DFID Education Policy 2018: Get Children Learning

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DFID’s new education policy ‘Get Children Learning’ has called for a united effort by global and national leaders to address the learning crisis and ensure poor and marginalised children - who face the greatest challenges - are not left behind. 

‘Get Children Learning,’ published last week, states that there is an urgent need for a “global focus on improving the quality of education to ensure children are learning the basics.” The policy, according to International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, sets out DFIDs plan to help prevent the "terrible waste of potential" when "half the world's children leave primary school unable to read or write.”The policy follows from a report by the International Development Select Committee published in  November 2017 which called on DFID to focus on leaving no one behind in education  to ensure the promise of the education SDG4 is realized.

Key priorities and core themes

The new education policy has a strong focus on the importance of evidence, noting that DFID will ‘expand our investment in high quality education research to ensure our, and others, investments are based on robust evidence’, including that DFID will ‘invest in research and evidence on what works to improve learning for highly marginalised children.’ The policy identifies that DFID intends to ‘demonstrate global leadership’ in building evidence through partnerships with other bilateral and multilateral agencies, UN agencies and foundations.

Support by DFID to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), including through the ESRC-DFID’s Raising Learning Outcomes Programme, is one example of DFID’s leadership in generating globally-relevant and contextually-grounded evidence. Many projects funded under ESRC-DFID programmes are aligned with the priorities of the new education policy, and so are in a strong position to contribute to strengthening the evidence-base in these areas.

Some examples where ESRC-DFID funded projects link with the priorities in the Policy include:

1) Invest in good teaching: The policy identifies that ‘teaching quality is the most important factor affecting learning in schools but ensuring that every child is taught by a skilled and motivated teacher is a huge challenge for developing and conflict-affected countries’.

A number of projects supported by the ESRC-DFID Strategic Partnership (the Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research and Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems Programme) identify ways to support learning for children from disadvantaged backgrounds through the provision of quality teachers, the use of effective teaching strategies, and the adoption of innovative and alternative models of education. These include:

2) Back system reform which delivers results in the classroom: The policy emphasises the importance of education system reform across public and non-state sectors to help make education systems more accountable, effective and inclusive.  Previous and on-going ESRC-DFID projects in this area include:

The most recent ESRC-DFID Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems Programme call focused on the theme of ‘Accountability,’ with the core question a number of research projects explore how do accountability relationships and processes within developing country education systems enable or inhibit the raising of learning outcomes. These projects which are just starting include a range of topics that will inform an evidence-base in this area:

3) Step up targeted support to the most marginalised: Alongside investments to improve the overall quality of education, the policy commits to focusing on three of the world’s most marginalised children: children with disabilities, children affected by crises and hard-to-reach girls. Its approach in this area will be based on ‘robust analysis of the particular barriers to learning that  [they] face in each context’.

Children with disabilities

Recognising that disability continues to be one of the primary causes of educational exclusion, the policy commits to putting in place ‘the building blocks of inclusive reform for children with disabilities, including better data and more teachers and support staff with the skills to ensure children with disabilities learn’; ‘ensuring support for children with disabilities, helping them transition into mainstream education and learn’; and ‘support comprehensive and cost-effective interventions which include screening, assistive devices, teacher support, adaptive textbooks and parental and wider community engagement’.

Many of these issues are being addressed by ESRC-DFID research, including projects recently published in the Impact Initiative’s ‘ESRC-DFID Research for Policy and Practice: disability and education.’ This highlights evidence from ESRC-DFID funded research on what governments must consider in order to ensure that children with disabilities benefit from quality education without discrimination or exclusion. The report includes evidence from the following projects:

  • Tikule Limodze (Let’s Grow Together) is gathering evidence related to the importance of early years education, and specifically the role of preschool caregivers in providing support to children with disabilities in rural Malawi. The project draws attention to the barriers to education faced by children with disabilities and highlights that quality training should be provided to early childhood education volunteer caregivers in the area of disability and inclusion.
  • The Teaching Effectively All Children (TEACh) project  highlights that in order to ensure marginalised children such as children with disabilities are not excluded from the classroom it is vital that teachers are equipped with skills to teach in diverse classrooms.
  • “Constructing a Global Framework for Analysis of Social Exclusion From and Within Learning Systems” which is collecting data from six countries (Afghanistan, India, Sudan (Darfur State), Sierra Leone, Morocco and Tunisia). Evidence generated from this project shows that among countries (particularly those affected by conflict and crisis) children are less likely to attend school if they have disabilities.
  • The ‘Peer to Peer Deaf Literacy’ project looks at new ways of teaching literacy to deaf learners in India. By proposing that reform is best driven from within deaf communities themselves, the project has included deaf researchers who have developed a systemic innovation that has the potential to transform learning and improve literacy for sign language users.

Children affected by crises

The Policy makes three commitments in with respect to children affected by crises: multi-year investments in quality education in conflict and crises; responsive, joined-up delivery which protects education systems; and support for schools as safe spaces that promote children’s well-being:

Hard-to-reach girls

The policy focuses attention on the hardest-to-reach girls, including girls with disabilities and those affected by crises, as well as poor rural girls, pregnant girls and those vulnerable to early marriage. A number of research projects supported by the ESRC-DFID partnership offer evidence on the importance of improving access to quality education to girls. More specifically, projects in this area include:

A focus on leaving no one behind in education

The messages from the Policy provide clear direction from DFID in their efforts towards focusing resources on the most marginalized, including on the poorest girls, children with disabilities and those affected by conflict; with particular emphasis on teacher quality. The policy is a welcome effort to raising education standards in some of the poorest parts of the world to ensure that the poorest and most marginalised children are able to access school and learn.