Resource Roundup: Seven Ways to Strengthen Systems for Literacy Outcomes
USAID’s vision is a world where partner country education systems enable all children and youth to acquire the education and skills needed to be productive members of society. For education programs to achieve this vision, they must address a range of country-specific policy, technical, and institutional issues and social constraints. This is why USAID’s Center for Education works on Education Systems Strengthening.
Education Systems Strengthening comprises activities that help advance more equitable, quality, and sustainable learning and education outcomes. USAID works to strengthen country education systems by addressing drivers of learning and education outcomes such as policies, norms, capacities, incentives, and relationships. In recognition of International Literacy Day, USAID’s Center for Education is sharing seven areas of focus to integrate systems strengthening in education programming. The following resources can help guide your work in improving literacy outcomes.
1. Review evidence from research and past programming
- USAID’s Ten Years of Early Grade Reading Programming: A Retrospective (2023) shares a foundational retrospective on early grade reading programs.
- USAID’s All Children Read-Asia Systems Strengthening Review (2022) offers an excellent system strengthening review of 20 education activities across 11 countries in Asia.
- RISE’s Why and How the Public vs. Private Schooling Debate Needs to Change (2023) highlights research findings of a needed shift in perspective from public versus private schools to holistic view of a “neighborhood education system.”
- RISE’s How ‘Soft Governance’ Can Help Improve Learning Outcomes (2023) identifies evidence-based “good fit” governance entry points for improving learning outcomes across a variety of contexts.
- World Bank’s 2018 Development Report on LEARNING to Realize Education’s Promise provides a concise diagnosis of the misalignment of education systems for learning outcomes.
- USAID’s EQUIP 2 Power of Persistence: Education System Reform and Aid Effectiveness (2010) includes in-depth multi-country case studies on the toughest education topics such as sustainability, local ownership, impact, and scale.
2. Start with an understanding of the country context
- USAID’s 5Rs provide a general framework to understand systems and USAID’s Reading MATTERS offers a sector-specific applied framework.
- There are many good analysis tools but a few USAID resources to highlight are: the Rapid Education and Risk Analysis Toolkit (RERA) helps to understand what the current situation and key risks (including conflict-sensitivity), while the Local Systems Practice: User’s Guide goes deeper to understand root causes in a participatory way and Applied Political Economy Analysis looks more specifically at factors that shape the political will and behavior of actors.
3. Employ locally led approaches and prioritize local ownership in design
- The Locally-led development fact sheet and spectrum are central guideposts for localization.
- Government-to-Government (G2G) Education Toolkit is an older but still informative toolkit on assessing, designing, managing, and evaluating G2G education activities.
- USAID’s Co-Creation Interactive Guide and Discussion Note provide practical guidance on facilitating co-creation with stakeholders throughout the program cycle.
- USAID’s Collective Action Guide and Resources provides practical guidance for facilitating multi-stakeholder joint actions around shared objectives or issues.
4. Plan for flexibility and sustainability in the solicitation
- Tips for Solicitations to Invite Context-Driven Adaptive Programming and RISE’s Tools for Assessing TOR Potential to Source Scalable Learning Interventions are useful resources for USAID staff designing solicitations.
- Discussion Note: Adaptive Management helps to operationalize adaptive management in the program cycle.
5. Explore interventions that strengthen commitment and alignment for literacy outcomes
- RISE’s Education Systems Diagnostic can be used to highlight education system misalignment for literacy outcomes.
- Based on the analysis, consider interventions that assist with Aligning Learning Inputs to Global Norms for Minimum Proficiency; strengthening Book Supply Chains, ensuring Incentives and Accountability in Education: A Literature Review for literacy outcomes, resourcing through Education Finance How to Note and Guide to Public-Private Partnerships in Basic Education, and Efficient and Effective Choice and Use of an EMIS to monitor results and adapt.
6. Explore interventions that strengthen local capacity to deliver literacy outcomes
- USAID’s Local Capacity Strengthening Policy is USAID’s policy for advancing both effective and equitable partnerships for capacity strengthening.
- USAID’s Local Institutional Capacity Development for Education in Crisis and Conflict-affected States (2019) explores opportunities for capacity strengthening even in crisis and conflict context.
- The Capacity Development Intervention List and Evidence Gap Map for Strengthening Research for Development Capacities provide useful intervention ideas to move beyond “training” systems strengthening.
- Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation offers a practical and straightforward way to facilitate locally led diagnosis of problems and solutions for learning by doing.
7. Measure system-level impacts
- USAID’s Guide to Distinguishing Tools Used for Local Capacity Strengthening emphasizes the importance of Measuring Performance Improvement rather than measuring latent capacity.
- The Discussion Note: Complexity-Aware Monitoring provides practical ways to monitor education systems strengthening.