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Empowering participation in evidence cafés

Portrait of two women researchers at a meeting

Portrait of two women researchers at a meeting

Funded by the EdTech Hub, our collaborative OU-Dhaka University project, 3MPower (Mobile Learning for Empowerment of Marginalised Mathematics Educators) is generating evidence on technology use for Teacher Professional Development (TPD) in Bangladesh, with a particular focus on children’s foundation numeracy skills in schools serving marginalised, low-income, rural communities.

By studying the use of numeracy TPD courses on Muktopaath —a government-led e-Learning platform used by over 400,000 teachers in Bangladesh—the project team aim to answer the question “How are primary numeracy teachers using mobile learning for teacher development in rural schools and in what ways does this change learning and teaching?”. Over 160,000 teachers have completed the most popular course on Anonde Gonit Shikhi (AGS) - Let's learn Maths with fun – a set of courses to improve the teaching and learning of numeracy in primary education.

The 3MPower project has adopted a participatory approach to data collection, using the Participatory Ethnographic Evaluation Research (PEER) methodology. This approach enables those living and working in the actual community being studied to generate in-depth insights and contextualised data. In this project the PEERs are teachers in rural and remote schools. PEERs—supported by early career researchers (ECRs) based at the Institute of Education and Research at the University of Dhaka—have been eliciting stories from other teachers working in the community, then discussing these stories and their meanings through regular debriefs with the ECRs. Adopting such an approach helps to minimise power imbalances between participants and more experienced researchers and seeks to empower all those who are participating in the fieldwork.

In our first Evidence Café (in October 2022) the project team (including the ECRs and some of the PEERs) explored evidence from the PEERS about whether teachers were able to access the AGS programme and how teachers were—or, as it turned out, largely were not—implementing AGS activities in the classroom. During the second cycle of research the ECRs gathered stories from a sub-set of teachers who were actively and regularly implementing AGS activities in their classrooms and who were also sharing their experiences of doing so with other teachers.

The second Evidence Café (in January 2023) enabled education officers who support teachers in local areas, representatives from a2i (a Government of Bangladesh digital transformation unit), and Bangladesh’s Directorate of Primary Education and National Academy for Primary Education, to understand and comment on the evidence and begin to work with us to develop recommendations for key stakeholders, including themselves. Our ECRs played a key role at the Evidence Café, presenting findings from a second cycle of research, sharing and exploring the evidence, and then, in small groups, discussing both the stakeholders’ responses to the evidence as well as eliciting recommendations based upon the findings. We spent time with the ECRs, none of whom had presented before in this way, helping them to prepare their presentations, choose the stories they wanted to focus on, rehearse their presentations, and then giving them feedback and suggestions.

During this visit we also undertook reflexive interviews designed to elicit understandings of the impact participation in the project has had on the ECRs (the ECRs will later undertake reflexive interviews with the PEERS).

All the ECRs described their role in the Evidence Cafés as a highpoint, alongside developing a better understanding of—and respect for—teachers in remote and rural areas through fieldwork. Reflecting on their role at the Evidence Café, the ECRs noted:

“it's a huge step to present in front of officials you know. They're high officials in our government sector. But I didn't mess up and I got so much confidence then, that I can do it”.

“It was the best opportunity, when we had to, you know, share with teachers and high officials. We had to let them know ‘No, no, this is our finding’. Of course, they had some disagreement, but we had to overcome that. So yes, this was the best opportunity”

“I’m not an extrovert, someone who's very—I would say—confident. I'm not. Like I fear the public. I get nervous when I speak in front of the public. But now yes, I would say ‘this was the best thing’”.

“I found a new me yesterday—it was a completely new me. …There were so many people in front of me, yet I was fearless. …That completely amazed me. I was thinking ‘Is that actually me?’.

Listening to the ECRs describe the impact participation in the 3MProject, and specifically the impact that presenting at the Evidence Café had had on them, was a very emotional experience for both of us and probably our highlight of the whole trip to Dhaka.

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