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RISE: Improving education systems in low-income countries

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Mark Henstridge

Camille Baziadoly Aude Duquesne Mark Henstridge Georgina Palmer

While rates of primary school enrolment have risen dramatically over the last few decades, this has not translated into improved learning outcomes at scale. The ‘Research on Improving Systems of Education’ (RISE) programme helps address this learning crisis and understand the factors that block or support improved learning.

The programme emphasises the importance of a systems perspective and the need to align accountability relationships across all levels of an education system to learning objectives.

We are working closely with the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford, to manage and implement the programme. Our team will oversee the management of the project until completion in early 2023 and so far led the establishment of seven country research teams (in Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Vietnam), two political economy teams (adoption and implementation), and a team of researchers to synthesise the programme’s findings.

The RISE programme is made up of five components with distinct functions, as illustrated below:

1. Department for International Development (DFID), Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) fund the programme.

2. The Delivery Board fulfills an outcome accountability function on behalf of the funders.

3. The RISE Leadership team is responsible for delivery of the programme, from both research and programme angles.

4. The Intellectual Leadership Team provides input to the Research Directorate and the RISE Leadership team.

Country Research Teams and Political Economy Teams undertake academic, publication oriented, research on education systems in selected countries. Altogether, the programme covers over 50 studies, 11 partner institutions, and 29 individual contractors.

Diagram: RISE organisation structure

The programme has adopted a consultative approach, which includes engaging with a range of stakeholders to better understand the policy environments and education systems in the research countries. Our research teams are building a body of evidence in collaboration with national governments and partners to ensure the policy value of results, providing insights into what works, what doesn’t work, and ultimately, supporting improved education systems on an international scale.

RISE is supported by GBP 36.8 million in funding from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), AUD 9.85 million from the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and USD 1.7 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

Challenges

Primary school enrolment has soared in recent decades: In 1950, an adult in a low-income country received just two years of schooling on average – this increased to over seven years by 2010. However, learning outcomes have not improved at anywhere near the same rate. There is an international body of evidence suggesting that even after many years of schooling, children have not grasped the most basic skills of literacy and numeracy.

There is an urgent need to gain insights into the barriers to effective learning, to help inform policy decision-making around interventions that will help accelerate and improve learning outcomes. We know from previous research that keeping children in school for longer and spending more on inputs such as textbooks and teacher training will not be enough.

The RISE programme has been established to address these knowledge gaps, and understand the challenges and opportunities around improving levels of learning in a range of contexts. By looking at education systems in a range of countries, we have a unique opportunity to explore their workings and consider why reform programmes succeed or fail - and what the impact is on learning.


Our approach

We are working in partnership with the Blavatnik School of Government on a multi-year, multi-country research programme, combining leading academic knowledge with practical experience to build a policy-relevant evidence base on what makes education systems effective.

In the early phases of the project we also established a novel procurement and management model. This flexible model has helped in carrying out high quality research for better insights. It allows our researchers to pursue work within an overarching conceptual framework to tie varied research together into larger conclusions.

At the same time, the initial stage of the project involved scoping and feasibility exercises in potential research countries. In close collaboration with each country research team we developed country engagement strategy to understand the nuances of policy decision making and implementation in the RISE countries. The initial findings will be used throughout the programme to maximise the research impact.

Specific services being provided by our combined team include:

  • Development and implementation of a country engagement strategy, during the inception phase, which included a stakeholder mapping in eight potential research countries. This helped the team to understand what the interests of stakeholders are and what influence they have over policy reform. The strategy also helps to ensure policymakers are engaged with the programme and the research findings have maximum impact;
  • Engaging the supplier market, in particular through holding an annual two-day research conference that has become internationally renowned as the top research conference on education in developing countries and by establishing a Community of Practice to gain insight from practitioners;
  • Development of the procurement process which included a call for proposals to eventually contract seven country research teams;
  • Setting up management and reporting frameworks for the country research teams and political economy teams; 
  • Ongoing management of the RISE Programme and the relationship with its funders; and
  • Establishing partnerships with other funders in order to crowd in funding or in-kind support to expand the programme.

Outcomes

This research programme will help provide valuable insights for policy makers in developing countries. By addressing key research questions, such as ‘how can education systems be reformed to deliver better learning for all’”, our work will help build a bank of evidence to underpin effective education decision-making that ultimately supports improved learning outcomes.

More broadly, the programme will help build a new systems-wide discourse in education research, fostering new approaches and methodologies that can be applied in a range of contexts, helping to build a robust global evidence base.

Photo credit: Lina Rozana