How a Partnership with Peace Corps Increased Education Outcomes
The Global Education Framework
Education is the Peace Corps’ largest operational sector and also a priority area for USAID. In 2010, USAID and the Peace Corps signed the Global Education Framework (GEF) agreement to further encourage collaboration between Peace Corps and USAID in implementing programs that advance host country educational goals. Fast forward nine years, and we have a comprehensive assessment of the impact and lessons learned from this strong partnership.
USAID invested a total of $6.4 million over a nine-year period, which translates into an average of $700,000 per year to cover over 35,000 unique education activities in 64 countries.
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In each country where the partnership was carried out, USAID worked with Peace Corps to design and manage a broad portfolio of education programs, including collaboration across multiple countries in these three areas:
1. Creating Student-Friendly Schools
One of the GEF’s most tangible impacts is the creation of safe and student-friendly environments that promote positive gender norms. This was made possible by building the capacity of local teachers and headmasters. After attending a GEF-supported Student-Friendly School workshop in Rwanda, for example, a teacher who had in the past defended traditional gender roles began working with colleagues to identify inequities faced by girls. The teacher set up community meetings to discuss how to address the issues that perpetuated gender inequities. “Overall, watching two male counterparts take the lead to fight for gender equality in our school was one of the most fulfilling moments of my service,” said a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV).
Host country national staff, PCVs, and counterparts from 15 different posts in the Inter-America and the Pacific region participated in Creating a Positive Classroom Culture, a regional workshop in Guatemala. They learned approaches to reinforce healthy behaviors and reduce negative ones in support of social and emotional learning, as well as academic achievements. They shared how they would integrate what they learned into their work and reflected on their role in creating positive classroom cultures that encourage open and respectful communication.
2. Promoting Literacy
To promote literacy and early reading, the GEF supported hiring a literacy specialist in host countries. The specialist was tasked with spearheading a national strategy and using innovative approaches to encourage reading. Through increased community-level engagement and an appreciation for promoting literacy, host countries saw sustained and measurable increases in early grade reading. In Uganda, the specialist was involved in the Mobilizing Schools and Communities for Reading project, which introduced some of the most successful activities in this focus area: a Spelling Bee and the DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) Day. Both of these initial one-day events have grown in popularity across Africa. An Africa-wide spelling bee and self-sustaining DEAR Day now occur in 14 countries across the continent.
In the Philippines, the Padayon Mindanao project used various innovative approaches to improve teaching practices and foster collaboration between educators and out-of-school and community youth leaders. Train to Teach (T2T) and Educate and Engage to Empower (E2E) camps highlighted critical listening and speaking, remedial reading, writing, environmental education, civics, history, math, and conflict management skills. A participant in an Educate, Engage and Empower (E2E) camp said, “The E2E Camp made a huge impact on me as a youth advocate in my community. My role as a learning facilitator made me more confident to transform myself to becoming a better leader and a better citizen in my place.”
3. Using Data for Better Decision Making
In many countries where USAID and the Peace Corps work, the lack of reliable education data makes decision-making and policy-development challenging. To address this problem, the GEF supported a Community Data-Driven Decision Making in Education (CD3M) project that developed materials and training sessions on how to collect, analyze and use disaggregated education data.
The CD3M project also integrated Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into the data collection, analysis, and presentation process. The project developed community competency using ICT tools, including mobile phones, databases and education management, and information systems in the collection, analysis, and presentation of data.
The materials developed for this project were tested in two pilot workshops in Guatemala and the Philippines. Workshop participants turned into data advocates and enthusiasts, which is an indicator that the project was well-received and filled an important knowledge gap.
Feedback from workshop participants helped inform the development of the final products. Besides selecting participants with knowledge of data sets in their school and having co-facilitators and guest speakers whenever appropriate, an important suggestion that emerged was to use a collaborative online forum before, during and after the training workshops.
What We Have Learned
Thanks to many thoughtful and carefully implemented GEF activities, there is now more openness to discuss gender inequities in safe environments and generate local solutions. Engaging young boys and girls in developing approaches that promote positive youth development and agency was critical for creating more dialogue and respect between the genders. These approaches also turned out to be effective in supporting positive outcomes in other sectors and increasing awareness about violence-free relationships.
When it came to promoting literacy, the GEF-supported literacy specialist was key to galvanizing support for reading activities, organizing training workshops and rolling out literacy materials. This is a role that cannot be overemphasized, especially when considering that a strategic approach is necessary to maintain community support and the interest of teachers, youth, and local partners.
The GEF partnership has been rooted in communities across 64 countries. It has engaged local leaders from the very beginning, developed grassroots capacity, promoted local ownership, and galvanized innovation and long-term commitment. GEF activities have created a strong foundation that could serve as a model for how intra-agency partnerships can work.