Center for Education Innovations: This Week's News & Views

December 13, 2013Kimberly Josephson

This Week at CEI

The Center for Health Market Innovations (CHMI), a companion initiative to CEI that is also managed by the Results for Development Institute (R4D), recently published its Highlights: 2013 report presenting observations about health market developments over the last year. Read some key takeaways.


Last week, CEI released the December edition of the monthly CEI Connections newsletter. Join the mailing list to make sure you receive the next one!

On Monday, our blog featured a post about the immediate needs and potential solutions of the education system in South Africa. According to Dr. Francois Bonnici, Director of CEI-South Africa and the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, there are “no quick fixes; no easy answers” but collaborative efforts like CEI and National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) are good signs.



  • Opportunity for Collaboration! - Design for Change (DFC) is a global movement that aims to empower students to say I CAN and inspire others by telling their own stories of change and has introduced its unique design thinking curriculum in over 30 countries worldwide. The program promotes design process as a way of encouraging students to create and develop solutions for change in their communities and put those ideas into action. DFC is looking for an organization to help evaluate the connection between students’ social and emotional development and their academic performance as a result of participating in the program. Contact Kiran Sethi for more information.
  • December 15 | Skills for a Better Life e-Contest - UNESCO Bangkok is asking young people and teachers in the Asia-Pacific region to share their ideas (via video or essay) that aid in the development of 21st century skills like critical thinking, entrepreneurship, and creativity. Winners will receive a digital video recorder or e-book reader.
  • December 20 | Pan African Awards for Entrepreneurship in Education - The Saville Foundation is now accepting applications for the 2013 Pan African Awards for Entrepreneurship in Education. Prizes include $10,000 for 1st place, $5,000 for 2nd and 3rd places, and small awards for the best entry from each country.
  • January 5, 2014 | Echidna Global Scholars Program - This visiting fellowship at the Center for Universal Education aims to catalyze the work of nonprofit leaders, academics and policymakers from developing countries. Scholars spend four and a half months in Washington pursuing research on global education issues, with a focus on improving learning opportunities and outcomes for girls. Upon completion, scholars implement a project that builds on their research. Applicants should have a background in education, development, economics, or a related area, with 15+ years of professional experience in either research/academia; non-government and civil society; government; or business.
  • January 15, 2014 | 2014 WISE Awards - The submission period for the 2014 WISE Awards is now open through mid-January. Six innovative education solutions will each be awarded US $20,000.
  • January 16, 2014 | Saving Brains Challenge - The Grand Challenges Canada Saving Brains initiative will provide seed funding and transition-to-scale funding for innovative interventions that nurture and protect early brain development in low- and middle-income countries.
  • January 27, 2014 | The Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders - 500 fellows will be selected to participate in academic coursework at a U.S. university, leadership training, a presidential summit in Washington, DC, and other networking and professional development opportunities. Applicants must be 25 to 35 years old from a sub-Saharan African country and cannot hold U.S. citizenship or permanent residency.


Education News

Amid devastation, schools bring "sense of normalcy" to children in the Philippines - One month after Typhoon Haiyan - the deadliest typhoon in Philippine history - hit the nation, schools are already reopening in some of the most devastated parts of the country. Some schools are without roofs, others were torn out of the ground, and many of those in the best condition currently serve as evacuation centers. The Department of Education began a “soft” reopening of schools on December 2 to help return a “sense of normalcy” to children’s lives, using tents and other makeshift structures as temporary classrooms. In Region VIII, one of the hardest hit in the country, nearly 700,000 children are estimated to have had their education disrupted due to the storm. With support from UNICEF and Save the Children, the Department of Education is developing a four-phase strategy for reopening schools, with formal classes set to resume in early January 2014. The strategy includes providing psychosocial support to some 30,000 teachers.

The “forgotten sector” in refugee camp in Mauritania - Of the 14,000 primary-aged children from Mali who remain in eastern Mauritania, less than one-third attend schools in the Mbera refugee camp, where classrooms are already overcrowded. That fraction shrinks to just 17% when secondary students are included, though some attend informal classes run by parents and retired teachers. Joelle Ayité, head of education for UNICEF in Mauritania, calls education there the “forgotten sector.” The problems facing education in the camp are only too common: teachers are underpaid, more schools need to be built, and international donors continue to fall far short of providing the funds necessary to run the camp. Makeshift school structures do not work as well in Mbera as in other refugee camps: many constructed with plastic sheeting have been torn apart by desert winds. Momo, a spokesperson in Mbera, refugee, and retired teacher said,

“There’s no point in just setting up a shell of a school – it’s not worth it. Schools need good teachers, teachers need lamps so they can plan their lessons, they need pens – these things that are logical for us are not a priority for others.”

Education better, but not good enough in Chile and Brazil - The two countries share similar economic and educational gains over the last two decades. What were poor nations with disappointing education systems in the mid-1990s transformed into middle-income countries with strong economic growth, reductions in poverty, and enormous improvements in learning outcomes. According to an article in the Winter 2014 edition of Education Next, these transformations resulted from school reforms, improved standards of living, and better schooling conditions. Yet the middle classes in both countries remain dissatisfied with highly unequal achievement across socioeconomic and racial lines. Student achievement ranks poorly on PISA and schools and teachers rank last, or near-last, in international evaluations, such as the Teacher and Development Mathematics Study (TEDS) and the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). Higher expectations seem to fuel the discontent:

“Newly empowered middle-class citizens will continue to engage, until leaders are able to propel society forward at a faster rate and the schools are ranked among the top performers rather than just the top improvers.”


Point of Departure

Since the 2012 PISA rankings were published on December 3, news and social media outlets have boiled over with information and opinions about what these country comparisons mean. Notably, nations or cities in East Asia - Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Korea - continued to achieve the highest scores among OECD members. Many were quick to criticize the relatively poor or declining performance in some western nations, especially those who spend enormous amounts per student, like the United States. Others sought to justify the results, claiming it unrealistic to compare small regions with enormous countries, or faulting the exam for its overly-standardized format that lacks an emphasis on creative and critical thinking. Some Shanghai students, who received the highest scores in all 3 subjects (math, science, and reading), and their parents have downplayed their success on the exam, claiming the system is “too rigid,” stresses rote learning, and creates unhealthy competition.

Yet others see all this negative criticism and comparison as missing the point. Asia Society featured a panel discussion entitled “Making the Grade in Global Education” and spoke with global education experts from Teach for All, Teach for China, and Columbia University. The discussion went beyond the mere country comparisons, addressing other implications of the OECD data: equal access to quality education, investing in teachers, and collaboration and learning across national borders.

WEIGH IN and answer one of the panel questions yourself: What do you feel has been missing from or misinterpreted in mainstream coverage of the OECD rankings?

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