of ICAN that generates comparable data on children’s foundational skills in early grades.