We Need Formative Assessment Now More Than Ever for 'Safe Back to School' in Rohingya Camps and Bangladesh

Learning Assessment
Coronavirus (COVID-19)

'Safe Back to School' in Bangladesh

On 12 September 2021, primary, secondary and higher secondary schools as well as  Madrasa(religious schools) in Bangladesh reopened in small scales after nearly 18 months of closures. But still all early learning institutes, especially pre-primary schools, early childhood development (ECD) centers and kindergartens as well as the majority of public and private universities of Bangladesh are almost closed. This situation is almost the same in the world's largest Rohingya refugee (Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals- FDMN) camps in Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh. In Cox’s Bazar  early learning facilities are closed; only Higher Level (Learning Competency Framework Approach Level-2, 3 & 4) learning facilities are open in 34 FDMN camps. 

School reopening is not the end of uncertainty and grief for  education in Bangladesh. The closure of educational institutions was a big challenge and remains a fluid situation.. Moreover, it is creating some other major challenges including learning gaps among the learners, long term psycho-social and emotional distress, etc. The Learning Gap is now a major challenge for almost all education stakeholders of Bangladesh including teachers, students, parents, caregivers and schools, colleges and university authorities. It became more challenging particularly for children in remote areas who have difficulty accessing remote learning opportunities initiated by the government during COVID-19 such as Sangsad TV, Bangladesh Betar (The National Radio) and individual initiatives of the teachers and institutes through using Zoom, Google Met, Facebook etc. To overcome the learning gaps, we need to give more focus on assessment for learning (AFL) not assessment of learning (AOF) especially, during early school reopening time.  AFL has been closely associated with formative assessment because practices such as questioning and providing feedback help ‘form’ or ‘shape’ students’ learning and teachers’ teaching strategies. Formative assessment gives quick feedback to teachers and learners so that they both can be self-aware about their performance and take actions for their betterment. It can improve a student's confidence, self-awareness and enthusiasm for learning as well as teacher’s confidence too. It provides continuous feedback to both teachers and students to make or ensure successful teaching-learning process (Miller et al, 2008)

Formative assessment can be the savior for us to minimize and overcome this challenge. It can play the key role to foster learning and minimize the learning gaps among the learners after school reopening. It is already recognized by different levels of organizations (including UNICEF) and educationalists nationally and internationally that we need formative assessment now more than ever for safe back to school in Bangladesh.  

During COVID-19 related school closures, a large  number of children had no access to remote learning. This crisis not only affected overall learning levels but also increased gaps, with the learning of children from disadvantaged households more deeply affected (Jenkins & Banerji, 2021). Prolonged school closures likely had differential impacts on children of different backgrounds even within the same setting. Formative assessment can help to reduce learning gaps as it is considered the heart of teaching learning. 

Why Formative Assessment is Needed for ’Safe Back to School’ in Bangladesh

There is huge inequality in education of Bangladesh with different types of educational institutes like English medium, English version, Bangla medium, religious schools (Madrasas), private, public and semi-public, NGO school, MPO schools, and others. Different Institutes are using different curriculums. exacerbating inequality. Availability of quality teachers and other facilities (like infrastructure, teaching aids, lab, library facilities etc.) among different educational institutes also promotes inequalities. On top of existing inequalities, the COVID-19 pandemic likely made the situation worse than ever, especially for the children whose learning levels were already weak.  Long term school closures due to COVID-19 increased learning gaps, even within the same classroom. Now learners are at a different level due to varied nature  learning supports like educated family members who supported the learners in house and access to distance learning opportunities.  This results in teachers facing students at different starting points when schools reopened and opening in both Rohingya Camps as well as in entire Bangladesh. 

In response to this challenge and to accelerate the recovery process, it is important for teachers to understand the performance level of students when they return to the classroom to design lesson plans appropriate to the students’ current needs (Jenkins & Banerji, 2021). Formative assessment can not only help the teachers to understand the performance level of students to design remediation, recovery, catch up and accelerated programmes when they return to the classroom after 18 months. Formative assessment aims to monitor students' learning to provide ongoing positive feedback that can be used by teachers to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning. Feedback will reduce learners' stress and anxiety, let students ease back into their learning routines and increase teachers’ confidence and efficiency to design appropriate lesson plans for their students at different levels of learning starting points.  But it is not fully possible to address the learning gap within a night; it will take time. 

Some Commonly Used Important Formative Assessment Techniques

  • Question- Answer: It assesses a student’s factual-information, concepts, and discrete skills. There is usually a single best answer. Example: Quiz, Multiple Choice Question, True/False, Oral Questioning, Short Answer, Paper and Pencil, Matching and Extended Response.
  • Observation: Teacher walks around the classroom and observe students as they work to check for learning. Commonly used observation tools: Anecdotal Records, Conferences and Checklists. These tools are vary form level to level and class to class.  
  • Self-Assessment: A process in which students collect information about their own learning, analyze what it reveals about their progress toward the intended learning goals and plan the next steps in their learning. Teacher will guide the learners and check randomly. This technique can use applicable mostly with higher level learners. 
  • Turn to Your Partner/Peer Assessment: Teacher gives direction to students. Students formulate individual response, and then turn to a partner to share their answers. Teacher calls on several random pairs to share their answers with the class. 
  • Role-playing: It works well in history, literature, or biochemistry classes. We need to divide the class into as many sections for role playing. Students will prepare their arguments or plan their behavior representing the role they play (different characters of a play, different groups in history, different enzymes that could react and form new ones) and present to audience. Although it is time consuming. 
  • Debates: It exemplify different ways of thinking about a problem and solving it. And debates demonstrate higher order thinking and problem-solving skills. Without moving seats around, divide the class into several sections (possibly as many sections as there are ways of approaching the problem). 
  • Problem Solving: Share a problem to students and ask them how they would solve it. Students can respond orally or in writing. The responses given by the students indicate their level of understanding regarding the unit being studied. Information provided by the students gives you an indication of what type of instruction is needed during future lessons.
  • Assignment: Assignment is a task given to students by their teacher and tutor to complete in a defined time. They can also be referred to as the work given to someone as a part of learning. Assignment can be in the form of written, practical, art or fieldwork or even online.

Ways to Ensure Formative Assessment for ‘Safe Back to School’ in Bangladesh

  • Taking Government Level Initiatives: Without government level initiatives it will be very tough and in some cases impossible to functionalize formative assessment practice in all educational institutes of Bangladesh. The Government can circulate a notice to all education offices to ensure and functionalize formative assessment effectively in both in-person and remote teaching learning processes. The Government can form teaching-learning circles (TLC’s) and practice among all teachers at a school. On the other hand, for university level teachers, this modality will be different. 
  • Arranging, Providing and Ensuring Adequate Training to Teachers: It is very important to ensure proper training and orientation before starting any concept or approach like formative assessment. Although Formative Assessment is not a new concept in Bangladesh or Rohingya Camps but is it not a common practice in Bangladesh. It is observed that very few teachers apply formative assessment techniques in their classrooms in both in Rohingya camps and Bangladesh at large. So, we need to provide a minimum level of training on formative assessment to the teachers. These training can conducted be in person, remotely, or a combination of the two. For that case, the Government can develop a website for teachers training or create a tab in already available websites of Bangladesh education administrations including ministry of education and ministry of mass and primary education.  Recorded sessions on different topics will be uploaded and preserved in this/these websites for further use which will be more time and money saving and convenient for all teachers as they will be able to attend in these sessions in their convenient times. 
  • Raising Awareness and Encouraging Teachers’ and Educational Institutes’ Authority: Teachers and educational institutes can play a vital role to practice and functionalize formative assessment in the teaching learning process. Their clear understanding and awareness can make the work half done. So, we need to emphasize teachers’ and institute authorities’ awareness, positive attitudes, and encouragement to use formative assessment and to promote assessment for learning not assessment of learning. Educational institute authorities need to develop a formative assessment friendly atmosphere for teachers. In my master’s thesis, I found that the majority of Bangladeshi feel the importance to use formative assessment and they have interest to practice formative assessment in their teaching learning process. This is also found in numbers of other studies too. Rohingya facilitators in a number of informal discussions at Rohingya Camps in Cox’s Bazar expressed similar opinions. However, challenges such as over class load, non-academic engagement, high teacher student ratio, short class duration and others present difficulties to practicing formative assessment. So, authorities should give more focus and concentration to minimize or resolve teacher-evel challenges to ensure effective use of formative assessment across different levels of education in Bangladesh including Rohingya camps.  
  • Raising Awareness and Encouraging Learners and Caregiver: Learners and caregivers’ awareness and encouragement is highly needed to promote formative assessment in Bangladesh. In one of my studies, I found that some learners (10%) and their caregivers (37%) were not interested in formative assessment.  But this type of learners and caregivers are very poor in percentage. There are some learners and caregivers who are more interested in completing the syllabus rather than learning. That said, we need to give special attention to learners and caregivers awareness throughout the academic years (particularly in guardian meetings, parents teachers meetings etc.) to promote effective use of formative assessment in Bangladesh. 
  • Allocating Some Preparation Time for Teachers: Teacher and learners’ ratio in Bangladesh is little bit high in all most all schools specially in secondary schools.  Our school teachers also engage in numbers of non-academic activities like conduct government initiated different survey, census, work on local and national level election related works and others. For that reason, teachers need time for their preparation to use formative assessment effectively. As well as school authorities and government need to be aware about teachers work load and involvement in non-academic works and to allocate some special time for teachers’ preparation.  


About the Author

Md. Ramjan Ali is working as a Project Manager-EiE with Plan International Bangladesh. He is leading a large education in emergency project for Rohingya refugees and host communities in Cox’s Bazar. He has over 8 years of work experience in Education and Educational Research. He’s worked with numerous national and international development organizations (Plan International, World Vision, UCEP & Food for the Hungry). He has completed his graduation and a post-graduation in Education from University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. 


The views expressed in this blog are the authors' own.