Monday, December 17, 2012

Learning Outcomes

The Jomtien Declaration in 1990 and the follow-up Framework for Action adopted at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal in April 2000, recognize the quality of education as a crucial component in the broad movement of achieving Education for All. Goal 6 of the Dakar Framework states that all aspects of education quality should be improved “so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills”.

What are learning outcomes?

A learning outcome is the particular knowledge, skill or behavior that a student is expected to exhibit after a period of study. Learning outcomes reflect a nation’s concern with the level of knowledge acquisition among its student population. Measuring learning outcomes provides information on what particular knowledge (cognitive), skill or behavior (affective) students have gained after instruction is completed. They are typically measured by administering assessments at sub-national, national, regional and international levels. Countries decide what the purpose of the assessment is, what population will be assessed, what is to be assessed, how it is to be assessed, and how the measures are to be reported and utilized. Policy makers might decide to focus on a limited amount of domains and grade levels while others will focus on the measurement of student knowledge in a wide range of domains and grade levels.

The Quality of Education, Learning Outcomes and Economic Growth

Education systems across the world are based on the principle that education quality is defined by its contribution to the development of cognitive skills and behavioral traits, attitudes and values that are judged necessary for good citizenship and effective life in the community. Over the last 10 years growth research has been able to demonstrate that the quality of education, has a statistically significant and important positive economic effect and that ignoring the quality of education limits economic growth.

Why focus on learning outcomes?

Researchers can now document that the quality of human resources, as measured by assessment scores, is closely related to individual earnings, productivity and economic growth. This evidence shifts policy makers’ attention increasingly from inputs to outcomes, i.e. what learners should ultimately have learned at the end of a significant educational experience.

While it is important to know how much money is being spent on such issues as teacher education and physical facilities, policy makers recognize that it is equally important to know what children are learning in the classroom: What kind of knowledge, skills and attitudes does the education system develop? How do assessed learning outcomes reflect the stated goals and objectives of national education systems? What factors are associated with student achievement? Do particular sub-groups in the population perform poorly? How well are students being prepared to succeed in an increasingly knowledge-based economy? Policy makers argue that students will need higher levels of knowledge and skills- particularly in the areas of mathematics and science - if they are to participate meaningfully in the world of work.

Ultimately, information on learning outcomes assists countries in making informed decisions about interventions to improve educational quality and help policy makers monitor trends in the nature and quality of student learning over time. National, regional and international assessments allow for the benchmarking of student performance against corresponding standards. In the context of international development assistance, focus on learning outcomes increases stakeholder attention on deliverables and results, and may increase accountability based on performance.

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