Prioritizing Quality while Expanding Access to Out-of-School Children: 4 Instructive Examples from the CEI Database

February 12, 2016Duncan McCullough

There is an increased emphasis on the quality of education in the international development community. One need only compare the topline education goal from the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to that of the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for education to see this shift reflected.


Where the MDG for education committed the world to “Achieve universal primary education”, the SDG for education strives to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”


This shift is deserved and needed. But in 2013 there were still 124 million children and adolescents out of school, and a renewed focus on quality cannot obscure the basic needs that these children still face.


Luckily, there are programs around the world dedicated to reaching out-of-school children and providing them not just basic services, but cutting-edge learning strategies that represent the latest in quality education. Their experiences can be an important resource for all education advocates.


Take for example, the Alternative Basic Education (ABE) centers implemented by Save the Children in the Kenyan communities of Dadaab and Fafi. These centers are committed to reaching out-of-school children, most of them displaced refugees, and providing them with education that is flexible and suited to their needs and circumstances. However, they also pay special attention to promoting the quality of these education services. Local teachers are given additional trainings to deliver the ABE government curriculum effectively, and management committees are established from local community members to provide quality control for ongoing monitoring to ensure continual improvement in the lessons’ quality.


In the remote rural areas of southern Rajasthan, India, Seva Mandir Bridge Schools work to ensure that first-generation learners and other marginalized out-of-school children receive a quality education. Local teachers from these types of rural communities often have limited academic qualifications, but the Seva Mandir schools provide regular trainings to help these teachers improve their skills. These trainings feature innovative techniques like targeted instruction, where students are split into different groups based on their education level, and each group is given a different set of assignments by the teacher. To further promote higher quality instruction, the Seva Mandir Bridge Schools also established an award winning camera-monitoring system to monitor the effectiveness and attendance of instructors through date and time stamped photographs.


Some of the most effective organizations working to engage out-of-school children recognize that these children require more than basic literacy and numeracy. The Skate and Create program, implemented by Skateistan, was founded in Afghanistan and has since expanded to Cambodia and South Africa. These programs leverage a learning-through-play model, using skateboarding to engage youth, break down social barriers, and develop the life-skills that are increasingly emphasized within quality education providers. They provide accessible, structured skateboarding instruction alongside an arts-based curriculum with semester-long educational topics. Every semester, Skateistan has planned learning outcomes specific to the curriculum that focuses on civic education topics like health and nutrition, gender, the environment, colors, the future, storytelling, theater, and more.


New Education Highway (NEH) partners with community-based organizations to establish Free Learning Centers in remote communities with limited or no internet access. These centers are another useful example that practitioners can improve basic access to education while also leveraging innovative learning techniques to ensure that the access is matched by quality. Centers use open educational resources and technology to improve learning and career-outcomes. These resources are delivered digitally, accompanied by detailed teaching-guides, and cover a wide range of topics including a standard k-12 curriculum, advanced math and science, critical thinking, test preparation, and much more. NEH is currently working to add topics requested by communities, such as leadership training and conflict resolution. 


The shortcomings of the MDGs cannot be ignored. Too many children continue to attend schools that don’t teach them anything, and the SDGs represent a hopeful path towards remedying these critical failings. However, it is important not to swing from one extreme to the other. There are innovators around the world expanding access to out-of-school children, but are also investing heavily in monitoring and improving qualitative outcomes that in the past were too often ignored. This combined approach will be critical in making sure that when children become students they are truly being prepared for a life of dignity, freedom, and growth.


To learn more about the importance of reaching out-of-school children within the context of the SDG’s education goal, be sure to follow the upcoming Asia Education Summit on Flexible Learning Strategies for Out-of-School-Children this February 24-26 (Free Registration). The event will feature presentations from CEI senior staffers Nicholas Burnett and Tara Hill, as well as CEI Advisory Council members Rukmini Banerji and Dr. Gwang-Jo Kim.


Duncan McCullough is a Communications Associate at the Center for Education Innovations, proud Masters graduate of George Mason University, and former White House Staffer.

Photo Credit: New Education Highway




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