A Bottom-Up Approach to Improving Student Learning

April 22, 2016Duncan McCullough

When a workshop’s official proceedings have come to a close, and those in attendance continue to engage, excitedly making plans for future collaboration, you know you've had a special day.

This was the case at last Thursday’s Early Learning Toolkit Workshop, hosted by CEI and Bangalore-based Catalyst Management Services (CMS), at the India International Centre in New Delhi.

The workshop introduced education practitioners to the Early Learning Toolkit; CEI’s latest digital resource promoting evidence-backed strategies to improve learning outcomes in a practical, easy-to-use way. 

Even more importantly, the workshop facilitated peer-learning among those in attendance, using breakout discussion groups to leverage the immense experience of stakeholders in attendance from schools, NGOs, research organizations, impact investment foundations, and more.

Molly Jamieson Eberhardt, Senior Program Officer at Results for Development, opened up the day discussing the Early Learning Toolkit’s origins, purpose, and the resources it currently contains.

What the Toolkit aims to do, Molly explained, “is start with the new but growing evidence-base on learning outcomes in developing countries, and supplement it with concrete guidance on the practical implications of implementing interventions, sourced directly from practitioners who do so on a daily basis.”

Navigating through the toolkit in real-time, Molly showcased the platform’s case-studies, tips identified from interviews with implementers, downloadable tools, videos, and more to show those in attendance how the Early Learning Toolkit can be a resource in their work.

After Molly's demonstration, Pratham Education Foundation’s Faiyaz Ahmed and Samyukta Subramanian spoke about Pratham’s recent experiences implementing targeted instruction programs in India using the CAMaL model. Targeted Instruction is one of four learning strategies included in the Early Learning Toolkit, and Pratham’s presentation provided a clear example of how the Toolkit is directly informed by recent and rigorous evidence of effectiveness.

Following the two morning presentations, and a quick ice-breaker activity where participants matched themselves up based on famous duos in India (Bollywood actors, cricketers, and more) it was time for the real work to begin.

Then, workshop attendees were broken into smaller discussion groups, each focused on a learning or program management strategy included in the Early Learning Toolkit. They each introduced a current challenge they are facing in that area and surfaced advice and suggestions for resources to consult from colleagues in their group.

Almost immediately, participants began sharing their experiences, fears, and goals with exactly the spirited energy for which we had hoped.

After lunch, groups worked together to help each participant develop a problem-solving plan to address their challenges. These plans included contact information for people with relevant expertise and experience, resources to explore, and suggestions for immediate next steps.

Thanks to the passion, openness, and extensive expertise of those in the room, these problem-solving groups brimmed with energy and suggestions for improving each other’s effectiveness.

When one low-cost private school official raised the concern of gaining teacher buy-in for the extra responsibilities targeted instruction may entail, Molly highlighted a case study resource in the Early Learning Toolkit describing the challenges a program in Ghana faced when motivating teachers to switch to different methods of teaching.

I came to the event excited about the Early Learning Toolkit’s potential to help practitioners more effectively teach, manage, and grow their programs. I left in awe of participants' ability and openness to adapt the Toolkit’s resources to their own work, and to add crucial advice and resources to it.

Since launching in January 2016, the Early Learning Toolkit is just beginning its work to promote the use of learning strategies supported by rigorous evidence. After Thursday’s workshop, I’m more confident than ever it will be a journey CEI will not be navigating alone.  


CEI’s Early Learning Toolkit Workshop series goes to East Africa next month!

Kenya ELT Workshop
When: Monday, 9 May 2016
Where: Fairview Hotel, Nairobi

Click here to RSVP

Uganda ELT Workshop
When: Thursday, 12 May 2016
Where: Protea Hotel, Kampala

Click here to RSVP

Duncan McCullough is a Communications Associate at the Center for Education Innovations, proud Masters graduate of George Mason University, and former White House Staffer.

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