How Can Learning Gains Become More Widespread?
We conducted a study in Nepal to better understand why and how these teachers responded to changes within their education systems—in the hopes of replicating their success. We used qualitative methods to explain what is different about the schools that showed significant gains compared to those that did not. In Nepal, we found that successful schools included individuals – teachers, administrators, and community leaders – with positive personality traits such as rationality, empathy, good communication, and the tolerance for uncertainty. These bright spots are exceptions that ignore social norms that create barriers to effective educational change—and aren’t much help in telling us how to motivate change in the rest of the schools.
So rather than focusing on what makes the early adopter schools successful, we decided our effort would be better placed on learning from schools that are not. The opportunity is clear: To unlock the potential of learning improvement programs, we need to focus on understanding what is going on in the underperforming schools—the 64 to 85 percent of schools that do not have much impact on overall learning outcomes. If we can get these schools to implement reading and math programming effectively, we will see learning gains for many more students. This is especially important as systems work to rebuild and recover from learning loss due to COVID.
As Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman says, the good way to achieve behavior change is to diminish the restraining forces, not increase driving forces. Thinking about a problem this way is not intuitive, however. We tend to want to focus on the bright spots when we really need to better understand the enabling conditions that can ensure everyone can replicate success.
Using a behavioral science lens, our research team explored how social norms and mental models of teachers and system-level actors influence the response to educational change. At the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) annual meeting this month, we will share these initial findings alongside presentations on teacher norms and behavior change from the World Bank’s Shwetlena Sabarwal and the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Programme’s Yue-Yi Hwa. Stay tuned for our next blog in the series to learn more about the study, our findings, and conclusions that can help inform the next generation of early learning improvement programs and efforts to recover from COVID-related learning losses.