Trends in Education Systems Strengthening
Education systems support the foundation upon which stable and resilient societies can flourish, and ultimately pave the way for host countries to “become self-reliant and capable of leading their own development journeys.” As USAID Administrator Mark Green frequently states, the ultimate goal of development assistance is to ensure that it is no longer necessary.
To this end, USAID and other global organizations have taken a renewed focus on country-driven development and systems strengthening. The following retrospective focuses on systems strengthening initiatives that exist across global organizations, within sectors at USAID, and then more specifically in education programs in Africa.
Further ReadingTake a Deep Dive into the Journey of Self Reliance
Systems Strengthening Efforts Across USAID
As an Agency, USAID has made significant contributions to systems strengthening through the development of tools, resources, and frameworks, including health systems strengthening, the Human and Institutional Capacity Development Handbook, government-to-government (G2G) funding and the USAID Local Systems Framework.
Health systems strengthening: For more than two decades, the USAID health sector has embedded its activities within host countries systems. Drawing from the global system health-strengthening arena, the USAID health sector aligns with the World Health Organization (WHO) system building blocks to articulate the core health system functions areas: human resources for health, health finance, health governance, health information, service delivery, and medical products, vaccines and technologies.
Human and Institutional Capacity Development (HICD) Handbook: In 2011, the USAID Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade developed the HICD Handbook to help USAID integrate HICD into its development assistance programs. As a model for sustainable performance improvement, the handbook provides methodologies and tools designed to assist USAID in efforts to deliver long-term development outcomes through building the capacity of host-country partner organizations to provide quality services and products.
Local Systems and 5R Framework: The Local Systems Framework, developed in April 2014, establishes that achieving and sustaining improvements in development results depends on the contributions of multiple and interconnected actors. The 5Rs Framework, a complementary tool to the Local Systems Framework, assists with the analytical processes to assess a local system and gain a deep and nuanced understanding of its boundaries, the actors and interrelationships, and its strengths and weaknesses.
Government-to-Government (G2G): G2G programs use partner government systems as a means to achieve USAID development objectives. In G2G programs, USAID disburses funds directly to a partner government entity to implement a project or activity, using the partner government's financial management, procurement, or other systems.
Rapid Education and Risk Analysis (RERA): A RERA integrates key methodological elements of a rapid education needs assessment and contextual risk analyses, such as conflict analysis, disaster risk assessment, and resilience analysis. A RERA emphasizes investigating how risks impact the school community, how education influences risks, and how contextual risks influence each other. A RERA supports all stages of the USAID program cycle and can be implemented within or outside of an existing USAID project activity. A RERA ultimately informs USAID strategy and programming.
Labor Market Assessment Guides: This set of tools provide users with powerful instruments to carry out actionable analysis that gets at the unique nature of labor demand and supply in a given economy, and identifies levers and interventions to improve labor market functioning. These approaches are customizable to various populations of interest or economic sectors by any actors with an interest in promoting improved labor markets, job creation, and increased employment.
Further ReadingRead about G2G Programs in Practice
Trends Within Education Programming in Africa
Since 2000, USAID’s work in education has shifted from increased access and quality basic education generally (2000–2011) to specific goal areas with ambitious targets applicable to all Missions (2011– 2018).
From 2000-2011, education programs ranged widely from teacher professional development activities, curriculum development, and model schools to systems strengthening activities in the areas of decentralization, planning, budgeting, and monitoring and evaluation to school community support and school construction, to name a few. Most of the USAID programs and project goals during this period were to increase access and improve education quality in a sustainable manner.
USAID’s 2011-2015 Education Strategy brought a much-needed focus and standardization to education programming, with a targeted focus on learning outcomes. The Agency’s emphasis on early grade reading pedagogy, materials development, mother tongue instruction, and monitoring and evaluation, significantly contributed to the global discussion. On the flip side, this technical focus came with the challenge of less flexibility to contextualize.
For example, since 2011, USAID’s work to strengthen education systems throughout Africa has delivered results. In Kenya, USAID has worked with the Ministry of Education to put in place the political, institutional and financial scaffolding to improve, expand and sustain early grade reading outcomes. The resulting Tusome program, which means “Let’s Read” in Kiswahili, is now being implemented through the Ministry's systems in every primary school in the country.
In November 2018, USAID launched its new Education Policy, replacing the 2011 Strategy. This new policy states that 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. Systems strengthening is embedded as one of six key principles USAID will consider in decision making about its education programming. The policy outlines four priority areas for USAID’s programming in education and builds on the 2011 Education Strategy to ensure improved learning outcomes remains our ultimate goal.
Across all of USAID’s efforts of the last decades, there have been a focus on strengthening education systems in order to ultimately ensure our partner countries have the capacity to lead their education sectors in a was that ensures equity and quality without donor support.
Systems Strengthening Across Global Organizations
Good work on systems strengthening is also being done by other organizations, including diagnostic tools, research and grants.
For example, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)—the only global fund solely dedicated to education in developing countries— strengthens developing countries’ national education systems to expand education opportunities and improve learning. GPE supports 65+ developing countries to ensure that every child receives a quality basic education, prioritizing the poorest, most vulnerable people and those living in countries affected by fragility and conflict. Working with country partners to create good quality education sector plans, GPE enables needs analysis and works to strengthen technical capacity, while governments take the lead in planning and are accountable for delivery.
Similarly, the World Bank’s Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) is an initiative that produces comparative data and knowledge on education policies and institutions, with the aim of helping countries systematically strengthen their education systems. At the country level, the World Bank develops education systems analyses, assessments, diagnosis, and opens opportunities for dialogue. At the global level, it improves the education systems knowledge base, allowing donors and host countries to use this information to implement effective reforms. In other words, SABER helps countries make informed decisions to strengthen their systems.
Likewise, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) is funding the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) program to address and better understand the factors that block or support improved learning. A multi-country project, RISE is building a new systems-wide discourse in education research, fostering new approaches and methodologies that can be applied in a range of contexts, and adding to a robust global evidence base.
In the future, striking a balance between a strong focus on learning outcomes and addressing systems strengthening in individual country contexts, while capitalizing on work done by other organizations, is essential to USAID’s work. Likewise, a wider lens to understand good governance, accountability and technical reforms is paramount for finding a happy—and effective—medium.