Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford
In recent years, the Government of Nepal (GoN) has undertaken significant efforts to support children and teachers and improve literacy outcomes in the early primary school grades. As part of this effort, the GoN developed and implemented a new Integrated Curriculum, which was introduced beginning in 2019. Through the Early Grade Reading Program (EGRP) and Early Grade Reading Program II (EGRP II), implemented by RTI International, USAID provided technical assistance on incorporation of best practices in the curriculum.
Critical to the effectiveness of any new curriculum is ensuring it is well structured and aligned with the needs of learners in the classroom, and that teachers are adequately trained and supported so that their instruction aligns with the intended content. In other words, it is important that the prescribed curriculum and taught curriculum are well aligned with each other and well aligned with children’s needs. Recent evidence has shown that misalignment of curriculum, instruction, and children’s learning levels is common, and that improved alignment can improve learning achievement. For example, overambitious curriculum, in which the pace of the curriculum is too fast or covers too much content for most children to keep up, is common (Beatty and Pritchett, 2015; Kaffenberger and Pritchett, 2021). There is evidence that slowing the pace of curriculum content and better aligning with children’s learning levels can improve outcomes, as evidenced from major curriculum reforms and programmes such as Teaching at the Right Level and Structured Pedagogy approaches (Rodriguez-Segura and Mbiti, 2022; Hwa et al., 2020; Piper et al., 2018).
The Surveys of Enacted Curriculum is a methodology that systematically analyses and quantifies the content and alignment of instructional components such as curriculum, assessments, and teacher instruction. The approach has been used over the last 25 years in the United States to measure alignment of curriculum with national standards and to support teacher instruction and professional development.1
More recently, it has been applied in East Africa, specifically Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya, to identify instructional alignment and misalignment. In Tanzania and Uganda, for instance, an SEC study found that national curriculum standards, primary leaving exams, and teacher instruction varied widely in their focus and content coverage. While exams were tightly focused on a narrow set of content, teacher instruction broadly covered a full suite of topics, and neither was highly aligned with the curriculum standards (Atuhurra and Kaffenberger, 2022).
In this context, the RISE Programme partnered with the GoN, USAID, and RTI on an operational research study, using the Surveys of Enacted Curriculum to examine the content and alignment of the new curriculum with teachers’ classroom instruction and children’s learning levels, as measured on associated early grade reading assessments. The alignment analysis reveals the extent to which teacher instruction is aligned with the new curriculum, enabling the GoN to identify teacher support needs and guide plans for supporting the effective implementation of the curriculum. It also reveals the extent to which curriculum standards are aligned with children’s learning levels, identifying any areas where alignment could be improved.
The study finds that the new IC covers the five foundational reading skills (i.e., phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency [Comings, 2014; National Reading Panel, 2000]) throughout the first three grades of primary school, with most of these topics covered at low- to mid-levels of cognitive demand. This should present a strong initial opportunity for children to gain reading proficiency. Furthermore, Grade 1 teacher instruction is highly aligned with the IC (at 0.63 on a zero to one scale), indicating coverage of the core topics.
Both the IC and teacher instruction also cover broad sets of topics, often touching on all topical areas in a single grade. However, teachers tend to spread their coverage more widely and evenly across topics than the IC, not following the peaks of emphasis prescribed in the IC. This may prevent children from gaining the depth of understanding needed for mastery. The content maps for teacher instruction suggest an opportunity to examine why teachers are spreading their instruction so thinly, and how teachers could be supported to better emphasise those topics emphasised in the IC.
Both the IC and teachers’ instruction emphasise low and middle levels of cognitive demand. Little emphasis is given to the top levels of cognitive demand, which require deeper understanding and application of skill.
There is high alignment of the prescribed curriculum from one grade to the next, prescribing very similar content coverage from grades 1 to 3. While this could indicate a spiral pattern, in which content is covered initially and then returned to for review and greater depth, it could also indicate unnecessary repetition of coverage. Further examination of the content overlap across grades could identify opportunities to streamline the curriculum, and ensure both appropriate levels of repetition (such as for review of content) and adequate depth for the priority areas in each grade.
The classroom-based early grade reading assessment (CB-EGRA), intended for use by teachers to understand learning levels of the children in their classroom, covers a narrower set of topics at somewhat different levels of cognitive demand than the IC. This narrow coverage leaves teachers without information on student performance for many of the topics they are expected to cover, creating an opportunity for either the CB-EGRA topics to be expanded and better aligned to the IC, or for teachers to supplement the information provided by CB-EGRA with other forms of assessment, such as continuous assessment and terminal exams.
Student performance, as measured by the CB-EGRA, is low across most topics and levels of cognitive demand assessed. Therefore, even the relatively higher performance areas still require the attention of teachers in the classroom. Topics on which students performed particularly poorly, such as phonics and comprehension in Grade 2, and vocabulary in Grade 3, may require additional attention in the IC.
Atuhurra, J., Chaudhry, R., Hossain, T. and Kaffenberger, M. 2023. Instructional Alignment in Nepal Using the Surveys of Enacted Curriculum. 2023/057. https://doi.org/10.35489/BSG-RISE-RI_2023/057