Partnership is critical to achieve learning outcomes, say experts at CIES

By Natalie Lovenburg

March 7, 2017

“After 23 years of war and over the last 15 years specifically, we’ve seen tremendous progress in access to education in Afghanistan.”

Mohammed Ibrahim Shinwari, Ph.D., Deputy Minister of Education in Afghanistan.

ATLANTA—Building partnerships and establishing trust among key stakeholders in Afghanistan are essential ingredients to improving early grade education in the country, according to experts on a panel at the Comparative and International Education Society conference on March 6.

Panelists at the session called “Ingredients of Successful Partnering in Afghanistan: Laying the Foundations for Success in Scaling-up Improved Teaching and Learning” point to the new Afghan Children Read project as an example of how this works in real life.

“After 23 years of war and over the last 15 years specifically, we’ve seen tremendous progress in access to education in Afghanistan,” said Mohammed Ibrahim Shinwari, Ph.D., Deputy Minister of Education in Afghanistan. “But to implement quality education in all provinces, even in remote and insecure areas, partnering with the international community on the Afghan Children Read to build the Ministry of Education’s capacity is fundamental to its success.”

From the beginning of the Afghan Children Read project, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education and global development partners have collaborated to build and implement a sustainable national early grade reading program. The project develops learning and teaching materials, trains teachers and monitors ongoing results.

Creative’s Susan Ayari, Senior Associate in Education in Conflict, presented on a CIES panel called “Ingredients of Successful Partnering in Afghanistan: Laying the Foundations for Success in Scaling-up Improved Teaching and Learning.”

“Afghanistan isn’t necessarily a place where you’d think positive ingredients of a successful partnership can emerge,” said panelist Susan Ayari, Senior Associate in Education in Conflict at Creative Associates International, which leads the project’s implementation.

“We’ve experienced roadblocks, but all of the partners have been able to sit down and think through alternatives,” said Ayari. “Despite Afghanistan’s conflict and crisis situation and the impact that’s had on education in the country, we’re feeling extremely positive about this partnership.”

Afghanistan has experienced a decade of transformative development. Nonetheless, the education sector is still fragile, with more than 3.5 million Afghan children who are out of school.

Although access to education continues to improve, Afghan students are not receiving sufficient basic education in the classroom, such as important literacy skills. With limited resources among other barriers, young children who do not develop foundational reading skills, often fail to progress in higher grades, dropout and struggle to enter the workforce later in life.

For Afghan students, especially for girls, the quality of education is lacking and has resulted in low learning outcomes, says education panel experts.

Open communication and mutual trust essential to project success

To establish a sustainable national early grade reading program, ownership by the host government is essential.

“Our role at USAID is to be a reliable partner,” said Rebecca Rhodes, Senior Education Advisor on USAID’s Reading Team. “And one of the first things we learned is how committed the Ministry of Education is to achieving quality education in Afghanistan.”

After extensive dialogue in the beginning of the project, Rhodes said the stakeholders reached a decision on a process and agreed on a three-step plan in rolling out the Afghan Children Read project.

The Afghan Children Read program is working with the country’s Ministry of Education to build and implement a national early grade reading program.

First, a survey to answer questions would be conducted. Second, the design must include significant Ministry of Education involvement. Third, the procurement of the program where the Ministry was fully involved and benefited from capacity strengthening.

The roadmap has served the stakeholders well.

Chief of Party for Afghan Children Read program, Mamdouh Fadil, Ph.D, shared lessons learned and the importance of being on the same page.

“Each stakeholder understands their role,” said Fadil. “By establishing a process, all the partners created a vision together on what we wanted to achieve and what are our main priorities. Under the Ministry, there is no confusion and a structure is in place.”

To Fadil, building trust, voicing concerns and challenges and analyzing the partnership requirements from the start are the most important components to a project’s success.

All stakeholders–including 70 Ministry of Education staff from various divisions–meet monthly to discuss key priorities and to stay on track. In the beginning stage of planning, the partners also established a weekly reporting structure that cycles timely information among all actors.

“In the feedback loops, we address issues like security, gender, community and what are the actions and learnings we can analyze,” said Fadil. “The flow of information must happen, where nothing is hidden and challenges are discussed and then immediately resolved.”

Building on open communication and developing capacity, another key of a successful program is leadership.

“The Afghan Children Read partners have trust and the political will to make this project a success,” said Fadil. “It is also important to have leaders who are education advocates.”

Achieving education reform and establishing a national early grade reading program in a conflict and crisis environment can be extremely challenging. But with strategic partnerships and leadership, overcoming barriers is achievable.

Shinwar, echoing Fadil’s emphasis on open communication and trust among partners, said success means an open door policy and commitment to the project from all the stakeholders–especially the Ministry of Education.

“The relationship with all of the partners is good and the Ministry has tremendous support,” said Shinwar. “We know we are not alone.”

To visit Creative’s CIES 2017 Special Report hub, click here.

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