DFID’s new education policy ‘Get Children Learning’ has called for a united effort by global and national leaders to address the learning crisis and ensure poor and marginalised children - who face the greatest challenges - are not left behind.
‘Get Children Learning,’ published last week, states that there is an urgent need for a “global focus on improving the quality of education to ensure children are learning the basics.” The policy, according to International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, sets out DFIDs plan to help prevent the "terrible waste of potential" when "half the world's children leave primary school unable to read or write.”The policy follows from a report by the International Development Select Committee published in November 2017 which called on DFID to focus on leaving no one behind in education to ensure the promise of the education SDG4 is realized.
Key priorities and core themes
The new education policy has a strong focus on the importance of evidence, noting that DFID will ‘expand our investment in high quality education research to ensure our, and others, investments are based on robust evidence’, including that DFID will ‘invest in research and evidence on what works to improve learning for highly marginalised children.’ The policy identifies that DFID intends to ‘demonstrate global leadership’ in building evidence through partnerships with other bilateral and multilateral agencies, UN agencies and foundations.
Support by DFID to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), including through the ESRC-DFID’s Raising Learning Outcomes Programme, is one example of DFID’s leadership in generating globally-relevant and contextually-grounded evidence. Many projects funded under ESRC-DFID programmes are aligned with the priorities of the new education policy, and so are in a strong position to contribute to strengthening the evidence-base in these areas.
Some examples where ESRC-DFID funded projects link with the priorities in the Policy include:
1) Invest in good teaching: The policy identifies that ‘teaching quality is the most important factor affecting learning in schools but ensuring that every child is taught by a skilled and motivated teacher is a huge challenge for developing and conflict-affected countries’.
A number of projects supported by the ESRC-DFID Strategic Partnership (the Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research and Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems Programme) identify ways to support learning for children from disadvantaged backgrounds through the provision of quality teachers, the use of effective teaching strategies, and the adoption of innovative and alternative models of education. These include:
- Improving teacher development and educational quality in China which explores teachers' professional development in China and the concept of professional learning communities to evaluate and enhance teacher quality and school effectiveness in secondary schools.
- Effective teaching in rural Honduran secondary schools which examines a number of questions regarding factors to support effective teaching in poor, rural communities in Honduras. The research will also provide a unique opportunity to develop improved measures of educational quality and adolescent girls' empowerment.
- Toward the Development of a Rigorous and Practical Classroom Observation Tool: The Uganda secondary school project which aims to develop an affordable, scalable, tool for assessing teacher practices and classroom processes, and assure its use in policy and practice in Uganda.
- The Literacy Laboratory Project (LLP) under the Northern Uganda Literacy Program). This project aims to scale up and evaluate the Mango Tree literacy program, promoting reading and writing, especially in local languages, as a meaningful part of daily life in households and communities.
- Assessment for Learning in Africa: Improving Pedagogy and Assessment for Numeracy in Foundation Years which focuses on improving these through developing teachers' and teacher trainers' pedagogical and assessment skills in extremely deprived urban areas in South Africa and Tanzania. Eighteen schools and three training colleges will be involved.
2) Back system reform which delivers results in the classroom: The policy emphasises the importance of education system reform across public and non-state sectors to help make education systems more accountable, effective and inclusive. Previous and on-going ESRC-DFID projects in this area include:
- Education systems, aspiration and learning in remote rural settings aims to provide insight into how education systems can develop effective polices and interventions that work with young people's aspirations to enhance learning outcomes and address structural disadvantage in remote rural places
- Facilitating Innovative Growth of Low Cost Private Schools: Experimental Evidence from Pakistan
- Improving school governance and learning outcomes at scale: A randomized evaluation of the Madhya Pradesh School Quality Assessment program
The most recent ESRC-DFID Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems Programme call focused on the theme of ‘Accountability,’ with the core question a number of research projects explore how do accountability relationships and processes within developing country education systems enable or inhibit the raising of learning outcomes. These projects which are just starting include a range of topics that will inform an evidence-base in this area:
- Technology, Monitoring and Teacher Support in Niger
- Accountability for gender equality in education: Critical perspectives on an indicator framework for the SDGs
- Accountability, capacity and trust to improve learning outcomes in South Africa; a systems approach
- Can schools' accountability for learning be strengthened from the grassroots? Investigating the potential for community-school partnerships in India
- Improving Learning: Developing Measures of Accountability and Evaluating their Association with Students' Gains in Achievement in Nepal
- Making the elementary schooling system in India work for disadvantaged learners: a cross-scalar comparative study of accountability relations
- Disadvantage and Participation Accountability Processes: Theory and Evidence from School Development and Management Committees in Karnataka, India
- Partnership Schools for Liberia: Impact on Accountability Mechanisms and Education Outcomes
- Strengthening schools accountability mechanisms through participation: Addressing education quality and equity in Afghanistan and Pakistan
- Organizational Perspectives on Accountability and Learning (OPAL): School Management Models and the Social Impact of Schooling in Mumbai and Kathmandu
3) Step up targeted support to the most marginalised: Alongside investments to improve the overall quality of education, the policy commits to focusing on three of the world’s most marginalised children: children with disabilities, children affected by crises and hard-to-reach girls. Its approach in this area will be based on ‘robust analysis of the particular barriers to learning that [they] face in each context’.
Children with disabilities
Recognising that disability continues to be one of the primary causes of educational exclusion, the policy commits to putting in place ‘the building blocks of inclusive reform for children with disabilities, including better data and more teachers and support staff with the skills to ensure children with disabilities learn’; ‘ensuring support for children with disabilities, helping them transition into mainstream education and learn’; and ‘support comprehensive and cost-effective interventions which include screening, assistive devices, teacher support, adaptive textbooks and parental and wider community engagement’.
Many of these issues are being addressed by ESRC-DFID research, including projects recently published in the Impact Initiative’s ‘ESRC-DFID Research for Policy and Practice: disability and education.’ This highlights evidence from ESRC-DFID funded research on what governments must consider in order to ensure that children with disabilities benefit from quality education without discrimination or exclusion. The report includes evidence from the following projects:
- Tikule Limodze (Let’s Grow Together) is gathering evidence related to the importance of early years education, and specifically the role of preschool caregivers in providing support to children with disabilities in rural Malawi. The project draws attention to the barriers to education faced by children with disabilities and highlights that quality training should be provided to early childhood education volunteer caregivers in the area of disability and inclusion.
- The Teaching Effectively All Children (TEACh) project highlights that in order to ensure marginalised children such as children with disabilities are not excluded from the classroom it is vital that teachers are equipped with skills to teach in diverse classrooms.
- “Constructing a Global Framework for Analysis of Social Exclusion From and Within Learning Systems” which is collecting data from six countries (Afghanistan, India, Sudan (Darfur State), Sierra Leone, Morocco and Tunisia). Evidence generated from this project shows that among countries (particularly those affected by conflict and crisis) children are less likely to attend school if they have disabilities.
- The ‘Peer to Peer Deaf Literacy’ project looks at new ways of teaching literacy to deaf learners in India. By proposing that reform is best driven from within deaf communities themselves, the project has included deaf researchers who have developed a systemic innovation that has the potential to transform learning and improve literacy for sign language users.
Children affected by crises
The Policy makes three commitments in with respect to children affected by crises: multi-year investments in quality education in conflict and crises; responsive, joined-up delivery which protects education systems; and support for schools as safe spaces that promote children’s well-being:
- The “Engaging teachers in peacebuilding in post-conflict contexts’ project” examines how teachers and teaching are supporting education for peacebuilding and how national and global policy dialogue can be enhanced to understand about teachers as agents of peacebuilding.
- “Promoting Children's Learning Outcomes in Conflict-Affected Countries: Generating, Communicating, and Incorporating Evidence for Impact” is gathering evidence looking at school-based interventions around the world and whether these interventions work to promote effective teaching and children's learning outcomes.
The policy focuses attention on the hardest-to-reach girls, including girls with disabilities and those affected by crises, as well as poor rural girls, pregnant girls and those vulnerable to early marriage. A number of research projects supported by the ESRC-DFID partnership offer evidence on the importance of improving access to quality education to girls. More specifically, projects in this area include:
- “Gender, education and global poverty reduction initiatives” looks at how gender equality in and through schooling in contexts of poverty is understood and in what ways these are overcome.
- Recognising that girls face particularly problems in continuing their schooling once they reach puberty, another project , Menstruation and the Cycle of Poverty:Does the provision of sanitary pads improve the attendance and educational outcomes of girls in school? has looked at whether the provision of sanitary pads improves the attendance and educational outcomes of girls in school in Uganda.
A focus on leaving no one behind in education
The messages from the Policy provide clear direction from DFID in their efforts towards focusing resources on the most marginalized, including on the poorest girls, children with disabilities and those affected by conflict; with particular emphasis on teacher quality. The policy is a welcome effort to raising education standards in some of the poorest parts of the world to ensure that the poorest and most marginalised children are able to access school and learn.