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Education Access, Quality and Outcomes in Low and Middle income Countries conference - The “scandal” of low educational outcomes and ways to overcome them.

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Article by Guy Collender of the London International Development Centre and Martina Vojtkova of 3ie.

Education Access, Quality and Outcomes in Low and Middle income Countries conference - The “scandal” of low educational outcomes and ways to overcome them.

Dr Angeline Barrett draws attention to an EdQual working paper.

The "scandal" of low educational outcomes and ways to overcome them explored at education conference
Serious weaknesses in the education sector in developing countries and policy and research recommendations to remedy them were discussed at an academic event in London. The discussions at the Institute of Education marked the culmination of three major DFID-funded five-year research programmes focusing, in turn, on educational access, quality and outcomes.
Speakers raised challenges, including the ‘silently excluded' (children enrolled, but not learning), dropout rates, and inadequate teacher training. Jo Bourne, of DFID, labelled poor educational outcomes as a "scandal" and spoke of the need for more research on education because it remains underrepresented when compared to other development sectors, including agriculture and health.
The conference on 15 November was staged by the UK Forum for International Education and Training (UKFIET) and DFID to disseminate the findings of three Research Programme Consortia (RPCs): Consortium for Research on Educational Access, Transitions and Equity (CREATE), Implementing Education Quality in Low Income Countries (EdQual), and Research Consortium on Educational Outcomes and Poverty (Recoup). Throughout the day, the complementary perspectives of the three groups and their partners were reinforced. Professor Joseph Djangmah, of the University of Education at Winneba, Ghana, said all the RPCs are addressing the same problems, and access and quality have to be achieved "hand-in-hand."
School dropouts
Professor Keith Lewin, Director of CREATE, delivered a salutary warning about the drawbacks of concentrating solely on enrolment. He said the expansion of school places has, sometimes, been accompanied by the falling quality of education and lack of equity. Lewin also emphasised that the majority of today's out-of-school children used to attend school but dropped out, rather than never having been enrolled. He predicted that the second Millennium Development Goal - universal primary education - will not be met by 2015 because the education sector has failed to prevent the next generation of dropouts. Drawing on CREATE's zones of exclusion, including children who have never enrolled, attend school irregularly and make poor progress, and dropouts, Lewin explained how the number of children not learning - the "silently excluded" - is actually far higher than the UN's estimate of 70 million children not enrolled in school.
Quality of education
The EdQual Research Programme team (pictured right) discussed the importance of improving the quality of education for disadvantaged learners in low-income contexts. While key learning outcomes may vary according to context, all presenters agreed on the importance of literacy and numeracy and key life skills including awareness and prevention of disease. Additionally, "a good quality of education needs to be inclusive, relevant and democratic", added Professor Leon Tilky of the University of Bristol. He further highlighted that a good quality of education depends on the interaction between policy, the school and the home and community environment. Processes that can improve the quality of education and learning outcomes include better child nutrition, an enabling home environment, a relevant and inclusive curriculum adjusted to the appropriate level of understanding of the language of instruction, national and local assessment, monitoring and evaluation of the quality of education and learning outcomes, and promotion of leadership and accountability, both at the school as well as the regional and national level.
Doctor George Oduro, Director of the Institute for Educational Planning and Administration, University of Cape Coast, Ghana, and Mike Fertig from University of Bath highlighted the import role of teacher and head-teacher leadership. Leadership training improves head-teachers' confidence and enables them to view themselves as facilitators to learning, allowing them to tap into their innovative potential. Greater flexibility and support at the regional and national levels are crucial to enable this needed transformation in primary schools.
John Clegg highlighted the important role of language in the education process. Research comparing class-room processes in lessons taught in English and in African native languages has shown that teachers use a wider range of teaching strategies when teaching in their native languages and students were less likely to speak, write or read in a non-native language. Textbooks in native languages are often unavailable and textbooks in English are often difficult to understand by both pupils and teachers alike. Teacher education should develop strategies that would allow teachers to support learners with low language of instruction abilities.

Policy and research recommendations
Professor Krishna Kumar, of Delhi University, described teacher training as an "invisible" element which needs to be prioritised. He said: "Poor quality training does not stimulate critical thinking. Teacher training cannot wait."Kumar also called for education to be tailored to the evolving markets in developing countries so students are better suited to work opportunities.
The required rigour and relevance of education research generated considerable discussion. Bourne commented on the overall lack of evidence and asked for better measurement of educational outcomes, especially in the early years of schooling. She said more investment is needed in metrics and spoke of DFID's focus on results. Suggestions made by Simon McGrath, of The International Journal of Educational Development, included more interdisciplinary research, both in terms of topic selection and methodology, and studies in a wider range of locations, including more non-English-speaking countries.

Leon Tikly

EdQual Presentations, compiled by Ned Morgan

Above all else EdQual presentations focused on the contextual nature of quality in education as well as the central role of teachers and teacher training. These themes remained constant even though the subject matter of presentations varied widely. In the introductory morning session Leon Tikly (pictured left) presented EdQuals framework for a quality education, highlighting the importance of the home and policy environments as vital conjuncts to the school learning environment. Leon was able to build on this in the course of the morning as the three RPCs separated out in order to present their own findings. As well as Leon's elaboration on EdQual's framework presentations were made by other members of the team. Dr Michèle Smith talked about determinants of primary school students' success in low income countries and Professor Sally Thomas presented on the benefits and enabling capacity of longitudinal datasets. Following discussion, Dr George Oduro and Mike Fertig spoke about the importance of school leadership for educational quality before John Clegg spoke on the importance of bilingual teaching strategies in sub-Saharan Africa. Alphonse Uworwabayeho and Paul Denly finished the morning session with an analysis of the use of ICT in Rwanda for teaching Mathematics and Science in Rwanda. Many of these themes were picked up again in the afternoon, complimented by new dynamics such as Jolly Rubagiza (an EdQual PhD candidate) and Anjum Halai's exploration of gender equity in quality education. The question of capacity building was also addressed in a round table discussion chaired by Dr Angeline Barrett.