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Evaluating Australia’s investment in teachers in developing countries

A study on Australia’s investments in teacher development in Vanuatu aims to effectively evaluate the impact of our aid spending.

The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) is conducting a multi-year study on the extent to which investment in teachers in Vanuatu has improved teaching quality and student learning.

The Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) commissioned ACER to evaluate the Vanuatu Education Sector Program (VESP), a national program funded by the Australian and New Zealand Governments that supports Vanuatu’s Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) to improve literacy and numeracy in Kindergarten to Grade 3 students.

As part of the country’s goal of improving education quality and student learning, Vanuatu is in the process of implementing a new national curriculum, and the ACER study focuses specifically on the strategy of training and supporting teachers to implement the new primary curriculum.

Vanuatu has a high level of cultural and linguistic diversity, with more than 100 languages spoken across its 80 islands. The new curriculum reflects a change in language policy, so that primary education in the first two years can now be delivered in Bislama or the local vernacular, and introduces a significant amount of new content and a range of different pedagogical approaches. Accordingly, implementing the new curriculum requires significant change and new learning for Vanuatu teachers, school leaders and school communities.

ACER’s evaluation began in 2017 with an in-country start-up mission that included meetings with stakeholders like MoET, DFAT, development partners and education providers. These consultations revealed an urgent need to address the issue of large numbers of unqualified and underqualified teachers working in the country, and to devolve more teacher support functions to the provincial level.

The study is one result of recommendations in DFAT’s Investing in Teachers evaluation, which examined Australia’s recent and current investments in teacher development, including desk reviews of 27 bilateral Australian aid investment programs. The report found almost no data on outcomes that could be attributed directly to DFAT’s investment, and recommended that the department should work to improve its monitoring and evaluation of teacher development investment outcomes. In response, DFAT committed to a series of multi-year studies, with evaluations in Timor-Leste and Vanuatu already underway and a study in Laos to begin shortly.

ACER’s evaluation uses an agile and adaptive process suitable for the changing context, and will take a mixed methods – quantitative and qualitative ­– approach. The ACER team led by Elizabeth Cassity, Debbie Wong and Jacqueline Cheng, with support from Hilary Hollingsworth, is due to report its findings annually from 2019. ■

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