An “Educational” Town Hall Meeting: Addressing Plans, Priorities and Propositions

January 30, 2014Nisma Elias
 

Nisma Elias is a Program Associate at the Results for Development Institute (R4D).

For anyone interested in the state of financing for international education and development, particularly after worries over the shrinking pie of aid to education, how major funders are planning to allocate their budgets is important. On January 23rd, five leading donors to education attended a town hall style meeting to talk about their priorities for education research in international development. Organized by the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS), the event provided an avenue for constructive discourse between the research, funding and academic communities.

Overlapping Approaches Among Funders
 
Attending the town hall were Stefan Dercon, Chief Economist at UK Department for International Development (DFID); Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC); Harry Patrinos, Lead Education Economist at the World Bank; Christine Beggs, Senior Education Advisor at USAID; and Dr. Jordan Naidoo, Senior Education Advisor at UNICEF. Each representative first outlined their organization’s strategies in education research. Mr. Boyle summarized a new research initiative that both ESRC and DFID are financing on “Education and Development: Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems.” £20 million will be awarded over three annual calls to address pivotal questions on learning outcomes in developing education systems. Each annual call will have a theme and aims to provide practitioners with methods that can be modified to different contexts and systems to improve learning. The first call of £5 million focuses on “effective teaching” and closes March 25th 2014.
 
The World Bank, UNICEF and USAID are dedicated to raising learning outcomes as well. Ms. Beggs outlined how improving reading skills for 100 million children in primary grades by 2015 is a prime goal for USAID. The agency plans to accomplish this by using adaptable assessment and open data learning tools, which have already been translated into 80 languages and applied in over 50 countries. They are also investigating the impact of parental and community engagement in boosting learning outcomes, and how to involve parents in a cost and scale effective manner, in low resource settings.
 
Other approaches the donors share are an emphasis on building evidence, with a focus on equitable access to learning, and what works in terms of closing the gaps. Dr. Naidoo highlighted UNICEF’s work in implementing education programs in 150 countries, all of which have an evidence based component. He referenced UNICEF’s partnership with the World Bank on simulating equity in education by examining the real impact of education interventions. “Up to $30 million is being spent on evidence building,” he noted.
 
Schmoozing with the Audience
 
Members of the audience had the opportunity to engage with the senior officials to unpack their concerns. The panel was asked if there is any scope for reverse innovations in education, i.e. opportunities to inform educational challenges in upper income countries using learning from lower-income regions. Mr. Patrinos replied in the affirmative. “Conditional cash transfer programs from the Latin-America and Caribbean region have been replicated in 27 countries,” he cited as an example. “Including New York City and Australia.”
 
The discussion then turned to whether the research and learning that the institutions are involved in are being applied. Did the organizations have a strategy for implementation and if so, what involvement did the local Ministries of Education have?
 
From the DFID point of view, grant requirements are very stringent because it involves being able to demonstrate that the proposed research has a policy impact. “We try to establish the policy links, such as links to government and so on, early in the process,” said Mr. Dercon. “We are looking for models that are demand-driven, but we don’t want to turn research into consultancy work either. It is a difficult balance to achieve impact.”
 
In response, Ms. Beggs referred to USAID’s collaboration with the Global Partnership for Education on building workshops to map the impact of early grade reading, and how these efforts involve considerable opportunity for cross-country sharing.
 
Other topics the group discussed were the place of higher education, alternative or non-formal modes of schooling, children with disabilities, and mixed-method evaluation models on their respective agendas.
 
Bright-eyed and Moving Forward
 

The event illuminated that the chief players in the education aid arena are working in similar areas of the world, very often together, to achieve parallel goals towards learning, equity, and monitorable impact. The world continues to grapple with a myriad of educational challenges in 2014, but the commitment from several large institutions to eliminate the most pressing threats to an educated global citizenry is definite cause for optimism.

 

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