The Unimenta team has just completed a monitoring and evaluation study for the Asian Women’s University in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

The Pathways to Promise programme, run by the Asian Women’s University, is a unique and innovative access year for young women coming from the most challenging backgrounds you can imagine. Many of them are Rohingya and Afghanistan.

Pathways provides a unique opportunity for young women from socio-economically challenged backgrounds to access study towards undertaking an undergraduate degree whilst learning crucial life and employability skills.

Our role was to provide an external evaluation of the programme to understand what it is doing particularly well and what could be improved. The one-year intensive, residential competency-based programme combines a holistic blend of English language reading, writing, speaking and listening skills, IT, mathematics, karate and a comprehensive extracurricular programme including drama, debate and storytelling.

I think one of the most powerful things we experienced whilst working on this project was the massive impact of this experience on the students’ softer skills. The programme is helping them to develop confidence, leadership, self-awareness and self-expression. Yet most of this was going undocumented. Like many donor-funded projects the evaluations that had taken place thus far focused on academic records.

However, not surprisingly, some of these young women struggle to meet the academic requirements. For many of them it is the first real opportunity they have had to experience education that is not one of rote-learning. If only academic achievements are a measure of the project’s success then something is not quite right.

We made recommendations that help the programme to start to measure the softer skills that are apparent and are present. This is being done by creating change stories, more innovative monitoring through participatory video giving the young women their own voice and opportunity to document their experiences. Most importantly, the programme needs to provide strong exit strategies so that even those who do not necessarily complete the full undergraduate study  receive support in re-entering their community, finding relevant jobs within sectors they are interested in, keeping up their interest in learning English, and broadening their view of the world.

This will ensure that whatever time they have spent at AUW will have been useful and productive and will have an output. Just because they have not completed a degree programme, shouldn’t mean their journey has ended. In the same way the young women that do go on to complete their degrees need to have the same opportunities and a way of tracking and measuring all of the skills they have developed.