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Improving literacy and numeracy in the Pacific

ACER is collaborating with member nations of the Pacific Community to address the common education challenges they face.

The Pacific Community (SPC), through its Educational Quality and Assessment Program (EQAP), is working to address common education challenges, particularly in literacy and numeracy, in the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Established in 1980 to assist Pacific Islands countries to develop assessment procedures, EQAP is now a program of SPC, the region’s principal scientific and technical organisation supporting sustainable development. .

The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and SPC are working to collect evidence of education quality for governments, schools, communities and students in the region. A key part of that effort is the implementation of the Pacific Islands Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (PILNA).

According to Dr Michelle Belisle, Director of EQAP at SPC, ‘The purposes of PILNA are twofold: first, to enable a coordinated regional effort to achieve the long-term goal of improving outcomes in literacy and numeracy in the Pacific by establishing a robust evidence base to support decision-making and policy development at the system, school and, potentially, classroom levels; and second, to develop regional capacity at the technical, policy and practical levels through the development, administration, analysis and reporting of a regional assessment.

‘A key benefit of the administration of an assessment like PILNA,’ says Dr Belisle, ‘is that it provides a measurement of regional standards based on a common scale, which gives the region valid and reliable results to inform the improvement of student learning outcomes over time.

‘A second key benefit is that each cycle – so far 2012 and 2015 – enables EQAP and education stakeholders to collect comparative and benchmarking data, monitor regional and national trends, evaluate the effectiveness of policies over time and identify appropriate intervention strategies for students at the system, school and classroom levels.’

Dr Elizabeth Cassity, Senior Research Fellow in ACER’s education and development research program, is leading ACER’s work on EQAP with SPC. Dr Cassity says the collaborative approach of the two organisations is enabling not only ongoing educational monitoring, but also capacity building in the Pacific region.

‘ACER is providing expertise and technical assistance in data analysis and reporting, and advice and guidance on project implementation in terms of the development, administration, analysis and reporting of PILNA,’ Dr Cassity says. ‘ACER is also supporting the development of capabilities and capacity within EQAP through the ongoing delivery of capacity support in the region.’

The collaborative work on PILNA is enabling staff from ACER and EQAP to work closely on:

  • data collection through literacy and numeracy assessments, and student, teacher and principal questionnaires
  • scoring and coding
  • data capture and analysis
  • reporting on the basis of a single uniform metric that can be applied across the region
  • development of a proficiency scale mapping item-to-skill according to degree of difficulty
  • sampling, and
  • item development.

Capacity support for EQAP has so far focused on analysis of cognitive and contextual data, coding, sampling and reporting results. EQAP staff have also worked at ACER Melbourne to finalise a design for a long-term implementation of PILNA. ■

Further information:

Read more about ACER’s education and development work at www.acer.edu.au/research/areas-of-research/education-and-development

To read the 2015 the Pacific Islands Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (PILNA) Regional Report, visit www.eqap.org.fj/Assessment/Regional.aspx

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