The Power of the Underdog: Shaping Policy Through Citizen-led Assessments

There has been a shift in global education targets from a focus on access for all, to an emphasis on learning for all; the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 calls the international community to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” With quality education being at the center of educational debate, monitoring learning outcomes becomes paramount to ensuring that the children and youth of today are actually learning. One particular approach to monitoring learning outcomes currently gaining popularity in the Global South are citizen-led assessments.

Unlike other large-scale international and/or regional assessments such as the Trends in the Program for international Student Progress (PISA), and the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) that employ in-class assessments i.e. measuring the learning outcomes of students who happen to attend school on the day(s) of administering the assessment, citizen-led assessments are household surveys that measure the learning outcomes of children; regardless of school attendance. In the context of Jordan, this means that more than 77,000 out-of-school children, aged between 5 and 15, whose learning achievements are normally “invisible”, would be assessed on their learning outcomes and whose data would be incorporated in the decision-making process.[1]

Moreover, contrary to other large-scale assessments, citizen-led assessments follow a bottom-up approach, where community members themselves are involved in assessing children’s acquisition of basic numeracy and literacy skills. The approach has been used across multiple countries in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and most recently, in Central America (Mexico). According to a report by Results for Development Institute, it consists of a test that is conducted annually by a local NGO, college or entity, and which assesses basic arithmetic and reading skills of children between the ages of 5 and 16. The primary objectives of the assessment is to place children’s learning at the center of educational policy debates, and engage the local community in understanding their own situation and strengthening accountability. For Jordan, this would provide decision-makers with consistent, annual data on student learning outcomes, and would better engage parents, teachers and principals in understanding the challenges and issues facing the education system.

However, it is important to note, that while evidence-based research suggests that citizen-led assessments have indeed played a role in steering educational policy discussions in the contexts where they have been implemented, there is little evidence to support their impact on quality or learning levels, as mentioned by a World Bank blog; citizen-led assessments have been successful in raising awareness of low-learning outcomes at the national level e.g. in East Africa and India, but learning outcomes have not increased as a result. Despite these limitations, research indicates that the model works best in contexts where the target audience has autonomy over decision-making, and where a local entity that has strong leadership and capacity components exists to handle the process of implementation. In Jordan, where the education system is highly centralized, engaging the Ministry of Education (MoE), which is the primary decision-maker for education-related policies, and identifying an entity with exceptional capacity and leadership abilities is key to the success of this innovative approach to monitoring learning outcomes.



Taline Sabella 

Research and Program Development Specialist

Queen Rania Foundation



Rinad Salaita

Research and Program Development Officer

Queen Rania Foundation

[1] This is the most recent data on out of school children provided by UNICEF (2014).