Improving Education Quality in South Asia (II): Placing Learning at the Centre
Comprehensive approaches on how to strengthen UNICEF South Asia’s programming for quality learning
Globally, the biggest educational challenge faced by developing countries is that even when in school, many children are simply not learning. This led UNICEF’s Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA) to undertake a mapping in 2017-18 to help review and recommend how to strengthen UNICEF’s quality programming in South Asia, as well as a follow-up Phase 2 in 2018-19 to think through how to implement these findings. Phase 1 undertook a desk review of UNICEF programming in quality education across the region and found key challenges, success drivers, potential leverage points for enhancing teaching-learning quality, and UNICEF’s unique strengths and limitations as an organization. The findings and recommendations were captured in the first report on quality education: Improving Education Quality in South Asia: A Review of UNICEF’s Efforts.
The present Phase 2 report seeks to help UNICEF teams in South Asia operationalize how they could help align systems towards improving learning for every child – which becomes especially relevant in light of UNICEF’s global education focus in 2019-2030 to ensure every child learns. Phase 2 involved facilitating reflection by UNICEF teams on how to improve quality programming (through on-site workshops and skype or email discussions), analyzing available research on improving learning in developing countries, and examining outliers from South Asia who have demonstrated impact on learning, in order to glean lessons for efforts to improve learning. The key messages that emerged are:
1) Two shifts are needed in UNICEF’s quality programming: learning and systems thinking
2) A starting point for a systemic approach to learning is understanding what is happening in the classroom, and what systems impact on this may thus need strengthening
3) Learning needs to be addressed in holistic yet implementable terms
4) What research has found most helpful for improving learning outcomes aligns with 4 key principles captured in the acronym T-E-A-M: Target strategic priorities, Empower key players, Assess and adjust continually, Most to the least
5) Impacting learning processes requires long-term efforts to mainstream a learning culture in the system, which necessitates shifts in both systems and mindsets around learning
Through an in-depth analysis into how to operationalize these 5 key messages for quality programming, the report recommends an approach to UNICEF’s work which is coherent and holistic yet focused on UNICEF’s comparative advantage. It discusses how UNICEF can enhance its capacity in this critical area of engagement, and uniquely contribute to quality learning for every child. It also identifies strategic leverage points where UNICEF can support governments and education systems to have a greater impact on positive learning. The report’s evidence-based approach and strategies seeks to help UNICEF address this learning crisis and steer progress to achieving the SDGs as a whole.