The global policy debate about education is in the midst of a major pivot, of the kind that happens maybe once every quarter-century, from a conversation about how to increase enrollment to one about learning.
Across the developing world — from South Asia to East Africa, and even in Latin America — there’s growing evidence that millions of children are going through multiple years of primary schooling without learning to read or do basic arithmetic. As Lant Pritchett argues in his book The Rebirth of Education, “schooling ain’t learning.” It’s time to pivot from schooling goals to learning goals.
So how do we deliver quality, basic education to millions of kids around the world? That’s the challenge posed to researchers in the new call for proposals that our RISE (Research on Improving Systems of Education) colleague Amanda Beatty just posted on the RISE website:
At one level, we already know the answer. Unlike producing controlled nuclear fusion or a viable vaccine for Ebola, we already know how to teach children to read or do basic mathematics. Researchers have carefully calibrated the learning gains from specific interventions, like school feeding programs, computer-assisted learning, and remedial education. And all countries have pockets of success where these tools are deployed effectively, with excellent schools and teachers delivering quality education.
But these successes often do not happen at scale. High-performing schools are restricted to a narrow set of affluent families. Innovative pilot projects demonstrate potential, but often fail to translate into far-reaching policy reform. In the meantime, cohort after cohort of children gets left behind with little accountability.
So where does research go from here?
There is an urgent need for more research on solutions beyond business-as-usual, incremental increases in materials, infrastructure or other inputs. Instead, RISE seeks comprehensive, practical answers about how education systems can innovate, improve learning outcomes, and better serve children and communities. RISE is a six-year research programme that will make long-term research investments of £21 million in key countries where we see the greatest opportunity for learning about system reforms.
RISE will fund research that goes beyond the proximate causes of test score performance to understand the underlying ingredients of a well-functioning system — for example, the way in which goals are set, progress is assessed and measured, the teaching career is structured, schools are financed and managed, and innovations produced, evaluated and disseminated. RISE will investigate how and why education systems succeed or fail in attempts to promote learning for all children.
We kick off this call to arms at 9 a.m. on June 18 here at CGD in Washington. RSVP here to join the launch conference organized with our RISE partners Oxford Policy Management and Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government, featuring a line-up of top researchers in global education discussing the current state of knowledge. And if you’re an education researcher who wants to get involved but can’t make it to DC, check out the live stream, or see the RISE website for a full list of upcoming events in London, Dar es Salaam, Abuja, Delhi, Islamabad, and Jakarta.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.