Developing deeper learning competencies in the United States

Guest blog written by Rholyn Barnhart

I was born in a very small town in the Philippines. Majority of the source of income in our town relates to fishing and trading goods. My family is one of the many families who wanted to go out of our current state of life – working just to survive. My mom’s hope is for my siblings and I to earn as much education as we can and read so we understand… It has been my dream to go to Harvard.

When I signed up for the course, I was in a great deal of frustration. I am starting to develop revulsion in “the system” and an internal chaos to my preferred profession. I thought, I have been teaching for almost eighteen years and have moved from country to country, yet the problem in the education system seems to revolve around political, legal, organizational, or personal authority gaps. For that reason, I started reaching out to people in “the system”. I was not aware that some authority figures follow a very rigid communication protocol. Before this course, I have an initial assumption that when an authority figure is tasked to function in a certain role, they would welcome ideas that would potentially provide a positive influence on authentic student outcomes. My assumption was wrong. It led me to a state of hopelessness, and I felt that I was on a ‘big stuck’.  

My implementation challenge is around Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) – a data driven approach that centers whole child metrics in responding to student’s individualized needs. It aims to ensure that the newly revised educational law in 2015, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), promote innovation, flexibility, transparency, accountability, and to reduce burden, while maintaining essential protections for all students.

Before I signed up for this course, I have been reading and compiling plenty of research, playbooks, guidelines, handbooks, and policies both international and local resources. The more I read, the more I am trapped. I felt that the mythology about Sisyphus felt the same way I felt. On the other hand, I did not stop. I thought that there should be a way to make ‘progress’ somewhere, somehow. Then, my Implementing Public Policy journey began. I felt hopeful again to explore and adapt the Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) toolkit – A DIY Approach to Solving Complex Problems. Through this process, I have learned that this journey is just the genesis of what is yet to happen.

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Using PDIA to Improve Public Education in Brazil

written by Salimah Samji

[Image above: São Luis, Maranhão, Brazil – December 2021]

In August 2021, we began an engagement with Instituto Sonho Grande (ISG) in Brazil to build the capability of public servants working in secretariats of education in the states of Maranhão and Paraíba.  

In this virtual action learning program, 60 public servants working across 11 teams, learned how to use PDIA to solve locally nominated problems, through action-oriented work.

The teams in Maranhão worked on the following problems:

  • Low learning in Mathematics
  • High teacher turnover
  • School dropouts
  • Age-grade distortion
  • School feeding programs

The teams in Paraíba worked on the following problems:

  • Low learning in Portuguese and Mathematics
  • Vacancies for Teachers and Technicians
  • Data for strategic decision making
  • School infrastructure
  • Clarity of roles and responsibilities
  • Budget execution
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“Knowledge can be global, but solutions must be local” lessons from my conversation with Dzingai Mutumbuka

Written by Marla Spivack

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to sit down for an in-depth conversation with Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka, the first Minister of education of Zimbabwe after its independence, a global education leader and (to our great fortune) the chair of the RISE Delivery Board. 

I had already been fortunate enough to benefit from Dr. Mutumbuka’s insights on the global education architecture, through conversations he’d led with the Board. I also knew his thoughts on the most pressing challenge facing education systems today: the prolonged school closures due to COVID-19 and the risks they posed to further exacerbate the learning crisis. But this was the first time I had a chance to ask Dr. Mutumbuka about his experience as an education leader. Our conversation, which was recorded and is available as the first episode in RISE’s new podcast, touched on a range of issues education leaders face: navigating complex political challenges; setting and sticking to clear priorities; building effective, equal partnerships with donors; and leveraging global knowledge to develop local solutions. 

Negotiating complicated politics

We started our conversation with Dr. Mutumbuka’s reflections on leading the new ministry  of education in the newly independent, post conflict Zimbabwe. Black parents, whose children had been excluded from quality education for decades under the apartheid government demanded a swift move towards equity, integration, and inclusion, but at the same time white parents feared that integration would erode the quality of the children’s education. 

Dr. Mutumbuka knew that negotiating these complicated issues would require consultation and coalition building. He started his tenure by meeting with all relevant stakeholders, white parents, black parents, teachers, trade groups, industrial groups. 

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To Improve Women’s Lives, Start by Improving Girls’ Education

written by Marla Spivack

By ensuring that all girls are receiving inclusive, effective instruction in well-functioning education systems, we can grow closer to achieving SDG 4’s promise of universal literacy and numeracy and lifelong learning.

Today is International Women’s Day. Among the unprecedented challenges that COVID-19 presents, there are manymanymany issues in women’s lives that deserve urgent attention.  Amid all of those pressing challenges, we should not lose sight of how COVID-19 is affecting today’s girls, who will become tomorrow’s women. 

COVID-19 and girls’ schooling

COVID-19 has closed schools. According to UNESCO, nearly 1.5 billion children in more than 180 countries were affected by the closures. For girls with access to the internet, this means time spent in front of screens, where too little is known about how the abrupt transition to online learning will affect their progress. But for girls in disadvantaged countries and communities who lack access to the technology that enables remote schooling, school closures have severely curtailed or even completely paused their learning. 

Fortunately, schools are starting to open up again. This is welcome news. But school systems will have to act quickly to help girls catch up from this lost year of learning. Simulations and empirical estimates suggest that when children miss out on time in school, they can continue to fall farther behind after they return unless sufficient attention is paid to ensuring that classroom instruction matches children’s actual, post-lockdown learning levels rather than simply defaulting where the curriculum would have been under business as usual. Education systems need to focus on foundations when schools reopen, assess where students are when schools reopen, provide adequate time for remediation, and streamline curricula so that children don’t fall farther behind when they are back in the classroom

Those are the immediate steps systems can take to help children catch up from this crisis, but the reopening of schools is also the right time to ask: what kind of school systems are girls returning to? 

Even before the pandemic, far too many girls had their future potential stymied by ineffective education systems

The World Bank’s Learning Poverty measure paints a stark picture of the poor quality of the education most children in low- and middle-income countries receive. 53 percent of boys and girls in low- and middle- income countries reach the age of 10 without mastering basic reading skills. In the world’s poorest countries, the figures are even more grim, as Figure 1 shows.

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Developing Country Education Systems that Learn

written by Lant Pritchett

Change is hard.  It is hard for individuals.  It is extra hard for organizations.  Change is especially hard for organizations when they have been successful.  Organizations often develop strategies, norms, and practices that are tailored to produce success in a particular activity or context.  When those strategies are successful, organizations have an especially difficult time to create and manage change that is not simply “more of the same, better.”

This is true even of large, successful, well-managed private sector organizations facing (organizational) life or death consequences.

The Big Store recounts how Sears, a veritable American retailing behemoth—accounting in the early 1970s for one percent of all US GDP—fell into a crisis and how incredibly hard it was to turn the organization around.  Even when people could see the organizational crisis it was often the people who were the very best at doing what made the organization a success in the past who were in top management positions—and hence those least likely to be able to recognize the need for, plan out, and lead change.

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