Why do we need research and assessment in education?


With the manifesto Let’s commit to research to improve Catalonia’s education, hundreds of individuals and organisations linked to education call for public institutions, and particularly the Government of Catalonia, to take a step towards a better connection between research and education policies. However, what use should this improved connection be to us? Why are we insisting that research and the assessment of programmes and education policies are key to improving the quality and equity of the education system?

We have asked various individuals involved in the initiative to help us to illustrate what contributions can be made by research and the assessment of educational interventions when it comes to the improvement of education. These are contributions that we have still not yet developed sufficiently in Catalonia. Why, then, do we need research and assessment in education?

1. To identify and understand the problems in the education system and to anticipate future needs

Research is a key tool in the social and educational field to detect and measure problems and their causes, to identify trends regarding social phenomena and, therefore, to anticipate future needs or risks.

Related: Read the article 4 keys to connecting research and education policy and driving the improvement of education

However, in the public presentation of the manifesto, the sociologist Xavier Bonal indicated that even today in Catalonia the Administration does not make sufficient use of this type of data to understand and tackle problems in the education system: “For example, we know what the aggregate level of school drop-out is in Catalonia, but we do not have systematic information broken down by areas about where it occurs and in which schools most drop-out occurs. We also lack well-executed forward planning and we do not know what implications the population decline that will be with us for at least the next 10 years may have on educational planning. These are absolutely essential questions needing much more active assessment mechanisms.”

2. For the ongoing improvement of educational intervention

Mercè Gisbert and Caterina Calsamiglia, a teacher and an economist specialising in education, respectively, both indicate that in the field of teaching-learning methodologies it is necessary to generate more evidence that is able to respond to questions that teachers have regarding their practice.

For example, Gisbert indicates that, if we concentrate on the specific field of digital technologies applied in education “we still lack sufficient evidence about how technology impacts the education process, particularly from the perspective of providing better or different teaching”.

Pilar Gargallo, president of the Federation of Pedagogical Renewal Movements of Catalonia, notes that “thanks to universities, we have progressed in fields such as cooperative work, educational personalisation and project work,” but there is generally a lack of broader promotion of cooperation between schools and universities to undertake useful research in terms of challenges in the system: “We often do not focus on the evidence, but rather on the intuition of the teachers. If we possessed the data, if we could co-create and work together with researchers, it would be much easier: we would refine to a much greater extent how we engage in our practice with children and young people.”

Related: Join the manifesto Let’s commit to research to improve Catalonia’s education

In the same vein, Calsamiglia points out that the experimentation promoted by schools should be supported by suitable research to ensure that the objectives set are being met.

For instance, let us consider a teachers assembly that sets itself the objective of ensuring that pupils are capable of working in a team and introduces new working methodologies to achieve this. “Rarely do things succeed right away; normally you test, then you profile... If you do not have evidence that indicates whether you are succeeding or not, you cannot evolve. Research signifies a constant acquisition of knowledge, and without research you do not evolve, because you are never certain of whether you are making progress or not, or you are unable to distinguish between the things that are actually proven from those that are not; so, then it all depends on whether or not you believe it.” To solve this issue, the researcher is calling on public authorities to commit to piloting evidence-based experiences and assessing them. Indeed, she argues that “conducting research with schools and generating evidence from Catalonia would inform us about how to proceed here and it would not be necessary to extrapolate the findings of research conducted in other countries.”

3. To understand the effects of government-driven policies and improve them

The assessment of government-driven policies in the field of education is just as important in order to clarify what effects they have and to gather useful information to be able to improve them. In another paper we explained the suitability of supporting the initiation of reforms in the education system, such as those that have been made with respect to the timetable and the school day, with assessments that allow us to understand the extent to which the policies are having an impact. Indeed, the researcher Miquel Àngel Prats notes that the Teacher Training Improvement and Innovation Programme, promoted by Catalan universities and the Government of Catalonia, is another one of the policies that should be assessed at this time, with a view to its ongoing improvement.

It is true that some policies are assessed; institutions such as Ivàlua and mechanisms such as PROAVA (the Promotion Fund for Assessment, from the Catalan Ministry of Economy) have contributed to this. Xavier Bonal also points out that “there are examples of very fruitful partnerships between research groups and public authorities. For example, we have conducted many studies for many municipalities with the goal of reducing school segregation and achieving more balanced schooling, which in many cases do give rise to political decisions which, in these instances, are founded on a well-executed analysis.”

Researchers indicate that, in order to take a step forward, the Catalan Ministry of Education should promote quality databases with regulated access for the aims of research and analysis. Specifically, they note the lack of an education panel in Catalonia, that could allow for longitudinal analyses, and which could incorporate up-to-date information on educational performance, access and outcomes linked to non-compulsory stages of education (such as 0-3 education or vocational training), and on the socio-economic and cultural characteristics of students.

Do you also think that research has a lot to contribute to improving the education system? Join the manifesto!

If you would like to find out more, go to recercaperleducacio.cat, join the proposal and share it!

Retrieve the presentation video for the initiative + Research x Better Education


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