In 2016, 586,284 children of primary school age in the Philippines were out of school, underscoring demand for large-scale programs to address unmet learning needs. As a chief education program specialist in the Department of Education (DepEd) in the Philippines, I have firsthand experience planning, implementing, and monitoring and evaluating a variety of education programs. One of our main challenges is ensuring that effective initiatives, such as with our teacher professional development program, take root and grow into sustainable, system-wide approaches for improving teacher quality and encouraging responsive instructional practices to improve learning outcomes.
How was DepEd able to improve literacy and numeracy skills in recent years? We began by articulating a clear vision that focused on teachers, as they play a fundamental role in developing these skills among their students. I worked closely with my team of education experts to retool teachers’ mastery of content knowledge and pedagogical skills so they could effectively lead in the classroom. In 2015, we introduced the Early Language, Literacy, and Numeracy Program (ELLN) to improve reading and numeracy skills of K-3 learners. ELLN strengthened teacher capacity to teach and assess reading and numeracy skills, improved school administration and management, established competency standards, and introduced a school-based professional development system for teachers, the “School Learning Action Cell” (SLAC). ELLN trained teachers through a ten-day, face-to-face training module. While this approach had some impact, it was not to the extent we hoped—we wanted to reach the entire country. We understood that scaling an in-person training would be costly and time-consuming to reach primary grade teachers in all schools throughout the country. Because of this, my DepEd colleagues and I began thinking about ways we could harness technology to deliver improved teacher professional development at a national scale.
In the Philippines, the following approaches helped us to create, adapt, and scale programs with the aim of sustainable impact:
- Identify learning champions at all levels: There is a need to identify and empower a pool of champions at multiple levels of the system—in the regions, divisions, communities, and schools. By doing so, these champions become agents of change. In the case of ELLN, regional directors play a critical role in implementing the program by liaising with school division superintendents and public school leaders.
- Adapt programs to local context: Those implementing programs at larger scale or in new locations should be equipped to make the programs work in their areas by contextualizing approaches to suit local needs. This includes identifying and articulating the “non-negotiables” of the original design to ensure adherence to a set standard, but those implementing in new contexts should feel agency to adjust to fit local needs. Setting specific standards on program implementation through policy guidelines or memoranda can help maintain the appropriate level of consistency in implementation between different areas. On ELLN-D, we encourage slight variations in the structure and format of SLACs in ways that make sense for a given context.
- Recognize that every idea is valuable: It is important to allow champions to implement the program with standardized guidance but recognize that adjustments and changes are not only inevitable but also beneficial. Have faith that even when the originating organization or institution is no longer around, others implementing can successfully deliver the programs and have sustained positive impact on the people they serve.