Making science work for development

Education systems research in developing countries: the role for research funders

1 August 2013

In Western Kenya putting additional teachers on temporary contracts in public schools significantly raised pupils’ score in maths and English (as one would hope and expect). However, when this same intervention was scaled up to the whole of Kenya, a fascinating disparity emerged: teachers delivered through an NGO drove improvements in educational outcomes, but where the Ministry of Education implemented a seemingly identical program, there was zero impact. Deeper investigation into what had gone so wrong highlighted interference from vested interest groups, including a teachers’ strike affecting public schools.

This case study illustrates beautifully the need to think about education holistically, looking at the institutions that comprise the system and the political economy, as well as the sheer number of teachers or textbooks. Recognising this, and that the evidence base underlying systemic interventions is currently surprisingly thin, ESRC and DFID have decided to scope a research programme in education systems for international development.

The two funders approached the UKCDS Secretariat, and together the three organisations designed and ran a workshop on 21 June to help scope the call. The workshop brought together academics to discuss suspected major barriers to better education systems research (conceptual models, and data and methodologies), and also looked at opportunities for learning between health systems research and education systems research.

The workshop report is available here and the UKCDS Secretariat are looking to continue working in this exciting area, helping ESRC and DFID to design a call.

  • Education systems