How best to design, adapt, and scale education innovations to meet the needs of more children?

Happy children learning

There is much to reflect upon as 2020 comes to an end. We’ve been challenged to reimagine how to work, socialize, learn—and merely coexist—in the midst of a global pandemic. In the center of this disruption has been education. COVID-19 has laid bare the essential role that education plays in our lives—from providing essential psychosocial, health, and nutritional support; to preparing children and youth for a rapidly changing world with critical knowledge and skills; to providing a safe space that allows for parents to work. Education has taken its rightful center stage in 2020.

And now with a new year ahead of us, the mantra is to build back better. The disruption caused by the pandemic—and its far-reaching impact—requires large-scale, innovative education approaches that transform education systems to meet the needs of all children. But the question remains—how do we do so? How can we best harness what is working and adapt and bring to more communities? How can we continue to innovate and experiment in ways that address deeply rooted inequities and are sustained beyond short-term project funding cycles?

In an effort to contribute to these fundamental questions and concerns facing education systems around the world, the Center for Universal Education at Brookings is proud to be partnering with the Global Partnership for Education’s (GPE) Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX) to undertake joint action and complementary research to develop and mobilize new evidence and practical guidance on scaling in education, with a focus on low- and middle-income countries. Through this new project, known as Research on Scaling the Impact of Innovations in Education (ROSIE), CUE is collaborating with a subset of KIX-funded projects to contribute to building an actionable evidence base on sustainably and equitably scaling in education.

ROSIE’s approach builds upon CUE’s Millions Learning project, which identified key drivers of scaling in education around four broad themes:

  • Design. Improving learning at scale requires planning for scale at the outset. Key drivers include responding to local demand; ensuring cost-effective learning; maintaining flexible adaptation; and elevating teachers and leveraging community expertise.
  • Delivery. Delivering at scale requires a combination of political, technical, economic, social, and cultural strategies. Key drivers include building partnerships and alliances; cultivating champions and leaders at all levels; seizing windows of opportunity; utilizing appropriate technologies; and using a range of data to continuously drive improvements.
  • Financing. Financing should be based on accurate and transparent costing models that take into consideration quality, equity, and inclusion. How resources are allocated matters as much as absolute amounts. Key drivers include identifying flexible financing to build capacity; adopting a long-term approach that invests in core organizational capacities; and activating “middle-phase” financing.
  • Enabling environment. As critical as these three other aspects are, scaling does not happen in a vacuum. The environment in which a policy or program operates plays a critical role in facilitating or impeding the scaling process. Key drivers include a supportive policy environment and a culture of research and development.

An initial cohort of KIX projects will participate in ROSIE, bringing their vast expertise and scaling-related challenges and questions to explore. They will be joined by additional regional KIX projects in mid-2021.

One of our first steps will be to work with these KIX projects to collectively identify a set of common learning questions that ROSIE’s action research will collaboratively explore. These questions will address process-related issues—such as drivers, constraints, trade-offs, and incentives—of scaling and systems change of direct interest to the KIX projects, and relevant to the broader education community.

This will be complemented by additional research examining how national education decisionmakers approach scaling, including how they identify innovations to scale, what they see as some of the key drivers and impediments to scaling education innovations, and how innovations can be designed to be integrated into and sustained within existing government systems.

We look forward to regularly sharing research findings and practical insights throughout the three years of the project, drawing from meta-learnings across the KIX projects’ work and informed by the complementary research. At the end of the project, we will develop a suite of targeted resources to address common scaling challenges and specific scaling drivers and enabling conditions. We hope that ROSIE will make an important contribution to our collective understanding of how education innovations can be designed, adapted, and scaled to build stronger and more resilient education systems—leading to transformative change well beyond the immediate disruptions wrought by the pandemic.

Brookings is committed to quality, independence, and impact in all of its work. Activities supported by its donors reflect this commitment and the analysis and recommendations are solely determined by the scholar. This project is supported by of the Global Partnership for Education Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX), a joint partnership between the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of GPE, IDRC or its Board of Governors.​