For my last blog, I want to reflect on some lessons learned from one of my projects with YUVA Association, the design and pilot of a new Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) system for its educational courses and activities for Syrians and Turkish locals in Kirikhan, Hatay. The objectives of the M&E system are to determine:
1. Whether students are learning what they are supposed to learn, according to the learning objectives identified by staff.
2. Whether the training staff has the capacity they need.
3. What can be improved about the courses, and what other activities are needed.
The overarching goal of the M&E system is to identify what is going well and what can be improved about the course content, instruction, and materials. To achieve this goal, data was collected using pre and post-tests, participant evaluation questionnaires, and teaching staff peer classroom observations.
Overall, the system was implemented well, and students are happy with the courses and the ways they are learning in the classroom. However, from an analysis of the quality of the data, student feedback, and staff observations, there are a few lessons learned about how to strengthen the system, the activities, and provide additional support the community needs.
While teachers at the Kirikhan Community Center are doing a very good job using learner-centered pedagogy and creating a good learning environment, there are a few areas for improvement:
1. Teachers should spend less time lecturing and use a greater variety of teaching materials in class.
2. More time should be devoted to allowing students to work with each other.
3. More time is needed for practical application of skills learned in the computer and language classes, particularly conversation practice.
4. More teachers should take time to explain what students are supposed to learn, as well as summarize what should have been learned that day.
5. There is a need for more psychological support for both Turkish and Syrian people of all ages, as well as a psychological referral system. Teachers would need to be trained on how to identify psychological need so they can use this referral system. A psychologist should be hired to provide coordination of psychological support, identify needs, and provide psychological support.
6. Regarding how to improve courses at the community center, more frequent and longer courses and more advanced levels of courses are in high demand, and pre-tests indicate that students with high scores need more advanced classes. To meet this demand, experts are needed to review and develop curriculum content using our teachers at YUVA and outside experts, or partnerships should be made with other organizations to use existing curriculum, such as TOMER and the Public Education Center in Kirikhan.
7. People also commonly requested more sports, music, and drama activities, especially for girls, as well as courses in hairdressing, and tutoring based on Syrian curriculum. In addition, certificates for language classes were frequently requested.
8. Regarding additional support, Syrians most commonly requested transportation and food assistance. Providing activities in homes and other building space in neighborhoods farther from the community center may address some transportation challenges, and possibly improve involvement for members of the community that are hardest to reach, especially women. Coordination of systematic assistance, through registration for example, or efforts to connect Syrians with assistance provided by other actors through a referral system, would likely improve trust with the community and meet a critical need.
9. To achieve the goal of increasing intercultural communication and understanding, an effort should be made to further integrate Turkish and Syrian people in educational and social activities. Currently, classes are separated by language of instruction (Turkish and Arabic), which keeps Syrians and Turkish people separate during these learning activities.
Additionally, there are several components of the M&E system that could be strengthened. First, as shown in Table 1.1, more active students  need to take post-tests. The goal is to have at least 75% of active students take the pre and post tests so that evidence of learning will be more generalizable to those students taking the course. With current percentages of completion, it is not certain whether test results are generalizable to the student population as a whole.
During a planning session, we identified several ways to increase the number of students who take tests. The biggest issue is irregular attendance. To incentivize attendance, staff suggested giving rewards for those students who attend 70% of classes as more, as well as offering certifications for those students who meet that attendance goal and also have at least a proficient score (70%) on the post-tests. They also suggested arranging different times for students to take the test.
In addition to the need for more students to take the pre and post tests, there is some concern that during peer observations in classrooms, staff hesitate to give feedback that may be perceived to be negative. To help staff overcome this, together we worked on ways to help each other feel more comfortable giving constructive feedback. I also reiterated, along with the Center Director, that this information will not be used to fire staff, but only to help us be even better. Additionally, a new team of classroom observers will set up to compliment peer observations.
I am so grateful for this experience the past five months, and for all the help I have received here in Turkey and from the Felsman program in the US. Görüşürüz, Turkey. Until we meet again.
 Active students are those students who came to the course at least once a week for the duration of the course.