Educate!’s Executive Director Boris Bulayev and Rwanda Country Director Donnalee Donaldson recently presented Educate!’s experience as part of a webinar hosted by Making Cents International and the Youth Employment Funders Group (YEFG). The expert panel was moderated by USAID’s Senior Youth and Workforce Advisor, Nancy Taggart, and examined how soft skills learning can be effectively integrated within formal education systems as a way to achieve larger-scale shifts in youth soft skills acquisition.
Boris and Donnalee discussed challenges we’ve faced as well as the best practices we’ve developed based on our experience in supporting national curriculum reforms. They shared four principles we developed to combat challenges and drive progress within these complex systems:
Principle 1: Fight for a few key changes rather than trying to change everything at once. This strategy allows momentum to build in the reform which fuels larger victories. Teachers can see the impact of the initial strategies on student learning, which increases their enthusiasm and support for future changes.
Principle 2: Teacher-powered reform. Investing in teacher support systems and ongoing training is essential to a reform’s success. We have observed that teachers are influenced the most by other teachers. Additionally, national teacher buy-in is best achieved by engaging many teachers directly in the design process of the reform and having teachers advocating for the changes themselves.
Principle 3: Design from implementation. In our experience, we’ve found that the strongest approach to developing curriculum is through a piloting process, directly using lessons and gathering feedback from implementation in real classrooms—with real teachers and real students. We believe that the most effective curriculum development is an ongoing, iterative process during pilot implementation.
Principle 4: Create networks and peer learning communities. Peer learning and professional development networks are a lower-cost method for ensuring that teachers continue to be supported to implement reforms. We’ve seen success with this method in both Rwanda and Uganda, with teachers motivating and encouraging each other to integrate soft skills and improved teaching practices into their classrooms.
You can hear more about the challenges and our experience designing solutions in the full webinar, available here.