Uniting for education systems transformation so children and young people can build skills that matter

April 15, 2024

  • Currently, education systems often fall short in developing children into individuals with the skills needed to thrive in the 21st century.
  • The Knowing-Doing Network Leadership Coalition is engaging in in-depth research into education systems transformation around the world to ensure that every child has the best start in life.
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A national early learning network in South Africa, an organization in India that helps governments embed socioemotional learning in curricula, and another organization in Peru that identifies and develops local talent into education leaders – what do these three groups have in common? They are all deeply committed to ensuring that the children they directly or indirectly serve receive sustained and equitable access to a rich array of skills required in the 21st century. They want children to deepen their academic competencies, become more creative thinkers, embrace collaboration, display high levels of emotional intelligence, exhibit genuine appreciation for diversity, and understand how to engage with new forms of technology and protect nature. They are all committed to ensuring that children have access to a broad range of skills required for thriving, and that education systems are prepared to offer all children this opportunity.

These three organizations – SmartStart Early Learning in South Africa, Dream-A-Dream in India, and Enseña Peru -together with another seven drawn from Africa, Latin America, and South Asia, are partnering with the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution to form the Knowing-Doing Network Leadership Coalition (KDNLC). Together we are digging deep into the concept of education systems transformation, deconstructing different education systems and structures, how policies and policymaking enable or inhibit the development of a broad range of skills, and the complex web of relationships that power education policies. The KDNLC is the steering wheel of a larger, growing global network-of-networks called the Knowing-Doing Network (KDN), whose mission is to support the transformation of education systems so that children can be well-prepared to thrive in an ever-changing world.

After three virtual meetings and several one-on-one conversations, the KDNLC convened for the first time in-person in Nairobi, Kenya in January 2024 for four days spent co-creating the norms, values, priorities, raison d’etre, and contextual realities of this new network to ensure that the call of the KDN is based on shared trust and a common culture. The key concepts of systems transformation and a breadth of skills took center stage via a set of rich discussions that drew heavily on the lived experience of KDNLC partners.

But why transform education systems?

Education is a process that results in the development of the whole person. At the primary level, education is considered a fundamental human right, guaranteed by law. All 191 members countries of the United Nations have signed up to try and achieve the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Of the 169 targets associated with the goals, 10 are directly focused on the education sector, and the priorities range from early childhood to decent work and global citizenship.

The promise governments and nonstate providers make to parents and caregivers when they enroll their children and wards in the schooling system is that they will receive knowledge, skills, and competencies to enable them to succeed in life. While definitions of success vary, there are markers of educational success that are universal, including those enshrined in SDG 4 on Education. However, despite good intentions and best efforts, education systems often fall short in developing whole individuals and fail to deliver at the levels required to build young citizens who are prepared to thrive in a sustainable world. Consequently, youth disengagement from education systems is a growing concern globally. As members of the KDNLC are finding in their countries, there is an urgent need to reflect on the most important outcomes of the educational process and whether jurisdictions are prepared to foster these outcomes equitably.

This commentary is the introduction to a series of articles that will explore (1) the results that education systems are currently producing, highlighting the need for a new, transformational paradigm to policy planning and implementation, (2) the role of a mission-driven coalition in spotlighting the contextual realities associated with systems transformation, and (3) some of our emerging reflections as a network that is striving to support educational ecosystems so they can deliver the skills that have been promised to children and young people. In the next piece, we will explore the results that current education systems are delivering to learners in the spheres of access to educational opportunity, literacy and numeracy skills, socioemotional learning, mental health, tolerance, artificial intelligence, and information.