Education system strengthening across Asia: a systematic review of USAID activities and critical discussion [CIES 2023 Panel Presentation]

The purpose of this formal group panel presentation is to hold an in-depth discussion on USAID’s investments into system strengthening across Asia over the past decade and how these efforts are situated within the broader global move to focus more intentionally and coherently on education system strengthening. The panel will discuss a 2022 empirical research study (the USAID System Strengthening Review, hereafter “the Review”) conducted by two international research organizations for the USAID Asia Bureau which reviews USAID system strengthening work in 11 Asian countries. This Review offers a qualitative evidence-based analysis relevant to the field of comparative and international education (CIE) and analyzes new data collected from a desk review of relevant project documents, reports, and evaluations, key informant interviews, multi-stakeholder survey, and three deep-dive case studies in Nepal, Cambodia, and the Philippines. The group panel will include three presentations on different aspects of the Review and include discussant commentary and critique to elicit group and audience discussion. The first panel presentation discusses a theoretical framework drawn from the RISE Programme (Pritchett 2015 and Spivak 2021) and recent analysis from the Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education. The Review’s central research questions are guided by these broader global trends, as well as its own analysis framework developed specifically for this study, discussed in Presentation 3. Conclusions are drawn based on this framework, and the overall discussion in Presentations 2 and 3 considers the context of USAID programming in Asia and how new knowledge provides new insights.

Early Grade Reading and Mathematics Initiative: KG Data for Decision-Making: Phase II National Survey of Families

The Kingdom of Jordan’s Human Resource Development (HRD) Strategy mandates the universal provision of kindergarten (KG2) by 2025. The HRD Strategy emphasizes using partnerships between the Ministry of Education (MoE) and other governmental and nongovernmental actors to assure expanded provision of kindergarten services. The strategy further emphasizes the need to improve the quality of kindergarten services, while reaching every child. To fully understand how the MoE can increase access, improve quality, and assure equitable provision of KG1 services, more accurate information is needed, especially about other, as yet unrecognized service providers who may be offering KG or KG-similar services to five-year-old children. The MoE needs a more complete picture of the current provision of KG2 to determine the best strategy to achieve the HRD goal that every child in Jordan receives a high-quality kindergarten experience.

Doing Reform Differently: Combining Rigor and Practicality in Implementation and Evaluation of System Reforms

This paper brings together two promising intellectual trends in development: Doing Development Differently (DDD), and whole-system reform. In addition, it provides a framework for evaluating system reforms, as rigorously as possible. This paper adapts some concepts from the paper “A Practical Approach to In-Country Systems Research” written for the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Programme. This version turns more toward the Doing Development Differently movement rather than education systems reform. The original paper was presented at the first RISE conference in Washington, DC, June 18–19, 2015.

Strengthening institutional capacity to produce learning at scale: Case studies from Jordan, Malawi, Nepal, and Uganda

Case studies of RTI's work on strengthening institutional capacity in Nepal, Jordan, Malawi, and Uganda focusing on three core functions: (1) setting and communicating expectations; (2) monitoring against expectations; (3) providing targeted support to struggling schools.

System Supports for Effective Large-Scale Reading Interventions (Learning at Scale)

Learning outcomes are low and instruction is poor in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). These shortcomings are particularly concerning given the substantial learning loss due to COVID-19 from which many systems are suffering. The Learning at Scale study identified eight of the most effective large-scale education programs in LMICs and now is examining what factors contribute to successful improvements in learning outcomes at scale (see list of programs on last page of this brief). These programs were selected based on their demonstrated gains in reading outcomes at-scale, from either midline or endline impact evaluations. The study addresses three overarching research questions, focused on understanding (1) the components of instructional practices (Brief 1), (2) instructional supports (Brief 2), and (3) system supports (Brief 3) that lead to effective instruction. This brief focuses specifically on system supports. It addresses the following research question: What system supports are required to deliver effective training and support to teachers and to promote effective classroom practices?

Journey to Self-Reliance: Case Study of Early Grade Reading Assessments in the Philippines

Over the course of four years (ending in 2016), the Department of Education (DepEd) in the Philippines grew increasingly self-sufficient at managing all aspects of early grade reading assessments (EGRAs). As DepEd’s capacity developed over time, the role of the technical assistance provided through the Education Data for Decision Making project (EdData II) shifted, diminished, and then disappeared altogether. International development professionals sometimes cite the cliché, “If we were truly successful, we would be working ourselves out of a job.” That sentiment now informs USAID’s goal to help each country on a journey to self-reliance. The EdData II project’s work in the Philippines provides some examples of what such a journey might include.

Journey to Self-Reliance: Case Study of Capacity Development in Cambodia

What conditions make it possible to accomplish significant capacity development without running any workshops, without requiring any explicit project deliverables, and with only three short-term technical assistance trips over the course of 19 months? The All Children Reading–Cambodia Activity has been supporting the Education Quality Assurance Department (EQAD) of the education ministry in Cambodia since February 2017. An EQAD staffer, asked about the assistance, said, “The value of the support …is more than I can express… Through collaboration with [the project], EQAD has developed remarkably.” This case study examines how a different approach to providing technical assistance helped EQAD make those “remarkable” strides toward self-reliance.

Increasing and Optimizing Time for Classroom Instruction in Early Grade Reading and Writing in Modern Standard Arabic

Since 2014, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE) has worked closely with USAID to advance educational initiatives. The results from two major early grade-reading assessments and a study conducted to measure the amount of classroom time allocated to foundational reading instruction indicate the critical need to increase and optimize the amount of instructional time during the school day. This policy brief documents the research process and findings which have led to the recommendation to increase and optimize instruction time allocated for MSA instruction.

Cambodia, Student Performance in Early Literacy: Baseline Report

This report presents the results of a baseline assessment of upper preschool and grade 1 student performance in pre-literacy and early grade reading. The assessment included samples drawn from three provinces in Cambodia: Kampong Thom, Siem Reap, and Battambang (control). The results will serve as a baseline for comparing the impact of early grade reading interventions being implemented in Kampong Thom and Siem Reap. The data reveal lower than expected levels of oral language ability among students in upper pre-school, especially given that Khmer is the mother tongue for nearly all students in the areas covered. For example, students responded correctly to only 3 out of 5 questions concerning a short passage that had been read to them. And in terms of their pre-literacy skills, when shown the letters they were supposed to learn in upper pre-school, students identified them with only 28% accuracy. Performance of grade 1 students on early literacy skills was also much lower than should be expected for the period during which the test was administered. For example, grade 1 students who were almost three-quarters of the way through the school year could only correctly identify letters 34% of the time and were identifying fewer than 10 letters per minute. When simpler forms of consonants and vowels were tested separately, grade 1 students performed better, but still correctly identified letters with less than 50% accuracy. Reading of familiar words in isolation or reading of a short grade-level passage were essentially non-existent.

Jordan Kindergarten Data for Decision Making

This report presents findings of a national survey of parents regarding enrollment in preprimary education (kindergarten) in Jordan. The findings are surprising because they suggest that the real enrollment rate is significantly higher than what government statistics indicate. The discrepancy seems to be due to a high level of kindergarten provision from private sector and civil society actors who are not licensed by the Ministry of Education.