Blogs – Health and Education Advice and Resource Team Providing DFID staff and other development actors with health, education and nutrition knowledge and expertise from around the world Fri, 02 Mar 2018 13:10:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 DFID’s work on education: leaving no one behind? Reflections on IDC report Wed, 13 Dec 2017 11:41:42 +0000 Read more]]> It is good news that the International Development Committee (IDC) report on DFID and its education activities has been published on 21 November 2017. Interrupted by the June 2017 election, there were doubts that the Committee’s work would be completed. Thankfully, and with further evidence from DFID, the report makes an important statement about the need to accord greater priority to education in DFID programming, ahead of the Department’s ‘refresh’ of its education policy framework early in 2018.

The report assesses whether DFID’s official support for global education is financed and programmed appropriately to help to meet the goal of leaving no one behind. Its introduction sets out the IDC’s overall conclusion: The Department needs to demonstrate a long-term, sustainable commitment to support access to inclusive, quality education in all its partner countries. The role of education in underpinning all other aspects of development should make it a top priority for the UK. Within that, DFID’s clear commitment to the poorest makes a focus on the most marginalised children the most appropriate policy response.

The report tests DFID’s record and forward thinking in three related areas: financing global education, improving access to education, and improving the quality and equity of education.

Financing global education

On finance, the report promotes three, well-rehearsed arguments. First – but not in the order of the report, and somewhat hidden in its text – it notes that ODA spending on education as a proportion of total spending on education in developing countries is less than 4%. This fact is surely the core of the SDG4 challenge. But rather tamely, the report recommends that the UK Government should, wherever possible, use its influence with partner countries to encourage greater domestic spending on education. Experience suggests that support for governance and public expenditure reforms and initiatives will be more productive than education programmes in this regard.    

Second, the report concludes that education receives too little of UK ODA spend. The report tries – with some difficulty, given the increase in aid through UK government departments other than DFID – to map trends in education spend in recent years. It notes a drop from 10.14% (2011) to 7.17% of total net UK ODA spend in 2015. The most recent DFID aid statistics (issued after the publication of the report) show a rise in education spend from £652 million in 2015 to £964 million in 2016; this is accounted for, in part, by a contribution of £106 million to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Education constituted 11.3% of bilateral spend in 2016; the fifth largest sector. But it is much more difficult to track education spend through multilateral organisations. Overall, it is a weakness that no attempt is made to disaggregate expenditure in terms of sub-sector or in relation to the most marginalised and disadvantaged. The report’s general injunction is for a significant increase in the amount of UK ODA allocated to education over the course of the next spending review period within a value for money (VfM) framework, but it does not elaborate on what this means for effective ways of working. And the report rightly enjoins DFID and partners to provide better justifications of education spend in language amenable to politicians.

Third, the IDC cites the important role that the UK can and should play in maximising the benefits of multilateral funding mechanisms for education. It is supportive of the GPE, arguing, a little generously, that the partnership has a unique approach to improving the education systems in developing countries. It recommends that DFID should agree to the full financial contribution requested by GPE at the next replenishment whilst encouraging other donors to step forward too. It is more muted on the International Financing Facility for Education (IFFEd), concluding that DFID should support the IFFEd, as an additional mechanism for leveraging funding into the provision of global education.

The Committee believes that there is a golden opportunity in DFID’s refreshed education policy to affirm its commitment to increased and sustainable levels of funding for global education and demonstrate how it will work across Government to achieve results for education around the world. The policy framework is very unlikely to include spending commitments, but it could usefully put some more flesh on the bones of the Committee’s three areas of financing imperatives.

Improving access to education

As is customary, access and quality are treated separately: a false dichotomy if policy and practice is to have coherence. The sections under access on early learning and private sector schooling make this point clearly. That said, the chapter on access focuses rightly on the most marginalised and the hardest to reach. It cites Lord Burt … this is what we [the UK Government] believe our remit is. Girls and young women, children caught up in emergencies, and disabled young people are identified as requiring targeted intervention. The fact that most of these children suffer from multiple disadvantage comes through implicitly. In reality, responsive programming requires a comprehensive cross-sector approach.

DFID is encouraged to develop country-specific strategies for marginalised girls’ education, based on detailed knowledge of the barriers in each context and learning from successful interventions. It is asked to move from its work on its disability framework (DFID 2014/15) to shine a light on the needs of disabled children and ensure this [the framework] is being implemented across all DFID programmes. And on emergencies, the report argues, rightly, the need for a long-term, integrated strategy for supporting education in emergencies; getting affected children back into structured learning environments as a priority, alongside clean water, food, sanitation and shelter. It will be a surprise if the new policy framework does not address these recommendations head on. They lie at the heart of no one left behind.

The chapter on access also examines the role of early learning and the role of non-state providers. DFID is a late convert to early childhood care and education (ECCE) but is now encouraged to invest more in pre-primary education, bilaterally and multilaterally. The section on private education identifies the need for much stronger evidence on the benefits of private sector schooling for the most disadvantaged. Citing an ICAI report it notes … DFID lacks the evidence to make informed judgments as to what combination [working with governments and/or private providers] offers the best value for money in which contexts. The report spends some time examining the case of Bridge Schools, which are under much public scrutiny, but a side effect of this focus is a failure to take a more nuanced looked at the extraordinary range of non-governmental schooling. In particular, the report underplays the vital roles that community- and faith-based organisations, not-for-profits and some private organisations play in expanding access to quality and context-specific education for marginalised groups. And in turn, it risks neglecting the critical importance of strengthening governments’ abilities to ensure they get the best out of the non-government sector.

Tucked away in the middle of the chapter is a very short section on VfM; an odd location, as this topic cuts across all of DFID education programming. However, the IDC rightly stresses the importance of DFID clarifying and ensuring that its value for money approach is fit for purpose when targeting the most marginalised children. This is not straightforward: education could learn from how other sectors measure – and therefore justify – the additional ‘value’ of reaching marginalised groups

Improving the quality and equity of education

Pedantically, the heading of Chapter 4, ‘Improving the Quality and Equity of Education’ could be better stated as ‘Improving equitable access to meaningful learning opportunities for all’. ‘Quality’ and ‘Equity’ run the danger of becoming unhelpful catch-all terms. It is a remarkably brief section for such weighty subject matter. It has very little to say about teaching and learning, about schools and their teachers and communities; and about learning strategies for the most disadvantaged. It has – but very briefly – sensible things to say about systemic reform and politically-informed programming. It underscores the importance of data and research (though not, unfortunately anything about long-term DFID education programme evaluation). It recognises the need for specialist in-house DFID education sector expertise. It wisely recommends continued support for the Global Education Monitoring Report. Yet overall, the story line is much weaker than the section on access, partly because learning strategies are dealt with, at least in part, within Chapter 3.

The IDC report is welcome. There has been a paucity of public debate on DFID education policy for a while. The position paper of 2013 is the last substantive statement. The evidence received by the Committee, orally and through written submissions (including from UKFIET) is of considerable value in itself. Its focus on the most marginalised is right and forceful. But the report is almost entirely concerned with basic schooling, including, rightly, pre-primary. It argues for a systems-wide approach but is largely quiet on skills for livelihoods. It acknowledges cross-sector programming but fails to examine the how beyond the what. We now wait to see whether the report’s argument carries weight in the DFID education policy ‘refresh’.

By Steve Packer (UKFIET Board of Trustees) and Ian MacAuslan (Oxford Policy Management)

This blog was originally posted on UKFIET on 11 December 2017. Reposted with permission.


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What works to improve nutrition in northern Nigeria? Wed, 13 Dec 2017 11:18:53 +0000 Read more]]> With a strong focus on learning and continuous engagement with Nigerian policy-makers, the Operations Research and Impact Evaluation (ORIE) project, led by Oxford Policy Management, was successfully completed in August 2017. ORIE has contributed for the past five years to inform nutrition research and the policy debates in Nigeria and beyond.

ORIE provided operations research, impact evaluations, costing and cost effectiveness studies for the ambitious £52 million, six-year, Department for International Development (DFID)-funded Working to Improve Nutrition in Northern Nigeria (WINNN) programme, which supports the government to improve maternal, newborn and child nutrition in five northern states. ORIE worked closely with key federal and state government stakeholders to ensure that findings reached them and informed their policies.

ORIE findings contributed to changes in policy and practice by the WINNN programme and government. They included:

  • Revision of national guidelines on nutrition outreach services to improve access, by increasing the number of health facilities used and improving social mobilisation strategies;
  • Improved guidelines and practices for educating mothers, other family members and community leaders on best practices in breast-feeding and weaning children;
  • Supporting and recognising the volunteers who play a key role in delivering services in the community; and
  • Strengthened research capacity in nutrition in four northern Nigerian universities.

Since 2012 ORIE has produced more than 25 separate studies which were the result of five years of activities that included rigorous mixed methods impact evaluations, operational research, and research capacity building among Nigerian academics.

Key endline outputs, all available on the HEART website, include the Integrated Evaluation Report, a summary of key findings from all ORIE studies; a set of five thematic briefs which summarise learning from over the past six years of studies and implementation on governancemicro-nutrient supplementationinfant and young child feeding practicescommunity-based management of acute malnutrition (CMAM) and gender and that were co-produced in collaboration with WINNN implementing partners, and; a rigorous mixed methods impact evaluation (including quantitative and qualitative studies); and reports which analyse the cost and cost effectiveness of the programme.

Findings were appropriately packaged to make the messages more accessible to different audiences, making use of research summaries, policy briefs, blogs, infographics and other products. Overall, ORIE reports have been downloaded so far more than 60,000 times.

In August 2017, ORIE started the dissemination phase of its final findings. The ORIE-WINNN launch event was held in Abuja on 2- 3 August 2017 and brought together around 100 key stakeholders from many sectors and institutions in Nigeria across federal, state and local government, civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, universities, and donors.

The official presentation of the findings was followed by lively learning workshops on key strategic themes. The five workshops encouraged stakeholders to discuss the key issues arising from ORIE findings and explore implications for future nutrition policy and practice. The workshops were well received and covered important topics around governance, gender, CMAM, micronutrient supplementation and IYCF.

The reports were highly rated by key stakeholders, as were our key engagement and dissemination meetings. At the dissemination event held in Abuja early in August 2017, 95% of participants rated their level of satisfaction with ORIE events and reports over the last five years as good or excellent.

We expect ORIE evidence to continue to have an impact on policy and practice in nutrition, in Nigeria and beyond, after the project closes.

Post written by Marta Moratti, who is a a monitoring & evaluation consultant at OPM.

This blog was posted on Medium on 6 October 2017. Reposted with permission. The Operations Research and Impact Evaluation (ORIE) project, is a Department for International Development (DFID)-funded consortium led and managed by Oxford Policy Management (OPM). The research outputs and studies were carried out in collaboration with London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Save the Children UK (SCUK), the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the Nigerian based institutions Ibadan University and the Food Basket Foundation International (FBFI).

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#TeachersMatter! Celebrating teachers worldwide at the Global Education and Skills Forum Tue, 04 Apr 2017 10:34:13 +0000 Read more]]> On 18 and 19 March 2017, together with around 1,500 people from around the world, I attended the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai. The Forum provided an exciting platform to celebrate the importance of teachers around the world. Organised by the Varkey Foundation, it was also a stark reminder of the difficulties that some children face in realising their right to an education, and the lengths they will go to for this. We heard from two Chibok girls giving first-hand experience of the horrific effects of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, reminding us that 195 girls have still not returned three years on.

The Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the University of Cambridge was one of the organising partners of the Forum, playing a role in supporting key stakeholders who were brought together in ‘alliances’ in eight key thematic areas to develop ideas for action over the coming year. Supported by myself and three students on our Education, Globalisation and International Development MPhil programme, the alliances are all co-chaired by experts, covering the areas of: assessment for action; climate change; girls’ education; global citizenship education; partnership models for universities; public-private partnerships; post-conflict and peace; and teachers.

Kaitlynn Saldanha, one of the MPhil students at the event, noted: “Supporting the Alliances was a tremendous opportunity to champion the role of research and evidence in policymaking and practice while (re)orienting some of the world’s leading practitioners, policymakers, and academics around concepts of equity and inclusion. Thrilled to continue learning from and collaborating with these leaders in partnership with the Varkey Foundation in the months ahead.”

The Forum culminated in the Global Teacher Prize ceremony. This was memorable for its celebratory atmosphere with the scene set by Bocelli’s opening, followed by Bear Grylls parachuting in with the trophy. The importance of the prize was recognised by its announcement from the international space station, and the video message to the winner from the President of Canada, Justin Trudeau.

But actually the most memorable part of the two days was the inspirational speech by the Global Teacher Prize winner, Maggie MacDonnell. Maggie was awarded for her work in a remote, inaccessible Inuit community where gender abuse and suicide is rife. Her enthusiastic approach to working in these difficult conditions to support young people, in giving them confidence, and in tackling some of the problems they face, is striking.

As MPhil student, Garrett Rubin, put it: “It was wonderful to see Maggie MacDonnell, a teacher from a remote Inuit community in Canada, win the Global Teacher Prize. As with last year’s winner, the Palestinian teacher Hanan Al-Haroub, the Varkey Foundation has again used the prize to recognise and amplify stories and voices from some of the world’s most marginalised and underrepresented communities.”

Jack McMahon summed up the occasion: “It was a privilege to meet people from all walks of life including CEOs, ministers, professors and teachers to engage with issues of equity and marginalisation in education. I won’t forget the moment Maggie MacDonnell, the winner of the Global Teacher Prize, stood on stage with her award in one hand and shouted ‘TEACHERS’ which the whole audience responded at once with, ‘MATTER!’ #teachersmatter.”

In addition to the winner, the 10 shortlisted finalists were also impressive as role models within their communities, and now globally too. I was particularly struck by Michael Wamaya from Kenya teaching ballet in Nairobi’s slums, breaking down stereotypes and providing unique opportunities to disadvantaged children.

The Global Teacher Prize is an inspiration and will certainly inform the framing of my BAICE Presidential address at the UKFIET conference in September.

Dr Pauline Rose is a Professor of International Education at the University of Cambridge and Director of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre

Twitter: Pauline Rose – @PaulineMRose

This blog was originally posted on UKFIET on 3 April 2017. Reposted with permission.


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The right to education for refugees and internally displaced persons: data gaps and challenges Fri, 09 Dec 2016 10:25:19 +0000 Read more]]> On Human Rights Day, Ruth Naylor, co-author of our HEART topic guide on education for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in low- and middle-income countries, highlights the data gaps and challenges to addressing educational needs for this largely invisible group.  

Education is a fundamental human right. Legally, every individual across the world is entitled to a free elementary education. Education is essential for strengthening all other human rights, promotes individual wellbeing and empowerment, and is a basis for important economic and social benefits. Yet the challenges for refugees and IDPs in accessing education remain stark. According to a recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), only 50 per cent of refugee children access primary education and only 22 per cent of refugee adolescents access secondary. The situation is particularly bad for girls, with only eight refugee girls in primary school for every ten boys, and only seven girls to ten boys at secondary. Given that refugees spend, on average, 20 years in forced displacement, this is not just a temporary break in children’s schooling. Being out of school’ as a refugee often means missing out on education entirely.

Although the scale of the challenge is huge, the fact that the UNHCR is able to report these statistics is a vital initial step in catalyzing action from host governments and the international community to address it. There are still major data gaps (for example, age disaggregated data are often missing, making it difficult to estimate enrolment rates). But the monitoring and reporting of education data for refugees has improved dramatically in recent years.

Data gaps, challenges and opportunities

The majority of those displaced by conflict remain within their own borders as IDPs. Much less is known about this group of people, especially the majority who live within host communities rather than in camps. Unlike refugees, there is no single, internationally agreed definition of an IDP, and often no legal requirement for them to register. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) compiles data on IDPs but is only able to give estimates, and the data are not directly comparable country to country. Only a minority of countries report IDP data disaggregated by age and sex. Whilst we know that there are almost twice as many IDPs as refugees (41 million in 2015, compared to 21 million refugees), we do not know how many are of school age or how many have access to education. Like refugees, IDPs are often trapped in displacement for many years, and short-term humanitarian response systems are not well equipped to provide the continuity of funding needed to keep teachers teaching and children learning.

The challenges of meeting the education needs of children and adolescents living in forced displacement are discussed in the HEART topic guide on education for refugees and IDPs in low- and middle-income countries. There remain major service provision and funding gaps, particularly for adolescents and youth. Only 13 per cent of the UNHCR’s education budget in 2015 went to secondary education. The topic guide also presents examples of approaches that have been successful, and promising practices. The education of Palestinian refugees through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) provides an example of how quality education for refugees in protracted displacement can be successfully delivered at scale, given sufficient resources. There are also countless examples of education initiatives run by refugees and IDPs that often remain under the radar. There have been promising developments in the international funding systems, with the Global Partnership for Education developing funding modalities to help national governments plan for and cope with displacement crises, and the Education Cannot Wait platform. There are efforts to harness technology to deliver education to displaced populations, and to improve data and monitoring. However, given that access to secondary school for refugees worldwide is worse than in the poorest, most fragile of countries, and that access for IDPs is probably worse still, there is still a long way to go.

Ruth Naylor is a Senior International Advisor at Education Development Trust.

This blog is cross-posted on the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) website.


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Evidence on how to scale up demand-side maternal and newborn health interventions in Zambia Fri, 09 Dec 2016 10:13:27 +0000 Read more]]> In order to translate global commitments of ensuring access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services for every woman and every girl into practical, affordable and sustainable interventions, policy makers and implementers need to be able to draw on solid evidence of what does and does not work.

The More Mobilising Access to Maternal Health Services in Zambia programme (MORE MAMaZ), funded by the UK charity Comic Relief (2014-2016), achieved transformational change for women and girls, particularly those who are under-supported at household and community level by successfully scaling up an evidence-based demand-side intervention in support of the Ministry of Health’s safe motherhood policy response.

MORE MAMaZ punched above its weight in so many ways. The health-related results achieved can be seen in this infographic, including institutional delivery rates up at 89% in intervention districts, compared to the national average for rural areas of 56%. There has also been a significant improvement in the proportion of women opting for early antenatal care, which is a key priority of the MOH.

Behind these results lie other gains which are just as important: considerable empowerment-related gains, which will help to position women and girls so that they benefit from other development-related opportunities in the future; a very significant reduction in gender-based violence; and evidence that the most difficult to reach women and girls are being targeted and supported by their communities.

It is also worth noting that the training approach used by the programme helped produce volunteer retention rates of 82% among volunteers trained 4-5 years ago and 95% among volunteers trained two years ago. These rates are much higher than those achieved by many other similar programmes globally.

MORE MAMaZ showcases to a large extent what Health Partners International does best: developing and supporting implementation of practical and sustainable systems-oriented solutions to global health challenges; achieving value for money – MORE MAMaZ achieved more than MAMaZ while working on a considerably larger scale; and forming honest and lasting partnerships with government and consortium partners, while building sustainable local capacity.

We invite you to read the programme’s seven evidence briefs, which showcase the results achieved, and different components of the approach, and other programme materials, including the 8 key messages for policy makers in the health sector, and to share them within your networks. Many of the strategies and approaches developed by the programme and its local partners lend themselves to adaptation for implementation in different contexts.

By Cathy Green, Technical Lead- Community Health Systems, Health Partners International

For more information on how Health Partners International is transforming health systems and the lives of women and girls please visit or contact


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Education and displaced populations: with not for Tue, 29 Nov 2016 09:48:41 +0000 Read more]]> Joseph Munyambanza, a refugee from the DRC, started teaching fellow refugees in Uganda in his early teens, whilst studying at secondary school. In his keynote speech in Berlin, at “Education for a better future – creating prospects for displaced populations”, he described how he had joined with other refugee youth in his camp to form COBURWAS International Youth Organization to Transform Africa (CIYOTA) to deliver informal lessons to refugee children during their school holidays. The organisation has gone on to open nursery and primary schools, and provide hostels and scholarships to enable refugees to attend secondary school and university. The CIYOTA primary schools gained some of the top results in the area, outshining the Ugandan government schools and prompting the Ugandan Ministry of Education to recognise them as formal schools.

The capacity of grassroots organisations, run by refugees to provide quality education for refugees also came out as one of the main findings from research into education for urban refugees, led by Mary Mendenhall’s team at Teachers College Columbia, and explored during a workshop at the Berlin conference.

Joseph’s speech reminded me of grassroots organisations that I worked with early on in my career: Sudan Open Learning Organisation (SOLO) working with Internally Displaced People (IDPs) around Khartoum, Need Service Education Agency (NSEA) supporting education quality in southern Sudan (pre-independence) and Literacy and Basic Education (LABE) operating in northern Uganda. These organisations ran some of the best quality education programmes I have ever seen, working with very limited resources in very difficult contexts. SOLO started using the “school in a box” model to respond to the risk of schools being bulldozed by the Khartoum administration long before it was adopted and taken to scale by UNICEF and other international organisations.

How can the potential of these refugee and IDP led initiatives be realised in delivering quality education to the displaced populations sustainably and at scale?

One of the challenges is that they often remain under the radar. The initiatives are not well documented and have little, if any, profile on the internet. The recently published DFID topic guide on Education for Refugees and IDPs, whilst acknowledging the important role of such organisations, could provide very few references to their achievements, as they remain relatively invisible in the literature.

It can be difficult for host governments to recognise or integrate refugee-led initiatives into their national systems as there may be concerns over teacher certification, curriculum, and quality standards. In the case of IDPs, whilst the government has legal responsibility for the provision of education it may be ambivalent or even hostile to education initiatives by the IDP community, especially where government actions led to the displacement in the first place.

Grass root initiatives may be seen as a threat to International NGO and UN agency operations, or be dismissed for failing to meet minimum standards. Joseph encountered more resistance from international organisations working in his refugee camp than from the Ugandan Ministry of Education.

It is vital that the international community  works closely with host governments. But how can we also ensure that host governments, NGOs and UN agencies also work on education with displaced populations and not just education for them?

By Ruth Naylor, Education Development Trust 

This blog was originally posted on INEE on 26 November 2016. Reposted with permission.

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How multi-disciplinary approaches help us address the research- to- policy challenge Fri, 18 Nov 2016 16:25:28 +0000 Read more]]> This blog is written by Jo Boyden, Director of the Young Lives programme, following her speech at a forum hosted by CIFAR, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, on November 17, 2016. The multi-sectoral forum on the well-being of the world’s children is aimed at bringing researchers, practitioners and policy makers to the table to share insights and create more opportunities for exchange and implementation of their ideas. 

Over the last 16 years of the Young Lives study, we’ve learned one really important thing about running studies that aim to influence policy: collaboration is the key to successful implementation.

In each of the countries where we work we have found that investing in long-term relationships with strong local partners and relationships significantly enhances the quality and impact of the research. Take for instance our team in Vietnam, which is led by the Centre for Analysis and Forecasting. As a respected government advisory body, they feed our evidence directly to the people who create and implement policy.

In addition, global partners like UNICEF, Oxfam and Save the Children help us to expand our impact beyond the areas we’re studying.  For instance, through collaboration with Oxfam’s Youth and Education Team our findings were used in Everyone Counts, a free downloadable maths teaching resource for 9-12 year-olds in the UK. And through a Young Lives submission to the UNICEF/UN Women consultation on inequalities our evidence was given extensive coverage in the report to the High Level Panel on the Post 2015 Development Agenda.

Partnerships work best when there is mutual understanding, and that collaborative synergy is developed through time, care and plenty of interaction. It’s why we held the Adolescence, Youth and Gender: Building Knowledge for Change conference in Oxford in September, which brought together researchers, decision-makers, advocates and practitioners to create a multi- and inter-disciplinary space for conversation. A discussion between Ramya Subramanian, who directs Know Violence in Childhood, and Robert Blum, a paediatrician and expert in adolescent health, opened up a particularly useful debate about how neuroscience can inform social science understandings of adolescent development.

Forums like these that bring together different research disciplines and sectors can lead to startling insights and allow for powerful policy change and implementation. Today’s multi-sectoral forum on the well-being of the world’s children is aimed at bringing researchers, practitioners and policy makers to the table to share insights and create more opportunities for exchange and implementation of their ideas.

It’s encouraging that funding is now moving in that direction, as in the UK’s recent £1.5 billion Global Challenges Research Fund, which supports cutting-edge multi- and interdisciplinary research on the challenges faced by developing countries. Academic journals need to do their bit by publishing more interdisciplinary pieces. The point of these exchanges is simple: different disciplines have different insights and collectively those insights could ultimately provide more context for well-rounded policies.

In Ethiopia, our survey data show that the time urban children and rural girls are spending on paid and unpaid work has declined over time. Rural boys, however, are working as much as they did in the past. In-depth qualitative research has shown why this is: increasing local work opportunities, disappointing experiences at school and gender norms that place a high value on boys’ economic contribution to their households have combined to lower boys’ education aspirations and increase their school drop-out rates relative to girls’.

Elsewhere, Young Lives evidence emphasises the long-term effects of chronic under-nutrition in early life on children’s reasoning, education performance and wider well-being. This shows that deprivation in one area of a child’s development affects all others, highlighting the need for interventions that cut across sectoral services. We also see a clear fade out of early childhood interventions, partly because of on-ground implementation challenges, pointing to the critical need to sustain investments through the school years. Yet we have found that children can recover later in their life journeys despite a poor start and that catch-up growth can be associated with recovery in other aspects of development. This opens up the possibility of remedying early disadvantage with integrated policy and programme approaches.

By drawing on all these insights, we can inform policies to improve the circumstances and wellbeing of at-risk children at different points of their lives.

A good example of the power of this approach was presented at the Young Lives conference by Charlotte Watts, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for International Development, who shared her personal journey applying her theoretical mathematical skills and her training in epidemiology, economics and social science methods, to the complex challenge of addressing HIV and violence against women. She explained that both a strength and a weakness of the social sciences is to keep discussing and questioning, and to avoid getting behind ‘definitive’ answers. Her background in epidemiology helped her focus on acting, intervention and bringing multi-disciplinary research perspectives to try to ‘answer’ questions when the evidence is there.

That’s the kind of story that will move us to think beyond traditional boundaries on research and policy. More opportunities like the Young Lives conference and today’s CIFAR Forum will help get us there.

This blog was originally posted on Young Lives on 18 November 2016. Reposted with permission.



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The ethics of research on teacher effectiveness: Why we should be supporting teachers, not questioning their ability to teach Wed, 16 Nov 2016 14:50:09 +0000 Read more]]> The Global Goals have set targets for ‘quality education’ on the one hand, and for measurement and monitoring on the other hand. Teachers, teacher training, and what happens inside classrooms, are likely to be the topic of research in the coming years.  This blog has been driven by our sense of injustice that teachers seem to get the blame for social ills and educational failures in many countries. Within Young Lives, we focus on children’s experiences of school, but what about teachers? Teachers can be powerful influencers shaping children’s lives for good, and we need to pay attention to them too, if children are to have an education that creates curiosity and a hunger for learning in a rapidly changing world. While it is clear that teacher quality is one of the most important components of a good-quality educational system, this does not mean that teachers are responsible for all of the failures which happen within that system. In order to improve education systems, we need to understand the pressures and challenges teachers face, and what inspires and motivates them.

Talking to teachers: preparing for the Young Lives School Effectiveness Survey

In October, we held a group discussion with secondary school maths teachers in Hyderabad, India, as part of the preparation for the second wave of Young Lives’ School Effectiveness Survey. We wanted to ask teachers for their feedback on an assessment of ‘teacher professional knowledge’ which may be included in the survey, and to find out whether they had any concerns about taking part in this type of assessment.

The group discussion was very positive, overriding initial worries from our side that there might be a negative reaction to a ‘teacher test’. In fact, participants were keen to join in a conversation about the assessment, and about specific questions within it. It was clear that they were not concerned that being asked to complete a test suggested that we doubted their competency; instead, they enjoyed the chance to demonstrate their knowledge within their area of specialism.

This example represents a very specific context in which teachers might discuss assessment. These teachers had been invited to attend a meeting to share their views as experts, and had done so readily. Their feedback was that other teachers would be likely to be equally willing and able to complete this assessment, assuming that the questions were relevant and framed in a manner which respected their expertise as professionals. But the context of this feedback is important. In a large-scale survey, assessing teachers involves approaching them in their place of work and asking them to complete a competency assessment – a very different scenario to a small-scale focus group, with different implications for teacher morale and research ethics.

What happens when teachers become the focus of research?

A review of evidence by Naylor and Sayed (2014) suggests the best way to research teacher quality is to collect direct measures via classroom observation – usually the most authentic, reliable and robust methods. But this is expensive. The alternative is to test teachers’ competencies – by giving them the same test as students, or evaluating their corrections of student work, or by assessing knowledge of curriculum content.  In recent years, there have been a number of instances of schoolteachers’ competencies being ‘tested’ (in Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, the US). Such methods aim to establish a standard, but do not explore how teachers might be assisted in focusing on teaching. Tests also seem limited in that they can show a standard of teacher knowledge, but this doesn’t necessarily reflect what teachers use in practice – a teacher may have good knowledge, but if there are barriers to effective teaching, such as too many other tasks, or if teachers are de-motivated, then their knowledge may not be used. Teachers may have responsibilities – like elections and immunisation campaigns – which distract from teaching.

Research on teachers needs to understand the political and economic contexts in which they work if it is to support rather than de-professionalise. Moreover, such research needs to be undertaken responsibly if it is to avoid fuelling the view that teachers are part of the ‘problem’. How can we ensure that research with teachers is undertaken ethically?

What are the ethics questions raised by testing teachers?

Beyond the expected focus on informed consent, teachers should be assured of confidentiality and anonymity, and should be kept informed as the research progresses. But what happens when the findings of research testing teachers’ competencies are disseminated? In 2008, in Nigeria, teachers were tested, with shocking results – of 19,125 teachers, including 2,628 university graduates, who took a test for Primary Four (about 10 years old) pupils, only seven passed. This revelation led to newspaper reports about the ‘utter decay’ of the education system (see Johnson 2014).

This is not constructive use of data from teacher assessments. It reflects a negative view of teachers, who are often characterised as overpaid, ineffective, and even blamed for the fact they are not held accountable. The reality is that teachers may have had little or poor training, they lack resources to enrich their teaching, and many work in depressing and challenging circumstances. Often teachers are poorly paid, or not paid at all – in Nigeria, teachers often struggle to pay rent or bills because their salaries are so insecure. Yet despite all of this, some teachers thrive, and so do their students. Research needs to ask what helps some teachers thrive against the odds, as Buckler (2011) does, and how teachers in all types of schools can be supported as professionals.

Evaluation of teachers therefore requires more thought.  As a recent report from TALIS shows, the professionalisation of teachers, and the policies which can help are very context-specific. Naylor and Sayed (2014) emphasise that ‘any evaluation of teaching quality should be cognisant of other context specific factors that can influence this’ and must involve teachers in its design and implementation. Understanding context is vital to understanding teacher effectiveness.

Respecting research participants/teachers who are the subjects of our research

When writing up findings of research, researchers need to be mindful of how participants would feel when they read the report – one technique is for researchers to imagine their respondents looking over their shoulder at what is being written. Researchers need to manage this, while simultaneously maintaining analytic integrity.

Thought needs to be given to the ethics of the impact of published research, and how research may make people feel, especially if they have contributed data. Few research participants have the right of reply or the opportunity to redress the balance, unless they are very powerful. Researchers need to think about unintended consequences of dissemination of findings, and the effects their research may have on wider groups of people they study. Perhaps researchers could share preliminary findings with teacher participants, discussing solutions, and gaining teachers’ views and reflections on these.

Researchers need to balance attention to how to respect teachers, listen to and learn from them, and avoid silencing and excluding them, on the one hand, with preventing harm being done to them as a group when research is published. Teachers must be able to trust researchers, moreover, the political dimensions of the demand for data on teacher effectiveness, and the intentions that lie behind the use of such data, must be transparent (Johnson 2014).

Blog written by Rhiannon Moore & Ginny Morrow

Rhiannon Moore is Education Research Officer at Young Lives, working on the development and implementation of the School Effectiveness Survey in India.

Virginia Morrow is Senior Research Officer and Deputy Director at Young Lives. Her research interests include the ethics of social research.

The inspiration for this blog post came from Barbara Payne (DFID Pakistan) following a DFID-Young Lives write shop.

References & further reading

Barrett, A, Sayed, Y., Schweisfurth, M, & Tikly, L. (2015) Learning, pedagogy and the post-2015 education and development agenda. International Journal of Educational Development. 40, 231-236.

Buckler, A. (2011) Reconsidering the evidence base, considering the rural: aiming for a better understanding of the education and training needs of Sub-Saharan African teachers. International Journal of Educational Development, 31, 1011, 244-250.

Johnson, D. (2009) ‘More and better? – The political and policy dilemmas of teacher professional development’ in J Furlong et al (eds) Policy and politics in teacher education International perspectives.

Johnson, D. (2014) Big data and the politics of education in Nigeria. In Fenwick, T., Mangez, E., Ozga, J. (eds) World Yearbook of Education 2014: Governing knowledge: Comparison, Knowledge-based Technologies and Expertise in the Regulation of Education. Florence: Routledge.

Naylor, R and Sayed, Y. (2014) Teacher quality: evidence review. Office of Development Effectiveness. Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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Value added measures in Uganda: assessing progress and not just results Tue, 13 Sep 2016 12:57:02 +0000 Read more]]> Information about school performance can be powerful. Governments can use it to drive an accountability system, and schools can use data to identify areas for self-improvement. However, to be useful, the data need to provide fair and accurate information about school quality.

In the UK, Ark’s chain of academy schools is at the forefront of using data to ensure that all children maximise their potential. This experience is being used to drive innovative projects internationally: creating a new school information system which can be used in low resource environments; improving the inspection of thousands of schools in India; and creating value added performance measures in Uganda.

We recently undertook a research project to develop value added performance measures in Uganda.

What is the problem with school performance data and accountability in Uganda?

Each year, Ugandan newspapers publish ‘league tables’ to show the performance of schools. For a whole week every January, these league tables dominate the front pages of all the leading newspapers. The tables are based on the percentage of students in each school who achieve a “Division 1” ranking – the highest grade out of 4 in the Ugandan Certificate of Education (UCE).

But this information can be misleading:

  • It is relatively easy for schools with a high performing intake to achieve good exam results.
  • Equally, achievements of schools performing well under challenging circumstances are not recognised. Even schools with the best quality of teaching would struggle to obtain a high percentage of top grades if their students arrive without basic literacy and numeracy skills.
  • Evaluating schools based on how many students achieve the best grades can encourage schools to focus largely on their highest performing students. Some teachers do not give sufficient time to helping those who are struggling to catch up. More than half of students drop-out of school early, before they achieve their school leaving qualification.

By contrast, value added scores are calculated by comparing the results of each student at the end of secondary school to his or her primary exam scores. Schools get credit when a student performs better than expected, given their prior attainment. This  helps control the ability of a school’s intake, and to gauge, more accurately, the quality of the education offered by each school. That’s why from this year schools in England will primarily be judged according to their value added score.

A value added model in Uganda is useful and simple to develop

In Uganda, Ark collected examination results data from a representative sample of over 300 schools. We found that primary leaving exam results explain almost half of the variation in UCE scores, showing the importance of controlling for this factor when evaluating performance.

In addition, if value added measures were used, the newspapers’ league tables would look very different. The best school in our study was found in Nebbi district, which is in a remote region of Uganda normally associated with education underperformance.

Importantly, the value added model works when it takes into account prior attainment, but not other factors. Adding a variable for socio-economic status only increased the predictive power of the model marginally.

This means that the government can create the school value added scores using exam results only – data which they already hold. The examination board in Uganda is now working on producing this model for all the secondary schools in the country, by linking their primary and secondary examination databases.

How will the government use the results?

Better information about school performance can give the government greater confidence to act on the data available.

At ‘system-level’ the examination board is interested in publishing value added scores next year to balance off the media’s misleading league tables. School inspectors also want to know the value added scores in advance of visits, so that they can challenge head teachers with more confidence. Schools would no longer be able to explain away poor results by blaming a low-potential cohort.

Both of these are promising avenues to explore. Ideally, they should be considered as part of a coherent accountability framework to make sure that the incentives for all people involved in education align (Pritchett, 2015). Further work would be beneficial, for example, to understand the extent to which parents can interpret and act on value added data, and the training required for school inspectors.

The Education Sector Plan in Uganda is due for renewal – perhaps this provides an opportunity to embed an intelligent accountability framework?

In the meantime, value added data can help refine individual projects, promoting efficiency and equity. For example, the Ministry of Education is planning to use value added data to identify the weakest schools in Uganda who need extra support.

What have we learnt?

The value added model works in Uganda, and it has the potential to improve secondary school accountability at low cost.

Value added data could benefit many other countries. The main requirement is a baseline assessment and a final assessment. Based on the list at the Education Policy & Data Centre, we count 27 developing countries with standardised tests for all primary and secondary school leavers, and there may be more.

There may also be some potential to develop value added measures at primary school level. England has a national assessment system in lower primary, which is used to form the baseline for a primary school value added measure. It would be worth exploring if any other countries have suitable assessments to adopt the same approach.

By Phil Elks from Ark.

Phil was the author of a recent Think Piece produced for DFID titled ‘Lessons learned from introducing value added performance measures in Uganda’.

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Can the private sector tackle undernutrition? Fri, 22 Jul 2016 08:45:22 +0000 Read more]]> Given that 45 per cent of child deaths (that’s nearly half) are because of undernutriton, tackling it should be the highest of priorities for our decision makers. It is also very relevant to note, that a majority of those deaths are amongst the most vulnerable and poorest communities. With this in mind, as most people, even the rural poor, purchase at least some of their food from markets, there is increasing interest in understanding how and when the private sector, might be effective in using the market to deliver nutritious foods to those most likely to suffer from undernutrition.

Markets and nutrition infographic segment

IDS has undertaken research seeking to understand how to make value chains more nutrition sensitive in Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania, looking at specific agricultural value chains, and how these could be made more sensitive and receptive to the nutritional needs of the poor.

What are the challenges in the value chain approach?

The same challenges appeared again and again. A few of these are discussed here:

It became evident that the challenges inherent in delivering nutritious foods to poor people, were beyond the control of a specific business or value chain, but related more broadly to the market and how market systems operate.

In Nigeria for example, research found that despite national regulation mandating the fortification of wheat flour with vitamin A (a very important micronutrient for eye health and immunity), 75-90 per cent of flour being sold in shops did not in fact contain the required amount of vitamin A. This raises a few questions- what are incentives for business to comply? How can the regulatory agencies be strengthened?

Recognising that the informal and formal markets are intertwined is integral to understanding how to get nutritious foods to the people that don’t have access to it. A case in point, is a project which attempted to reduce aflatoxin (a type of mould that grows on certain foods and can cause liver damage and potentially other health consequences) contamination in groundnuts. The project trained farmers in how to identify contaminated groundnuts, and remove these during processing, so that they could sell the uncontaminated nuts at a higher price to large companies. However, the contaminated nuts would then be sold in the informal market, at a cheaper price, thereby increasing the amount of aflatoxins the poorest are consuming.

How can we get nutritious foods to reach the poorest?

  1. The food must be affordable. Processed foods which have been fortified are often too expensive for the poorest and those most at risk of undernutrition.
  2. The food must be safe and contain the nutrients that they claim to have.When purchasing iodized salt or fortified flour, a consumer cannot tell if the product actually contains the nutrient which the package claims- they must trust that the claims are true and that someone is responsible for ensuring that manufactures are complying with regulations.
  3. Nutritional content of foods is not the only factor motivating consumer choice. In reality it is just one of the many factors people consider along with taste, ease of preparation, and cultural preference, among others.
  4. The nutritious food must be available in the local market. This can be a particular challenge in rural areas, where low population densities, high distribution costs, poor infrastructure and low purchasing power mean that it is often not financially viable for companies to distribute products in rural areas.

Where do we go from here?

Moving forward, there needs to be much deeper exploration into how both the formal and informal markets work together. Alongside this, understanding of what the specific challenges are for poor people in accessing nutritious food, will help inform ideas and innovations in addressing these.

But underpinning both of these, we must move away from the notion of a narrowly defined value chain. The reality is that the value chain operates, and is effected by, larger market conditions caused by both the formal and informal markets, and if we do not recognise the impact of how both markets are interacting, we will struggle to use market approaches to deliver safe and nutritious foods to those who need it most.

By Katherine Pittore – Institute of Development Studies

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