Kyrgyzstan: Technology Enhanced Monitoring of Learning [CIES 2024 Presentation]

The small, landlocked mountainous nation of Kyrgyzstan occupies an important space in Post Soviet Central Asia – as the only parliamentary democracy in the region since independence in 1992. While the country has admirably maintained near-universal enrollment rates in primary and lower-secondary levels, these important gains in educational access have not been accompanied by adequate learning outcomes. As evidenced by the 2017 National Sample Based Student Assessment, about 60% of grade 4 students in Kyrgyzstan lagged in age-appropriate comprehension level. By all estimates, these learning gaps have worsened due to school closures and economic disruptions caused by COVID-19. While improvements are necessary in many aspects of Kyrgyz school education, few issues are as pressing or as consequential as strengthening the system that prepares and supports the 75,000 public school teachers in the country. In this paper we present innovative models of teacher support structures that hold promise for creating an enabling environment for public school teachers in Kyrgyzstan to grow and succeed in their profession. Specifically, the paper will present insights from two complementary on-going initiatives (each led by one of the co-presenters) that focus on structured observation, feedback, and mentoring mechanisms, and creatively use simple technology applications to promote instructional quality in the classrooms and a community of practice across the system. Our paper will situate the scope of these initiatives in the ecosystem of teacher development practices in Kyrgyzstan and discuss their broader policy applicability. We submit that these insights would be relevant for other resource-constrained education contexts that are aspiring to improve support systems for teachers. The first initiative in focus is the technology-enhanced mentoring model of the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program of the Institute of Education (IOE) at the American University of Central Asia. Launched in 2018, the program – open to both aspiring and in-service teachers – embeds digital pathways in its structure, curricular content, and delivery processes. At the core of the program is a web-video based mentoring model that assigns experienced teachers as mentors for the MAT candidates (mentees). Both mentors and mentees use a lesson observation rubric and simple digital tools (YouTube, Google Form, Google Classroom, Zoom, etc.) to observe, analyze, and reflect on classroom instruction videos, all under the watchful guidance of a dedicated Faculty Advisor from the MAT program. The teaching observation rubric used is a modified version of the evidence-based Danielson Framework for Teaching. Besides providing constructive feedback to the mentees, the mentors are encouraged to model good practice for their mentees and help them identify possible areas of focus and improvement in the subsequent lessons. In other words, these non-hierarchical dialogs are meant to be both evaluative and generative, specific, yet holistic – attentive to mentees’ relative strengths and weaknesses in the context of the specific classroom where they need to perform. Evidence from the assessments by mentors over four cohorts of MAT practicum indicates that thanks to the video-based observation-reflection-feedback loop, the mentees are able to take ownership of their own growth and demonstrate qualitative improvements in their classroom instruction by the end of the practicum. Internal program evaluation data also suggest that the mentors themselves are appreciating benefits of their engagement in the IOE model. Additionally, having dedicated Faculty Advisors overseeing the mentoring program has not only created a support structure for the mentors, but the entire program has also resulted in a broader community of practice. While these are promising results, the scope and scale of a university-based selective program is limited when compared to the needs of the broader education system. This is where the second initiative of this paper - Okuu Keremet! (Learning is Awesome! in Kyrgyz language) is particularly significant. The ongoing USAID funded Okuu Keremet project (2019 – 2024) is designed to help improve learning outcomes in reading and mathematics of more than 450,000 students in Grades 1‒4 in 1,682 target schools in Kyrgyzstan. The project is implemented by RTI (Research Triangle International) in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Sciences of Kyrgyzstan. To date, around 15,000 teachers have completed special pedagogical training in teaching read and math in the primary grades. An important way the project has integrated technology in the improvement of instructional practice is by creation of a Coaching app that is contextualized for easy access and usage by Kyrgyz school teachers and teacher educators. This app assists methodologists to mentor teachers through classroom observations. The program uses a classroom observation rubric / checklist that is easy to interpret, and to update, using the app interface and based on country’s teacher professional standards. Around 3,500 school administrative staff and methodologists of district education departments were trained to mentor teachers in primary schools. The app is being used in 1,682 target schools. Both the IOE model and the Okuu Keremet project underscore the significance of technology-enhanced mentoring in improving instructional practices of classroom teachers in Kyrgyzstan. Data from both initiatives will be presented at the CIES Conference. As leaders of these respective initiatives, we recognize that the promise of our approaches derives from leveraging the power of digital technologies in learning-rich professional development processes for current and aspiring teacher in ways that are evidence-based, context-informed, cost-effective, sustainable, and scalable. Ongoing implementation and refinement of our respective initiatives have uncovered strong levers and weak links in the broader teacher development structures of Central Asia. One critical area is the importance of framing mentoring as a holistic approach to teacher development that goes beyond benchmarking against a rubric and attends to the intersecting concerns of teachers by promoting an ethos of growth mindset and social-emotional support. We submit that developing such holistic mentoring skills and attitudes among skilled and experienced teachers is a policy priority that must be attended to by the Ministry of Education of Kyrgyzstan and its development partners.