Local solutions to local challenges: school supervisors explore language and learning challenges in East Sumba

In East Sumba and in all partner districts and provinces, INOVASI uses a distinctive approach to develop pilot activities and find out what does and doesn’t work to improve student learning outcomes. In simple terms, this approach is called Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). It sees INOVASI working and learning directly with local partners to explore and identify local problems and co-design locally relevant solutions. This bottom-up way of thinking is similar in many ways to approaches like Doing Development Differently and Human Centred Design – but INOVASI continues to implement and iterate its own version of this on the ground in Indonesia.

Many reform initiatives aiming to improve student learning outcomes in Indonesia in the past have been ‘one size fits all’ solutions and have not generated desired sustainable results. In some instances, programs may be designed and implemented without the deep involvement of the stakeholders on the ground – their opinions and perspectives may not be included in the identification of problems and design of solutions. In addition, they are not always relevant for Indonesia’s diverse cultural contexts.

Gerson Naru, a primary school supervisor from East Sumba, East Nusa Tenggara province, is one of INOVASI’s local facilitators who has been working at the school level exploring fundamental challenges and barriers to improving learning outcomes. In East Sumba, INOVASI is in the early pilot planning stages, with a focus on transition from mother tongue to Bahasa Indonesia as the primary language of classroom instruction.

By using the PDIA approach, the root causes of local problems are investigated prior to solution design. These early results  are categorized, synthesized and inform final solutions that are then tested through pilots. At each step, problem identification involves local stakeholders. With the program’s focus on education, INOVASI local facilitators in each partner district conduct this early exploration and synthesis to determine the real challenges faced by schools, teachers and principals.

Although Gerson has only recently been introduced to the use of the PDIA approach, he acknowledges the benefits.

For example, he now feels more able to dissect problems at school. “So we examine first, not like the previous habit which is straight to assessing and directing. We set out to really look for the facts of the problems at school. Assessment comes after the facts or data are collected completely and that we are talking together,” he said during the synthesis stage of of PDIA in Waingapu, East Sumba.

The difference between facts and opinions in PDIA training is strongly emphasized. During this time, according to Gerson, supervisors often assess the school based on their personal opinions, not from available facts and evidence that may reveal core issues in learning quality and outcomes. As a result, the designed solutions may not be suitable at the school level. There is a mismatch.

“School supervisors sometimes cannot distinguish between opinions and facts, so in school appraisals, they are often not objective. In the training using PDIA approach, there is a differentiation session to really learn the difference between the two,” he said.

Gerson said the tendency to judge teacher performance based on certain qualities or personal biases and opinions is a common reoccurrence.  “For example, after we observe the teacher, we can not say the teacher is not mastering the method of learning, before the complete facts are collected such as teachers did not motivate the students, not using media, not making worksheets and so on,” he added.

During the PDIA exploration activities, Gerson also chose not to wear his school supervisor uniform. Instead, he wore a simple and neat white shirt and approached the teachers without judgment. “This way, I could dig more at the root of the problem at school. They became more relaxed around me,” he said.

Another supervisor, Rambu Ika, also felt the benefits after conducting the problem identification process as part of PDIA. In reflection, she felt that her school supervision techniques became more effective and informed thanks to the PDIA tools.

“We do not just know there is a problem, but really encouraged to know the root of the problem. In the past we often quickly summed up the root of the problem, and that can be misleading. Now we are trained to dig deeper,” she said.

According to Rambu Ika, a key strength of the approach is that the data obtained during the problem exploration process must be validated by local stakeholders – in this instance, local facilitators.Validation is done by involving all the teachers, synthesising all of the information and possible root problem causes together.

As part of synthesis activities, the teachers were invited back in groups to categorise the problems, which were disaggregated into seven categories: mastery of teaching materials, learning methods or strategies, classroom management, use of learning media, students’ ratings, use of language, and support from principals, parents, and committees.

Each teacher re-confirmed that there were many problems in each of these categories. For example, in the category of learning methods or strategies, some teachers admitted that they have not fully mastered the strategy on how to introduce letters more effectively to students. The method they use is by memorizing, which means that second grade students cannot recognize letters perfectly.

In the category of classroom management, for example, teachers have not been managing gender-based groups, and in the category of parental support, many teachers feel that parental support in Indonesian language learning is lacking. Parents at home do not make the children more used to speaking Indonesian.

In order for the teachers to find the root cause of the problems, Gerson and Rambu Ika helped teachers use the ‘5-Whys’ tool. This activity helps facilitators probe further and further into the why and how of the problem. Why is it happening? Why now? Why in this local context? Why in this classroom with these students?

“With validation in synthesis activities, the root of the found problem is justified and truly perceived by the teachers,” Gerson explained.

Both supervisors hope that by mastering PDIA and its associated tools and thought processess, such as more effective interviewing methods, 5-Whys, problem diagrams, and synthesis facilitation processes, in the future they can help schools and teachers become more adept in developing and implementing curriculum. In addition, they can help teachers improve their teaching strategies, and ultimately, student learning outcomes in the longer term.

Gerson and Rambu Ika each currently supervise 12 schools in East Sumba. Both are members of the INOVASI program in Sumba.

Local solutions to local challenges: school supervisors explore language and learning challenges in East Sumba