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Pedagogy, curriculum, teaching practices and teacher education in developing countries

What do we want to know?

The overarching question this review engaged was:

Which pedagogic practices, in which contexts and under what conditions, most effectively support all students to learn at primary and secondary levels in developing countries?

This was explored through three sub-questions:

  1. What pedagogical practices are being used by teachers in formal and informal classrooms in developing countries?
  2. What is the evidence on the effectiveness of these pedagogical practices, in what conditions, and with what population of learners?
  3. How can teacher education (curriculum and practicum) and the school curriculum and guidance materials best support effective pedagogy?

Who wants to know and why?

This rigorous literature review, commissioned by the Department for International Development (DfID), UK, focused on pedagogy, curriculum, teaching practices and teacher education in developing countries. It aimed to: (i) review existing evidence on the review topic to inform programme design and policy making undertaken by the DfID, other agencies and researchers; and (ii) identify critical evidence gaps to guide the development of future research programmes.

What did we find?

The review’s main claim is that teachers’ use of communicative strategies encourages pedagogic practices that are interactive in nature, and that are more likely to impact on student learning outcomes and hence be effective. This claim for teachers’ use of communicative strategies is not something that is reported consistently in those terms in the literature reviewed, but it has emerged from an interpretation of the overall body of evidence.

The overall strength of that body of evidence is moderate, with a combination of high- and moderate-quality studies from a range of contexts, relatively numerous in relation to other rigorous and systematic reviews, but mostly of observational-descriptive studies. Studies were not directly comparable, with different aims and research methods and a variety of outcome indicators to assess effective pedagogic practices.

What are the conclusions?

Overall the picture of effective practices in developing countries remains patchy and still inequitable. The problem facing governments and funders is how to upscale ‘what works’ in terms of higher student attainment more evenly at a national scale while recognising that the constraints of large classes and scarce resources are likely to remain the common experience for teachers and their students for some years yet, particularly with increasing numbers of students progressing to secondary school. With evidence of the paradigm shift towards more student-centred learning, the imperative now is to improve teachers’ understanding and practices by a further shift towards students, their backgrounds, experiences, current and potential levels of learning and a more critical understanding of how the curriculum is aligned or not to students. Teacher education that conceptualises teaching and learning as essentially a communicative and social process, needing benign and encouraging teachers who know their own students' relation to the curriculum, may be a starting point.

How did we get these results?

Nine electronic databases for relevant literature and 17 key journals were hand searched; the websites of key governmental and non-governmental organisations were also searched; citations referenced in identified papers were followed up; and team members, the e-user group and the team’s professional contacts were consulted for recommendations of relevant studies and ‘grey’ unpublished reports and papers.

The review was conducted in two stages. Stage one consisted of a systematic ‘mapping’ exercise on the 489 studies that met the inclusion criteria through coding, giving a broad characterisation of pedagogical practices used by teachers in formal and informal classrooms in developing countries. Studies that met the inclusion criteria of relevance and clarity of method were selected for stage two, the in-depth review. Fifty-four empirical studies, reported in 62 publications, using both quantitative and qualitative methods, were included and rated for methodological trustworthiness and quality of contextualisation. A random sample of 15% of studies was double coded for quality assurance. Data from the 45 studies ranking high or moderate on both dimensions were used to address this review’s overarching research question.

The EPPI Centre reference number for this report is 2110. This report should be cited as:

Westbrook J, Durrani N, Brown R, Orr D, Pryor J, Boddy J, Salvi F (2013) Pedagogy, curriculum, teaching practices and teacher education in developing countries: final report. Education Rigorous Literature Review. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.
ISBN: 978-1-907345-64-7

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