Education in Syria: Researching on the Shoulders of Giants
As ECCN looks back on its years of promoting cross-agency sharing of tools and resources, we are pleased to present this post, which shows what is possible when education in crisis and conflict professionals are able to access and use each other’s high-quality work. The team from Integrity, an international consultancy and ethical service provider working in fragile and conflict-affected environments around the globe, carefully and thoroughly reviewed existing evidence-based, peer-reviewed, and well-tested EiCC tools and literature. From there, they selected appropriate questions whose answers would inform recommendations on how to improve teaching and learning in early grades in northern Syria. Using this toolkit, the team undertook primary data collection across nearly 6,000 informants to elucidate how teaching practices and behaviors and the nature of the learning environment influenced learning outcomes and wellbeing. The result of the data collection process was an ethically sound, deeply granular dataset that also speaks to the standards of the sector.
This study, titled “Research to improve the quality of teaching and learning inside of Syria,” sought to improve the quality of teaching and learning in Syria and help the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), its implementing partners, and the global Education in Crisis and Conflict (EICC) community strengthen and elevate the evidence base about early-grade teaching and learning. The study took place in areas of Syria not controlled by the Government of Syria. It examined teacher practice and behaviour, the nature of the learning environment, and their effects on child learning and wellbeing against existing standards and best practice from the EICC community.
The study assessed the qualitative aspects of learning environments, teaching practices, and behaviors. Key questions included:
- What teaching practices and behaviors are in use across different areas of Syria?
- What elements of the school environments support wellbeing?
- What correlations existed amongst teaching practice, learning outcomes, and child wellbeing?
- What examples of best practice or low-cost adaptations existed in Syria, or could be adapted from other EICC programs for the Syrian education system?
The study was the first analysis using a large sample size since the start of the Syrian conflict of how teacher practice and learning spaces influence child learning and wellbeing in Syria. It provided insights that were both theoretically informed and relevant to policy.
To answer these questions, researchers required a data collection toolkit built on the thoughtful work of other agencies and designed with careful consideration for conflict sensitivity. After a review of 150 pieces of EICC and Syria-specific literature, the team used 32 relevant existing tools and sources to inform the design of a data collection toolkit. The result was a matrix of 339 questions, coded by inquiry theme, research question, data collection methodology, data source, and informant type. The majority of these questions were quantitative, response coded, and answer-weighted to allow for ease of quantitative analysis. A large proportion of these response coded questions left space for qualitative responses as well through boxes marked “why,” “other,” or “explain.”
Research Question: What teaching practices and behaviours are in use across different areas of Syria?
- Conflict Sensitive Education Guidance Notes (INEE)
- Pocket Guide on Inclusive Education (INEE)
- Teachers in Crisis and Conflict Toolkit (INEE)
- Healing Classrooms Toolkit (IRC)
- Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (Youth In Mind)
- Teacher Supply, Recruitment and Retention in Six Anglophone Sub-Saharan African Countries Education International: A report on a survey conducted by Education International in The Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia (Education International)
- Learning How to Teach: The Upgrading of Unqualified Primary School Teachers in Sub-Saharan Africa—Lessons from Tanzania, Malawi, and Nigeria (Education International)
- Teachers for Teachers: Professional Development Model for Teachers in Extraordinary Circumstances (Teachers College, Columbia University)
Research Question: What elements of the school environment support wellbeing?
- Joint Education Needs Assessment Toolkit (Global Education Cluster)
- Improving Learning Environments Together in Emergencies Toolkit (Save the Children)
- Comprehensive School Safety Framework (UNISDR)
- Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict (Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack)
Research Question: What correlations exist amongst teaching practice, learning outcomes, and child wellbeing?
Source: Teacher Self-Efficacy Assessment Guidance (Schwarzer, R. and Hallum, S.)
Research Question: What examples of best practice or low-cost adaptations existed in Syria OR could be adapted from other EICC programmes for the Syrian education system?
- AEWG Guide to the Accelerated Education Principles (ECCN, AEWG, Nicholson, S.)
- The Effect of Village-Based Learning Spaces: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial in Afghanistan (Burde, D. and Linden, L.)
- Bringing Education to Afghan Girls: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Village-Based Learning Spaces (Burde, D. and Linden, L.)
- What Works to Promote Children’s Educational Access, Quality of Learning, and Wellbeing in Crisis-Affected Contexts (Burde, D. and Linden, L.)
- Women and Gender in ICT Statistics and Indicators for Development (Hafkin, N. J. and Huyer, S.)
- UNRWA’s promising practices in education (UNRWA)
- Stressors, Supports and the Social Ecology of Displacement: Psychosocial Dimensions of an Emergency Education Program for Chechen Adolescents Displaced in Ingushetia, Russia (Betancourt, T., Williams, T., Khan, K.)
- Building an Evidence Based on Mental Health Interventions for Children Affected by Armed Conflict (Betancourt, T., Williams, T., Khan, K.)
- The Mental Health of Children Affected by Armed Conflict: Protective Processes and Pathways to Resilience (Betancourt, T., Williams, T., Khan, K.)
- Active Schools: Our Convictions for Improving the Quality of Education (FHI 360)
Data collection methods included surveys, key informant interviews, focus group discussions, and classroom observations. The safety and security of respondents and enumerators remained the top priority of the research, as did avoiding data source and enumerator fatigue. In designing the broader data collection and analysis protocol, the team ensured that concurrent triangulation remained feasible.
The evidence about the type of education that children need in fragile and conflict-affected states is clear: safe, flexible, and community-based learning opportunities, social and emotional learning support, literacy and numeracy skill development, support for teacher professional and wellbeing, and partnership between schools and homes in support of learning and wellbeing are amongst the most critical activities to provide in such contexts. Very few elements of these standards for adequate support to learning and wellbeing for children in fragile and conflict-affected states are in place in Syria.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
The 12th century philosopher Bernard of Chartres argued that it was important and even necessary for thinkers, researchers, and others to stand on the shoulders of giants. Said Bernard, “…we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.”
The EICC community must do its work together, across agencies and with all beneficiaries. By working collaboratively, we make the best use of our resources and advance causes sometimes delineated by state boundaries and institutional brands but of interest to all. Entities such as ECCN, the Interagency Network for Education in Emergencies, INEE, and the Global Education Cluster all espouse in their mission statements variations on this theme: the importance of working together in communities of practice, “amplifying ideas and knowledge” and the importance of coordinating and collaborating for a shared goal. USAID and DFID, two of the major EICC donors, share similar and complementary priorities in each of their 2018 education strategies, looking in large part at promoting equitable access to quality early years education and supporting teachers.