Innovative Education Sector Policies and Programs in Africa and the Middle East
Education is a bedrock of development, at any level of a society that you want to assess or examine…and the level of education determines the ability of people to live, work, and have a good quality of life. This is true from a societal and economic perspective. The need to find better ways to educate people in a country has spurred the development and implementation of policies and programs that aim to improve educational outcomes. This article highlights five of such policies/programs from countries in Africa and the Middle East.
Pre-Primary Enrollment in the UAE
The United Arab Emirates committed to improving pre-primary education (or schooling?) enrollment by 2021. While compulsory education starts at age 6 in the UAE, the government decided to drive efforts to improve enrolment before primary school. Depending on where you are from, this may or may not seem new or important, but it is.
Not all countries focus on ensuring school enrolment at this early stage- which is important for establishing solid foundations for a child’s physical, emotional, and social well-being. According to UNICEF, the early years of a child’s life build the basis for lifelong growth, and children who fall behind in these early years often never catch up with their peers, leaving them more likely to drop out of school and fail to reach their full potential. UNICEF data also shows that, as of 2019, over 175 million children between the ages of 3–5 years are out of school. During that same time, the gross enrollment ratio of pre-primary school students in the UAE was 94%, surpassing the GCC average of 34%.
Egypt’s Education Reform 2.0
In 2018, Egypt commenced an education sector reform that focused on K-12 education (primary to secondary education). The reform has five key components:
- A new multidisciplinary curriculum;
- Technology integration;
- School management;
- Continuous Professional Development (CPD);
- Access and infrastructure; and
- Reformed assessment.
The reform agenda was designed to align with the country’s 2030 Strategic Vision for Social and Economic Change, which has Education and Training as a key pillars. By focusing on transforming the quality of K-12 education, it is hoping to put the country on par with global standards and better position itself in the world economy.
Through the 5 key components, the reform aims to create an education system that fosters critical thinking, knowledge-based inquiry, and lifelong learning.
Edu 2.0 is meant to be fully integrated into the educational system by 2030. It was designed as an all-encompassing program and transforming education in the country is taking shape through key initiatives which include:
- Building schools with early education programs in students villages
- Remedial programs for students in grades 4–9 who have fallen behind their peers
- Teaching primary school-aged children and their mothers at home in order to promote learning at home and in school
- Going beyond testing memorization to testing understanding in students
- Retraining and relicensing teachers so their skills match education reform and new standards
- Digitizing education resources and providing EdTech capabilities to classrooms
- Formal and informal community-based education for refugee children in the country.
“The new survival skills — effective communication, curiosity, and critical-thinking skills — “are no longer skills that only the elites in a society must muster; they are essential survival skills for all of us.” — Yong Zhao, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students
Co-operative Education Schemes
Tunisia and Morocco are locations for a series of pilot programs that focus on how cooperative education schemes that are delivered with employers can improve learning and make students more employable and valuable in the world of work. In Tunisia, the program trains students in business processes and information technology in order to drive outsourcing opportunities in the country. In Morocco, the Office Cherifien des Phosphates works to retrain about 15 000 youths through cooperative education.
The motivation behind these kinds of programs is founded on the discrepancies between the real-world needs of organizations and the level of skills and knowledge that students finishing formal education have. They, therefore, involve organizational partners in order to drive skill and knowledge match. Such schemes also enable employers to understand the strengths and gaps of the labor force and adapt its training and hiring practices to them. Conclusively, cooperative education schemes should make the transition from school to work easier.
Incentives are an important part of work culture. However, they are not ubiquitous across sectors or even organizations. They have been proven to improve employee performance and by implication, organizational performance. Traditionally, they are dominant in business contexts where you can draw a straight line from employee performance to different measures of business performance, such as sales and profits.
In education, pay-for-performance programs have been introduced, especially in primary schools. These are incentive-based programs where teachers whose students perform at or above a set bar are rewarded. It is meant to encourage innovative thinking and pedagogy amongst instructors. One of the challenges often identified with education in Africa is compensation/remuneration for teachers. Beyond paying teachers better, programs like this are driven by a belief that incentivizing better performance can create even better results.
In one study in Tanzania, performance-based bonuses to teachers had a positive impact on student learning in only one of the two tests administered, but when those bonuses were coupled with school grants, students performed consistently better in both tests and across all subjects (Mbiti et al., 2019). These programs have also been implemented in other countries like Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. Incentives have also been used as a way to boost the recruitment of teachers into posts that have not usually been attractive, either because of location or performance history.
“The first step in teaching students to innovate is making sure that educators have opportunities to be innovators themselves.” — Suzie Boss, Bringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World
School Feeding…For access and learning
From a randomized evaluation of Ghana’s nationwide school feeding program, Aurino et al. (2019) found gains in test scores as a result of school feeding, with particularly large gains for girls and for children from the poorest households. In rural Senegal, Azomahou et al. (2019) use a randomized design to find gains in both enrollment and test scores from the provision of school meals, as do Diagne et al. (2014) in an earlier evaluation of the same program…
The MD of Gumi says something often:
“Whatever you are selling in countries like Nigeria, food is most likely your biggest competitor.”
What does this mean?
In countries where the majority of households are low-income, essential needs like food are incontestably at the top of spending priorities. Other things simply do not come as close. The short-term need of getting fed today overshadows a long-term seemingly distant benefit of spending on schooling.
In countries like this, making public schooling free was discovered not enough in relation to the kinds of results education reformers were aiming to see. Introducing school feeding programs has been a strategic way to encourage parents to enroll their children and keep them in school by addressing the problem of hunger. It can also improve nutrition amongst children, as an added benefit to getting them educated.
The plan does not necessarily equal execution or expected results, as you are probably aware. There are different challenges that come up in the policy/program cycle that makes this true. The above cases, and many others not covered in the article, have had both successes, failures, enablers, and challenge(r)s. The point of highlighting them is not to say they are perfect but to show that innovation in education is non-negotiable, and it is infinitely better to try, learn, and possibly succeed than to leave things as they are.
From May to August 2022, our work at Gumi was focused on enabling and driving innovation in education. You can find out what this means and the thinking behind it in our Theme Book. You can also discover how that went and what is next for us in our Roundup of a Third of Education.