Sustainable education policymaking depends on local ownership and involvement, say experts at CIES

By Ashley Williams

April 16, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO – With around 91 percent of primary-school-age children worldwide enrolled in school as of 2016, according to UNICEF, many national governments are increasingly expanding their focus from quantity of students enrolled to the quality of education provided. To do so successfully, they will need plans in place to ensure education reforms are sustainable, say experts.

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Susan Ayari, Creative’s Director of Middle East and Asia Education and Afghan Children Read Project Director, presents the path to sustainable policy reform in Afghanistan. Photo by Ashley Williams.

While education improvements often require the creation and implementation of new early grade reading policies at a national level, many of the countries struggling to improve quality within their education systems have low capacity for creating and implementing policy.

Representatives from Creative Associates International, the International Rescue Committee and RTI International came together to discuss this theme at the Comparative and International Education Society conference in a panel titled “Multiple paths toward sustainable policymaking.”

These experts say that it is crucial that education policies be locally-owned and sustainable once technical support from international partners is phased out. Panelists working in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uganda spoke of similarities in their approaches to sustainable policymaking despite the varying contexts of where their projects operate.

Susan Ayari, the panel facilitator and Creative’s Director of the Middle East and Asia Education Portfolio, noted that “Even though we call this multiple paths to policy, maybe the paths aren’t so different after all.”

Ministry involvement and building policy to fit existing frameworks

Presenters from all three organizations emphasized the importance of developing policy within existing frameworks and engaging ministries of education.

“We tried to build within the system, not build a new system,” said Naeem Sohail-Butt, Chief of Party for the USAID-funded Pakistan Reading Project being implemented by the International Rescue Committee, Creative and nine other local and international partners.

Pakistan is one of the few countries that has seen an uptick in illiteracy in recent years. The project works to improve the quality of reading education in more than 23,000 public schools.

“We tried to build within the system, not build a new system.”

Naeem Sohail-Butt, Chief of Party for the Pakistan Reading Project

Sohail-Butt noted that there were two key factors considered during the design and implementation phase that enhanced the chances of sustainable education reform. The first was human and financial capacity constraints to implement and sustain reading reforms. The second was the frequent turnover in government education departments.

By working with the Ministry to construct policy that realistically considers those limitations and creates solutions, the project has reached 1.38 million students, trained more than 25,000 teachers and improved 55 policies.

This participatory approach has also been critical in Afghanistan, where school enrollment has increased from less than 1 million in 2001 to 9.2 million, according to the National Education Strategic Plan.

The USAID-funded Afghan Children Read project has worked with the Ministry of Education to reform education with a focus on curriculum development, textbook tracking systems, and teacher and early grade reading policy development.

One of the foundational key objectives for developing a national early grade reading policy was to provide government decision makers, planners and implementers the functional parameters to make actionable decisions.

“Afghan Children Read is the first early grade reading intervention in the country, that’s why we need everyone’s involvement,” said Shafiulhaq Rahimi, the project’s Deputy Chief of Party.

Implemented by Creative with its partners The International Rescue CommitteeEqual Access and SIL LEAD, Afghan Children Read has reached more than 400,000 students and 6,800 teachers and made strides toward its objective of establishing a reading culture in the early grades that lays the foundation for a literate society.

Whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Uganda—which each have different challenges and capacities— Creative’s Ayari pointed out that each project spoke to the importance of using evidence to support good policy, involving all parts of the Ministry, reaching out to the community, holding dialogue at all levels, and ensuring that policy fits within existing frameworks.

Attending CIES?

To visit Creative’s CIES 2019 Special Report hub, click here. For a full schedule of Creative’s CIES 2019 panels, including panelists, times and locations, click here. In addition to the panel sessions, stop by booths 16-18 to engage with education experts and learn more about Creative’s global projects. Follow us on Twitter @1977Creative for live updates.

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