Assessment of Life Skills and Values in East Africa (ALiVE): A Contextualized Approach

Social and Emotional Learning
Learning Assessment

In the last decade, many East Africans have expressed their dissatisfaction with the education system in their respective countries and have pressured their governments to overhaul the curricula and introduce new ones. The argument has been that the curricula are mainly teacher-centred and too academic in character and, therefore, fail to prepare learners for the 21st Century problems. In agreement with these sentiments, various governments have undertaken revisions pointing forward to introducing Value-Based Education, which embeds inculcation of the 21st Century skills into the mainstream curricula. 

Kenya, for example, introduced the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) in 2017. The curriculum has 7 core competencies, including communication and collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, imagination and creativity, citizenship, learning to learn, self-efficacy and digital literacy. Unfortunately, the metrics to assess the competencies are yet to be fully developed or adapted. In support of this Value-based education, a group of 70 civil society organizations under the umbrella of the Regional Education Learning Initiative (RELI) have established a collaborative network to understand, measure and nurture values and life skills, named the Assessment of Life Skills and Values in East Africa (ALiVE). This collaboration brings together government agencies, teachers, parents and civil society actors to: 1) Develop contextualized and open-sourced tools for assessing Problem Solving, Self-awareness, Collaboration, and Respect; 2) Use the tools to assess selected values and life skills among adolescents aged 13-17 years; 3) Use the evidence generated to nudge greater focus on these competencies among teachers, parents, and children/youth; and 4) Develop local expertise in contextualized assessment and amplify the southern voice. 

The process of developing contextualized metrics that started with an ethnographic study conducted in 15 regions in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania was aimed at generating a pool of words used to define the construct in consideration and to generate ideas on the observable features associated with such skills or value. During this study, it was clear that culture and communities impact how certain skills are defined, how they are nurtured, and potentially how they are assessed. For instance, in defining the term "problem-solving", the participants appeared to be quite unfamiliar with the process itself. The definitions mostly pointed to the process of determining the answer to a problem. Solving a problem sometimes requires consultation as stated by one participant:

"Let's say if you have a challenge and need someone to help you to solve, you will call them and you should not keep it to yourself, it will disturb your mind" (K-A-26).

This aspect of solving a problem as a group or through consultation looks at problem-solving not only as a cognitive process but also as a social process, which is collaborative in character. However, the available literature looks at problem-solving mostly as cognitive.  

The ethnographic data was submitted in April 2021 to a team of 50 East African experts drawn from the Ministry of Education, Curriculum Developers, Assessment officers, Teachers, academia, researchers, artist/Musician who were tasked to develop an assessment framework that is contextualized and that speaks to the East African adolescents of age 13-17 years in and out of school. After four workshops, the team finalized scenario-based assessment tools which were piloted with 1,200 adolescents in East Africa. During the pilot process, it emerged that some tasks might work for a specific area and not in others due to our wide and complex diversities across the region. For example, one of the questions in the problem-solving tool was, "Leaders in your country are concerned about charcoal burning in the various communities." The idea was for adolescents to potentially see this as a climate change issue that must be addressed. However, some adolescents noted that this is not a problem since charcoal is what they use for cooking at home. 

"charcoal helps in cooking" (UG-PS-062).

These kinds of responses and thoughts are a lesson not only for the ALiVE members but to all researchers working in the field of social-emotional learning. It is a call on us to develop contextualized metrics and ask ourselves how to handle certain constructs that are defined differently in different cultures, including some that do not have direct local translations or even interpretations.

The process of developing contextualized assessment tools for assessing life skills and values is complex but should be done. Let's all unite toward this noble cause.


Click here to watching the recording of an accompanying webinar. 


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