Uwezo citizen-led assessments: inspiring debate about children’s learning and holding governments accountable

In many developing countries, measuring progress towards achieving global education goals has focused on visible inputs such as infrastructure, teachers, books, and enrolment. No doubt school enrolment levels have been rising over the years. The assumption has been that having children in school will, automatically, lead to learning. This assumption has led to an invisible problem of children being in school and not learning.

Inspired by the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in India since 2005, and now covering 14 countries across three continents under the People’s Action for Learning (PAL) Network, citizen-led assessments shift the focus from inputs to learning outcomes.

This plenary talk draws from the Uwezo citizen-led assessment movement in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania to illustrate how citizen-led assessments are structured, how they differ from other assessments, where they are conducted, what they assess, how they are conducted, who assesses, when, what tools are used and at what scale. The talk will demonstrate the benefits of evidence from citizen-led assessment, and how it is utilised to inspire debate about learning and hold governments accountable through the media. The talk will share the dynamics of the relationship with governments in the three countries, and how assessment evidnce can generate intended and unintended results. The talk will show the impacts of citizen-led assessments to-date and how the assessments are evolving to reach more unreached children, including those in refugee contexts. Finally, the talk will illustrate the future challenges for citizen-led assessments, such as ensuring rigour and comparability of assessment data within and across countries, broadening and deepening the assessment to produce evidence in other critical areas of children’s learning beyond literacy and numeracy, and the need to utilise assessment data to make connections to concrete actions to improve children’s learning.

Mary is Uganda Country Lead of Twaweza East Africa, and Acting Regional Manager of its Uwezo programme, Africa’s largest citizen assessment of children’s learning levels in literacy and numeracy in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. She has worked as Senior Lecturer of Higher Education Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, and as Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Media at Makerere University, Uganda.