A major shortcoming of many comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) programs is their failure to listen to the voices of youth they are meant to serve.
In Madagascar this is an all-too-common fault as NGOs have typically taken a top-down approach to implement CSE initiatves, not meaningfully engaging with students during planning or implementation along the way.
As part of the Resilient Roots initiative with CIVICUS and through collaboration with AmplifyChange, Projet Jeune Leader has been working to create an improved and systematic feedback system to regularly capture the thoughts and opinions of young adolescent students in our program.
It's through this system that we can improve our accountability to these primary constituents (youth are who we are trying to serve, afterall!) and make continuous, learning-based modifications to our programming.
The result is a new rapid rural appraisal technique through "bean-voting" that enables students to rate their PJL experience.
Now, in systematic and regular intervals, students in our courses give their feedback on different indicators by "voting" with beans. With this, we have been able to look at different dimensions of our accountability, such as students' trust in the educator and students' understanding of the lesson taught.
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
Supervising staff who already conduct regular in-person evaluations at schools lead the activity after a course has finished and the PJL Educators can leave the classroom, allowing students to answer anonymously from their Educators.
The supervisor provides each student with a bean and reads a question. Then, all students cast their "vote" into a bucket corresponding to their answer on a three-point scale: high--medium--low. To help mitigate against social desirability, students cast their bean in a make-shift, confidential voting booth. The enthusiasm (and smiles!) from the students during the activity are the best part of the process.
HOW IT IMPROVES PROGRAMMING
Supervising staff use and triangulate results from the feedback mechanism, alongside their own observations and rubric evaluations of the course, to provide immediate suggestions for improvement to Educators.
Straight away, Educators learn to make concrete and specific course corrections on their teaching techniques, classroom management, use of participatory and interactive activities, and comprehension checks.
HOW IT INCREASES ACCOUNTABILITY
During the following week's course after the feedback activity, PJL Educators report back to their students about what they have learned and what changes they are making as a result of the students' feedback.
It's this "closing of the feedback loop" that helps students know that their opinions are valued by PJL.
During the final iterations and evaluation of the feedback mechanism we were surprised to learn that Educators highly valued the bean-voting system. An unexpected result we saw from this process was that Educators, themselves, felt that PJL was also becoming more accountable to them through the mechanism originally meant for students.
They felt that having students' opinions on-hand better grounded the constructive feedback supervisors were already giving during in-person course evaluations. They said it helped opened a dialogue between them and their supervisors during the feedback exchange, instead of being a one-sided discussion. Importantly, they also felt instant gratification, being better validated and motivated in their work, when she saw that students gave them promising scores on the indicators measured.
This accountabilty feedback mechanism is now integrated into our organization's monitoring activities. By earnestly seeking and incorporating students' feedback, we are ensuring we remain learner- and youth-centered in our approach to CSE in Madagascar's middle schools, and remaining accountable to the exact group it's our purpose to serve.