Significant progress is needed to improve education quality in developing countries. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics estimates that 617 million children worldwide are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics; nearly all of these children are in low-income countries.
At the current pace of change, we will not achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) — ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all — by 2030, leaving many children behind. The status quo will mean a “100-year gap” for poor children to catch up with the educational levels of today’s wealthy children. If we are serious about SDG 4 and accelerating the pace of change, we must find new ways of overcoming the learning crisis.
Five critical issues to improve education outcomes
Five issues hamper the pace of improved education outcomes across the globe:
1. Limited knowledge about what works
Global evidence points to the characteristics of well-functioning education systems, but a recent review of the impact of education interventions on learning and school participation in low and middle-income countries noted that there is little available evidence about what does or does not make interventions work, or about the costs of implementing them. Further, as recently observed, when relevant evidence is available dissemination is often weak, especially among key education stakeholders in developing countries. To improve policy and practice and close the educational gap between rich and poor children, we need a much better approach to collect and disseminate dependable evidence about effective education interventions.
2. The challenges of scaling educational innovations
Expanding the use of innovations that demonstrate impact as pilots is crucial to accelerating positive change, but scaling is challenging in terms of funding and timing. Despite the proliferation of education innovations, there is limited evidence about how to scale initiatives that improve learning outcomes. In recent years, projects such as Journeys to Scale and Millions Learning have generated important insights into successful scaling practice. However, more knowledge and experience are required to understand why, for instance, the Cambodian attempt to scale early childhood development centres and preschools had varied and limited impact on child development, whereas the approach of getting textbooks to schools in Burundi proved successful, as noted in the World Development Report 2018.
3. The need for nationally relevant responses
Effective education systems are those that work with and best respond to national political, economic, and cultural dynamics. Although it is universally acknowledged that context matters, contextualization remains challenging in developing countries because most system refinements and innovations are sourced, designed, and supported internationally and far removed from national realities. For instance, while the learning crisis may be greatest across countries in sub-Saharan Africa, these countries represent extremely heterogeneous contexts. Attempts to accelerate change can only be successful if they are designed with specific country dynamics in mind and include capacity development to adapt existing solutions.
4. The limited use of evidence in policy and planning
The quality of education will not improve without the effective implementation of robust policies. While there is increasing demand for the use of evidence in policy dialogue and planning in many developing countries, governments often have limited access to relevant evidence and face capacity constraints to use available evidence to shape policies and practices. To accelerate the pace of improving education quality, we must first ensure that governments have access to evidence-based research, and second, that they have the capacity to uptake evidence and innovations in their education sector.
5. Limited investments in knowledge sharing
The above issues are intensified by very low investments in knowledge sharing that can help scale effective innovations, coordinate efforts across borders, and empower local education systems. Currently, only 3% of official development assistance in education is allocated to the production of global public goods, whereas this figure is at 21% in the health sector. If we are to close the 100-year gap, we need increased investments in global public goods to facilitate knowledge sharing across borders and disseminate effective practices adapted for national or local contexts.
GPE’s Knowledge and Innovation Exchange
The GPE Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX) is a joint endeavour between GPE and IDRC that aims to respond to these challenges and strengthen education systems in 68 partner countries. GPE brings its network of committed partners and experience of supporting improved sector planning, implementation, and system strengthening; IDRC brings a wealth of experience in supporting and disseminating research and innovation to build healthier, equitable, and more prosperous societies in the developing world.
Implemented by IDRC and with a budget of approximately CA$82 million (close to US$63 million) over five years, KIX will find, fund, and help scale proven responses to key educational challenges identified by partner countries and ensure these solutions feed into national education sector policy and planning processes. KIX will be shaped by demand from national governments and driven by what countries consider to be their principal policy challenges.
KIX will also fund new research to fill gaps in evidence and knowledge, generate innovative solutions to issues identified by partner countries, and strengthen the capacity of governments to innovate, generate and use evidence and data. In doing so, KIX will expand the “learning ecosystem” of Southern-based organizations to learn, innovate, build, and use evidence, in turn deepening our collective understanding of successfully scaling innovations to make education systems more effective.
KIX will rely on four regional hubs where partners will come together to share information, innovation, and relevant practices, and KIX will provide grants at the global and regional levels to invest in knowledge generation and innovation, and to scale proven approaches.
KIX will initially focus on six themes proposed by developing country governments and member organizations as priority areas. Discussion papers were developed by thematic specialists as a first step to identifying evidence and knowledge gaps. These were developed in consultation with the following international and developing country experts: Luis Crouch on data systems, Kate Anderson on learning assessment systems, Kwame Akyeampong on teaching and learning, Elaine Unterhalter on gender equality, Pauline Rose on equity and inclusion, and Francis Aboud and Kerrie Proulx on early childhood care and education.
KIX is up and running
KIX is scheduled to roll out over the coming months. First steps include establishing the regional hubs and launching the call for KIX Global Grants.
Earlier this month, we launched a call for expressions of interest for organizations interested to apply as learning partners for the regional hubs. These partners will facilitate the learning and peer exchange among GPE partner countries.
Next week we will launch the first call for KIX Global Grants to develop knowledge and evidence for the adoption, adaptation, and scaling of promising innovations in GPE countries. The global grants will fund projects in support of adopting, adapting, and scaling promising innovations in GPE countries across six thematic areas. We anticipate these grants will improve our understanding of how to scale innovative, cost-effective, and sustainable education responses within GPE partner countries.
Additional elements will be implemented over the next year, including the KIX digital platform, contracting a research partner to accompany all KIX grants, and launching KIX regional grants in all four regions. Updates will be available through the GPE KIX webpage and mailing list.
We are tremendously excited about this joint endeavour and look forward to working with partner countries and organizations around the world to accelerate the pace of change and improve education quality for the most disadvantaged children now and into the future.
This article also appears on the Global Partnership for Education website.