One way to assist children to return to school is through accelerated learning programmes, sometimes called ‘catch-up’ classes. Planned in partnership with education authorities and covering essential elements of the official curriculum, a programme attempts to rapidly cover education content spanning years of schooling missed. Most accelerated learning programmes (ALP) are ‘catch up’ initiatives to assist older children/youth, who have missed years of schooling, to complete their basic education and to obtain educational qualifications in a relatively short period of time. Some ALPs cover part of the primary cycle while others cover the whole cycle. Some are one-year courses while others run for three to four years. At the end of the ‘catch-up’ period, students are integrated into a regular classroom.
When should we use catch-up education?
- When an emergency has caused groups of children to miss out on significant periods of education, for example in a protracted conflict or displacement situation
How to set up a catch-up education programme
Identifying the target group
Specific target populations can include displaced children, girls, or child soldiers. As these children have missed significant portions of schooling, reintegration into formal school is a strong support to demobilisation.
Since ALPs are complementary programmes, there must be a minimum engagement with government about the point of equivalence so that ALP graduates can transfer to public schools. It is important to co-ordinate with the education ministry so that exams will be recognised and allow for entry into state system. There is a need to ensure that government policy recognizes this diversity in provision of primary education. Government may take a more direct role by incorporating ALPs in national education plans.
Developing or identifying curriculum
- Develop curriculum based on approved state content
- In ALPs, life skills are often integrated across either in the content areas of direct relevance to learners’ lives or within the literacy component or in both. Life situations give these subjects more direct meaning as learners can see how they relate to their own lives. For literacy, it gives immediacy to the learning, making the literacy functional.
- Train teachers in new curriculum and child-centred teaching pedagogy
- With ongoing on-the-job support and in-service training, community-based facilitators can be recruited to teach in ALPs
Since ALP facilitators have a short time, typically 15 days, of preparation for their work, ALPs tend to have much more detailed teaching manuals than those provided for teachers in formal schools. ALP facilitators are often provided with lesson plans; in some cases, these may provide a full script for the lesson. These templates provide support both in lesson preparation and during lesson delivery. As facilitators gain experience, they become more confident in adapting the plan.
Teaching and learning
With catch-up curriculum, teaching quality is doubly important as there is less time to learn the same amount.
- ALPs often use participatory, learner-centred teaching methods, with smaller class sizes than in the formal school system, taking account of the individual learners’ needs
- Be aware of the needs of different age groups within the class; recognise that sitting in classrooms with younger children can be a disincentive to attend for overage children
- The same facilitator is usually with the same group of learners for the duration of the course. The facilitator is thereby more aware of the prior learning of each child and able to build on this knowledge in structuring appropriate learning experiences. This element of continuity also helps promote the child-friendly aspects apparent in ALPs. It facilitates the application psychosocial support in those programmes addressing crisis and post-crisis situations.
- To promote integration, where possible involve other community children
- Find ways to encourage regular attendance to ensure that the ALP has a more significant impact
- In programmes addressing dropouts, communities report on how the improved self-esteem of learners is intimately connected with their learning to read and write
- Monitor children’s progress as they integrate into the state school system
Monitoring and Evaluation
Put in place ways to measure the effectiveness and impact of catch-up education programmes. Ask questions such as:
- Are the catch-up education activities reaching the intended target group of children/young people?
- Do the children/young people that enrol attend throughout the programme? If so, why? If not, why not? What adjustments can be made to the programme to encourage attendance/completion?
- Entry into the formal school system: do children/youth that complete bridging/accelerated learning programmes re-enter formal school? For those that enter, do they start at the intended grade level?
- Literacy: can children/youth read at a functional level after completion of the programme?
Additional tools and guidelines
The information on this page is primarily taken from:
- Save the Children, Education in Emergencies: A Tool Kit for Starting and Managing Education in Emergencies
- UNESCO and IIEP (2010) Guidebook for Planning Education in Emergencies and Reconstruction
- UNESCO (2013), Accelerated Learning Programmes: What can we learn from them about curriculum reform?
Additional resources include:
- Save the Children, Catch Up Clubs: A pioneering approach to getting children safely back to school (2021)
- AEWG, Catch-up Programmes: 10 Principles for Helping Learners Catch Up and Return to Learning (2020)
The ASER Assessment tool which can be used to determine what level to group students in (available in English and Hindi) is here