Partnerships, social capital, and practice-oriented research: Sharing lessons from the scaling experiences of Tanzania and Côte d’Ivoire

Nyangatom and toposa tribe children at school, Omo valley, Kangate, Ethiopia.NO USE FRANCE

“If we’re going to make a difference for peace and prosperity around the world and truly invest in the future of our planet, we need to move beyond each trying to solve a small corner of this problem on our own. Truly working together towards transformative change, learning from, and building on each other’s experiences, following the evidence to inform decisions, and leveraging diverse voices and perspectives will help to ensure millions more children have access to quality education.”


– Julia Gillard, CUE Distinguished Nonresident Senior Fellow, excerpt from keynote address during the “How do we expand and sustain quality learning for children and youth? Scaling lessons from Côte d’Ivoire and Tanzania” event

Even before COVID-19 left as many as 1.6 billion students out of school in early 2020, millions of children and youth around the world were not receiving quality education. Often, it is the poorest and most marginalized children who are most affected. Many innovations have been developed to address these challenges and improve learning outcomes for all children. However, the vast majority of these innovations still reach only a small fraction of the children and youth in need. This raises a key question—how do we scale and sustain those initiatives that are most effective at improving learning for all?

For the past few years, the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at Brookings has been investigating efforts around the world to scale and sustain evidence-based initiatives leading to large-scale improvements in children’s learning. CUE has been implementing a series of Real-time Scaling Labs (RTSLs), in partnership with local institutions in several countries, to generate more evidence as well as provide practical recommendations for scaling in global education. These complementary goals encourage stronger links between research and practice. The RTSL is not a physical space but rather a process by which collaborators come together to  document, learn from, and support their various efforts to scale and sustain the impact of an initiative in an ongoing manner.

On December 10, 2021, CUE held a bilingual global event to launch reports from two of the RTSLs: “Improving learning and life skills for marginalized children: Scaling the Learner Guide Program in Tanzania” and “Improving children’s reading and math at large scale in Côte d’Ivoire: The story of scaling PEC” (also available in French). The event  provided an opportunity to discuss common findings and share transferrable lessons from the two cases. Julia Gillard, former prime minister of Australia and distinguished senior fellow at CUE, opened the event with keynote remarks. This was followed by CUE Senior Fellow Jenny Perlman Robinson’s brief presentation on key findings (summarized in Figure 1 below).

Following the presentation, Jenny Perlman Robinson moderated a discussion among Barbara Chilangwa, scaling lab manager in Tanzania and executive advisor with CAMFED Zambia, and Faustin Koffi, scaling lab manager and inspector general with the Ministry of National Education and Literacy in Côte d’Ivoire, as well as CUE Nonresident Senior Fellow Larry Cooley and Executive Director of BRAC Bangladesh Asif Saleh, to reflect on lessons learned across both labs and discuss how the findings might inform other efforts to scale impact in education.

Figure 1

Key themes from Tanzania and Cote d'Ivoire scaling case studies

The panelists received many questions from participants both before and during the event. Some of the broader questions and panelists’ thematic responses are shared here:

How can scaling models take into account local needs and partner co-creation?

The panelists received several questions related to local demand for scaling an innovation, particularly in low-resource contexts. In response, the panelists reflected on the significant role that social capital plays in the scaling process. Barbara Chilangwa explained how in the Learner Guide Program in Tanzania, the young women who serve as Learner Guides become role models for their communities. Their local knowledge and respected status in the community are core factors in the program’s success. Asif Saleh expanded on the importance of working with local communities from the very beginning by explaining how BRAC consults communities on the timing, structure, and locations of schools when designing their one-room school model to ensure the schools met community needs.

How can we sustainably embed success factors for quality learning into education systems?

Building on the theme of partnerships, Larry Cooley reflected on the vital role of intermediaries—or “third parties”—that connect innovators and large-scale education deliverers and help facilitate effective scaling. According to his estimates, only about 5 percent of proven innovations make it to scale. Having an effective innovation is insufficient; going to scale also requires bringing together all relevant stakeholders, identifying necessary funding, and facilitating the process of change management.

Faustin Koffi elaborated on the role of intermediaries by explaining how the RTSL in Côte d’Ivoire included representatives from different government departments as well as NGOs, international organizations, industries, unions, and community representatives. By creating a space for each stakeholder to speak up and engage in the scaling process, the lab facilitated exchanges that allowed each member to identify their unique role in supporting schools.

How can lessons be translated globally?

Another key theme raised was the need for research to serve practical purposes and support work on the ground. Both scaling lab managers reflected on how the RTSL process allowed them to investigate scaling questions in real-time and make in-the-moment decisions to inform implementation and next steps. In this vein, Mr. Saleh reflected on the increased need for practice-oriented research that can directly inform implementation efforts—especially during unexpected events such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his closing remarks, Senior Fellow Brad Olsen considered how the experiences in Tanzania and Côte d’Ivoire illustrate the need for nontraditional, more design-based research; a circular process of continual adaptation based on collecting and reflecting on evidence; and the centrality of including local communities and adapting the innovation to local contexts when scaling education initiatives.

The lessons from these two case studies will hopefully continue to inform efforts to expand and deepen the impact of these two initiatives, as well as inform other global efforts to improve learning outcomes for more children and young people. New reports will be released from other RTSLs in the years ahead, and a comprehensive cross-analysis across all the labs will be forthcoming. In the meantime, we continue to work alongside our partners to learn in real time about what it takes to expand, deepen, and sustain the impact of education initiatives in order to improve learning outcomes for millions of children around the world.

Click here to learn more about the Millions Learning Real-time Scaling Labs  or to watch the full event in English or French.