Measuring the Unmeasurable Factors that Lead Youth to Success in School and at Work: Innovations and Challenges from Uganda

The Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) hosts an annual conference that serves as an academic hub for researchers, practitioners and policy makers interested in international education. At this year's conference, Educate!’s Evaluation Director Meghan Mahoney, alongside researchers at FHI360, presented on the panel: Measuring the Unmeasurable: Factors that Lead Youth to Success in School and at Work. The presentation highlighted our collaboration to develop a new, soft skill measurement tool for youth in secondary school and outlined Educate!’s experience attempting to measure soft skills.

The field of international education has long recognized that success in the classroom and in life after school depends on a combination of skills that go beyond the cognitive skills and academic aptitude of students. Education psychologists and economists have established the link between non-cognitive skills, sometimes called “soft”, transferable, or 21st century skills, and school performance. These skills are broadly applicable across industries and complement the technical, vocational, and academic “hard” skills. Because these skills manifest in different ways in different contexts, they tend to also be difficult to measure. Until recently, there were very few rigorous, validated tools for implementers and researchers to measure these skills in low-resource contexts. Today, Educate! and other organizations are investing in frameworks and tools to better measure soft skills in various contexts.

This year’s conference was an energizing week of presentations, ground-breaking research, group discussions, and cultural events. Key takeaways from Educate!'s the presentation included:

  1. Tools that attempt to measure culturally-dependent “soft” skills are incredibly useful, but must be validated in the local context and for the appropriate age group. However, very few of these tools exist for low-resource contexts.

  2. We know these skills are important, but the significant barriers to developing tools to measure them means many organizations cannot generate good estimates of youth skills..

  3. We need more tools that measure these skills in various ways, this means not solely developing self-administered tools or tools that rely on self reports. There is a need for the space to develop tools that educators could use to assess student skill development progress.

Find Educate!’s full panel presentation here.