BackgroundThis write-up describes the change introduced this session in a Nigerian school with international outlook. The school, labelled Aroso, for anonymity is a vibrant, happy, learning community situated in the country’s federal capital territory, Abuja with an over-arching aim to develop confident, well-rounded students possessing skills to actively engage with and navigate through 21st Century challenges, by nurturing children from age 1-17. The three sections of the school are: Early Years, which caters for pupils ages 1-5; Primary, where students ages 6-11 are nurtured while the Secondary will prepare students ages 11-17 for tertiary institution.
Presently the secondary section has students in Year 7 and 8 only.Though the Early Years section commenced operation in 2008, it was in September 2018 that the secondary arm of the school came into existence. From the outset, Aroso extolled diversity in culture, race and religion and recruits staff and students from within and outside Nigeria including nationals of: Poland, Ghana, Benin Republic, Zimbabwe, Senegal, India and Britain.
The curriculum is a blend of the Nigerian and English national curriculum. While the main language of communication in the school community is English, there is provision for students to be supported in French, Mandarin, Arabic and the German language.The school provides a robust programme for intellectual games and sports including swimming which is time-tabled as other regular subjects like Mathematics, English Language and Science. In addition to these, Coding and Robotics, Life Skills and Leadership, Entrepreneurship, African Studies, Character and Value Education, Personal Social and Health Education (PSHE) are unique subjects added to enrich the curriculum.
The secondary arm of the school is expected to lead whole- school initiatives, maintain world class standards and pioneer the effort to seek compliance, and later full accreditation of the Council of British International Schools (COBIS). Rationale For Proposing A ChangeItems 5 and 6 under the section context of the plan’ in the five-year strategic plan (see appendix) of Aroso states that the school shall: provide 21st Century Technology at the heart of administration, teaching and learning. Implement Assessment for Learning Worldwide, one of the functions of a school is the certification of the individual learner under its embrace (Idowu & Esere, 2009). To effectively carry out this role, assessment of one kind or another is a prerequisite. Assessment is a means whereby the teacher obtains information about knowledge gains, behavioural changes and other aspects of the development of learners (Oguneye, 2002). It involves the deliberate effort of the teacher to measure the effect of the instructional process as well as the overall effect of school learning on the behaviour of students. Assessment covers all aspects of school experience both within and outside the classroom. It covers the cognitive as well as the affective and psychomotor aspects of learning. It is no surprise then that the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Education, like most of its counterpart worldwide, has formalised continuous assessment as a major component of the evaluation process.There are important gains in tracking students’ progress via assessments and timely, continuous feedback. Teaching normally starts from what the learner knows and progresses to what the learner should know. A good teacher needs to ascertain this, and shape his teaching accordingly. Even with a new and unfamiliar topic, after a period of say 35 ” 45 minutes, students will have different understandings of the material. Quick responses to teacher’s questions from the most confident, articulate and capable student in a class may not provide the kind of detail, individual feedback that is required for a teacher to shape his teaching to the benefit of the diverse group of students in his class but giving the students exercises and anlysing the results often serves better in providing the teacher information he needs to modify his teaching with a higher likelihood that the students will thereby optimize their learning. When feedback from the assessment giving to the whole group of students in the class is used in this fashion, it is known as formative assessment (Dylan, 2018). The purpose of assessment as described here is not just to place a judgement on the learning attainment of the students but rather to shape the teaching-learning process in such a way that there will be a better learning yield’. Decades of education research support the idea that by teaching less and providing more feedback, we can produce greater learning (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Hattie, 2008; Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001). Aside from feedback being; goal-referenced; tangible and transparent, actionable, specific and personalized it must be timely, ongoing; and consistent to do the best. (Wiggins, 2000) Providing timely, ongoing and consistent feedback so as to improve learning gains is the underlying motif behind the introduction of School Management System Technology in Aroso. The proposed change to technology for providing assessment feedback will thus improve learning outcome of the students beyond what might be expected from a consideration of the students previous learning attainment (Mortimore, 1991a) and it could be properly viewed as a school improvement project as it adds value to the learning attainment of the students.Furthermore, the initiative is beneficial to parents who are usually eager to see the progress chart of their children. It allows for transparency between the school, students and especially parents and it is a useful resource for teachers to initiate dialogue with parents about the learning, or better still learning gaps, observable in the students. The resource will also afford administrators to see how teachers are shaping their teaching in tandem with the assessment records and how students are responding to feedback. These numerous benefits of this adaptive project if successfully implemented will transcend classroom outcome and counts to make the school more effective.Drivers of the School Improvement Plan A definition that emanated from the International School Improvement Project (ISIP), where Van Velzen et aI. (1985) incorporated research findings into a comprehensive statement describe school improvement as a systematic, sustained effort aimed at change in learning conditions and other related internal conditions in one or more schools, with the ultimate aim of accomplishing educational goals more effectively. ‘Systematic’ and ‘sustained’ refer to careful planning and management of change over a period of years. The emphasis on ‘learning conditions and other related conditions’ denotes that school improvement extends beyond classroom change. Other school-wide conditions such as structure, policy, climate, conviviality, relationships and the wider curriculum also come under consideration. ‘One or more schools’ acknowledges the school as the key unit and focus of change, although other schools might also be involved. ‘Educational goals’ incorporate, “what a school is ‘supposed’ to accomplish for its students and for society” (Hopkins, 1990a, p. 182). These might include academic, social and vocational skills, and also citizenship, equity and other social functions. In this definition, however, it is clear there is also an intricate relationship between school improvement and change. Hopkins (1992) regards school improvement as ‘the most appropriate means’ to achieve educational change, but does not equate school improvement and change because many imposed changes do not result in the improvement of student outcomes, and most ignore the key components of culture and structure in the school. Thus, while school improvement is change, change is not necessarily school improvement. In an effort to make their schools more effective, educators often ask two related but distinct questions: ‘Which of the many activities that we do have greater benefits for pupils?’ and: ‘How can we make our school better than it is now?’ The first question focuses specifically on the impact of schools on pupil outcomes and the characteristics of effective schools, while the second on the implementation of change and school improvement. I therefore consider the introduction of school management system as a school improvement initiative.Who will lead the change from manual computation of assessment records to the automated system? The senior leadership team (SLT). In the engine room of this transition is the principal of the school who joined Aroso in July 2018 from Saudi Arabia after working in several international secondary schools. According to the organogram, he is the most senior employee hence he has legitimate positional power. A Briton who has either worked or visited almost 50 countries, and undoubtedly the most experienced in international education within the Aroso three-tier system of schools thus possessing expert knowledge. The mandate given him by the Director and Chairman of the board of the school is to grow the new secondary school in Abuja and strengthen other arms of the school that had been in existence since 2008, conforming the school’s practices to international best standard especially that of COBIS as much as the Nigerian context allow. The principal is a great motivator whose common-sense approach to issues wins the heart of parents and students and brings the best out of the teachers. Thus shifting the structure and invariably the culture of the school to one more akin to a club culture where the Principal is in central control with a structure much like a spider’s web. (Aitken, 1990)While research on educational leadership advocates the need for culture specific leadership that fits the history and needs of the community it serves since leadership and life are interwoven, (Trujillo-Ball, 2003). Johnson (1997) cautions, reducing leadership to behaviours without understanding the cultural beliefs and values, social conditions, historic influences and contexts as well as the individual behind the behaviours, trivialises the meaning of Native leadership’. Aroso therefore recruited, a Nigerian Vice-Principal who had been working in highly rated schools within the country for about two decades. He joined the school in August, 2018 and is responsible for the secondary curriculum and provide practical support for the Principal at every stage of policy formation and implementation, review and evaluation. With staff and students from within and outside Nigeria, a good understanding of the Nigerian terrain and sensitivities to the cultural interplay is important. The board expects the Vice Principal to give the Principal, who is operating for the first time in Nigeria, a soft landing and help him manage the cross-cultural dynamics associated with multi-cultural groups in the school. The Principal initiated the change from manual computations of students result to a technological based one that affords students, teachers and parents an opportunity to get weekly feedback on students’ assessments. An effective school is dedicated to continual improvement in all facets of its core mission and vision for learning and teaching while in service to its community (2018 AEML Class, cohort A). He thus leads the presentation to the board and the senior leadership team, teachers, administrative staff, parents and students.Overcoming The ChallengesNew initiatives in education have always been accompanied by strong distractions and emotionally packed debate. (Aftermath, 1983). General resistance, differing ICT competences, more professional development training needed than anticipated, were some concerns raised about the project at the think-tank period as effort was made to get buy in at each layer of leadership in the school (Arrowsmith, 2004). Some teachers in the Early Years and Primary section of the school were already comfortable with the way they had been providing feedback to students and parents on assessment may be reluctant to change because of inertia, especially older teachers who might not be too keen on learning new technologyFunding is another concern. Automating the assessment feedback process comes at a cost. Does the benefit to the school community justify the capital outlay? The empirical-rational model calls for such a justification (Chin and Benne, 1969). Convincing the Director to provide the funds for this needs to be justified. Curious but nevertheless real is the challenge of finding a trusted solution provider. Sourcing out the project to the right Information Technology solution provider is also a challenge because of the issue of integrity especially with respect to school information and data of staff and students that would be accessible to the service providers. In most countries more stringent legislations are coming up on how organisations, including schools, process people’s personal data and keep it safe and there are legal rights people have over their own data. This is now applicable in many countries and became effective in the United Kingdom (UK) since the 25th of May 2018. It is therefore important that Aroso contract out the technological end of the project to a company with high ethical standards. The implementation of the project also demands that teachers input scores correctly and accurately at all times as parents will now have access to students weekly academic records and frequent amendments of published scores by teachers may raise questions on the professionalism and credibility of the teacher, and perhaps the school.Getting the buy in of parents who may not be used to modern technology is another possible challenge.Propositions to Overcome ChallengesThis is a school-wide improvement initiative that affects the processes and conditions which support the teaching-learning process (Hopkins, 1994). The initiative is engaging to all stakeholders and capacity-building for both students and teachers (Hopkins, 2002). Furthermore, it is organic in nature (Harris, 2001). While resistance to change is normal, resistance serves a useful purpose in this case as it nudges the change drivers to examine the plans for the project more critically. On top of the pack of issues identified by Morrison (1989) required to develop a Force Field analysis of the project is leadership. The Principal, on behalf of the SLT of Aroso needs to get buy-in from all stake-holders in the true spirit of distributive leadership by discussing the benefits of the change with all stake holders at various level and at different fora. It was easy for the senior leadership team to appreciate the benefit of the change but in the true spirit of distributed leadership the plan was also discussed at the early stage with the Librarian who doubles as the Information Technology Manager and while discussing with the departmental heads and the subject teachers who are mostly Nigerians, the Vice-Principal who is equally a Nigerian with decades of experience working in the country took the lead. This killed any notion that the change is a British import’. Carefully drafted information on the benefits of the assessment-feedback portal was sent to the parents via the weekly newsletter- the GrapevineThe discussion with students and the generality of students while the search for a solution provider is ongoing allows for incubation period and affordances for sensitivity to culture of key players and users are tapered by allowing a reasonable buy-in period.On the issue of sourcing out the technological aspect of the project to solution providers guidelines for considering the proposals was developed by the Human Resource Manager, discussed and ratified by the senior leadership team. The document is then passed on to the Information Technology Manager (ITM) to use as a guide in shortlisting and inviting for interview credible solution providers who conforms with contemporary data protection policyThe project coheres with the thrust of the definition of an effective school. Students and pupil’s assessment will not only be based on attention to specific cognitive elements neither on one-off occasional measurements/evaluations nor performance in national examinations but rather along with all the aforementioned as they are quite important, on how well the pupils are enjoying learning, how well they are socializing among their peers and the pupils’ attitude towards feedback, and towards their teachers.ConclusionSchool effectiveness is defined as research that attempts to disentangle the links between what the students brings to the school and the educational experience that the student has at school in order to see how the two strands influence the student’s attainment, progress and development. Everything done in a school is done within the context of finite time, limited resources, funds, attention and administration. Therefore, everything done in a school that has no effect detracts from interventions that could have an impact.The implementation of this whole school change took into account whole organisational issues having teaching and learning at its heart and helpful, timely and effective feedback to students and their parents as a proximal goal. The aim is that student feedback should be timely and ongoing. When student feedback is given immediately after showing proof of learning, the student responds positively and remembers the experience about what is being learned in a confident manner. If feedback is unduly delayed the moment’ may be lost and the student might not connect the feedback with the action. This project will thus help the school delivers on one of its strategic goals.Studies of effective teaching and learning (Dinham, 2002, 2007a; 2007b) have shown that learners want to know where they stand in regards to their work. It stimulates and motivates.While the project is still in the praxis, it is expected that it will be successfully concluded and will be an abiding one as the project will in the long run, create high and appropriate expectations for all, and involved parents in productive and appropriate ways (Davies, 1997; Reynolds, 2000). Lastly, useful feedback will continue to be an important requirement for learning and therefore a precursor of an effective school. (Teddlie and Reynolds, 2000).