This is the first blog post in a series reflecting on key scaling-related themes discussed at the global convening of the Millions Learning Real-time Scaling Labs held in July 2019 in Switzerland.
If there is one thing we have learned from the Center for Universal Education’s Millions Learning project over the past five years, it’s that scaling social change does not just happen automatically. Far from being guaranteed, scaling requires deliberate and strategic planning from the start, a willingness to learn and experiment throughout the process and flexibility to adapt, engagement from a wide variety of stakeholders, and an approach responsive to local needs and priorities.
Senior Research Analyst - Center for Universal Education
Last week, the Millions Learning project brought together nearly 30 representatives from the first cohort of Real-time Scaling Labs, an applied research project to learn from, document, and support education initiatives as they scale. The three-day workshop, hosted in Feusisberg, Switzerland by the Jacobs Foundation, assembled a diverse group of civil society leaders and senior government officials from Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, the Philippines, and Tanzania. The group planned for the ongoing expansion and sustainability of their labs, shared progress, and collectively reflected on common challenges.
CUE is partnering with the NGO Young 1ove, which works with the government of Botswana to adapt and scale the Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) remedial education approach that groups students according to learning level rather than age or grade. Young 1ove is working with UNICEF, the University of Botswana, the Ministry of Basic Education, and the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport, and Culture Development with the goal of reaching 80,000 learners by 2022. This lab brings together key stakeholders to collaboratively learn from and strengthen the adaptation, implementation, and expansion of TaRL in Botswana, as well as share key learnings with the broader TaRL community as other countries across Africa implement the approach.
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CUE is partnering with the Transforming Education in Cocoa Communities (TRECC) initiative to implement a Real-time Scaling Lab to learn from, support, and document the adaptation and scaling of education and early childhood development interventions in cocoa-growing communities in Côte d’Ivoire. This lab works closely with the Ivorian government, the cocoa and chocolate industry, and NGOs and social enterprises to collectively advance shared objectives that align with national education priorities. This initiative supports the development and scaling up of interventions that span parenting and early childhood development, primary education, and relevant technical and vocational training.
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CUE is partnering with INJAZ, a nonprofit Jordanian organization, to draw lessons from the adaptation and mainstreaming of an NGO-developed Financial Education Program (FEP) across the secondary school system in Jordan. The Ministry of Education, with support from the Central Bank of Jordan, commercial banks, and NGOs, is rolling out the FEP to improve the financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills of youth so that they can better participate in the national economy. The Real-time Scaling Lab documents and learns from efforts to mainstream financial education in all public, private, and refugee schools for grades 7 through 12.
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In partnership with the Temple University Infant and Child Laboratory, this Real-time Scaling Lab learns from, documents, and shares findings on a Philadelphia-wide initiative to transform everyday public spaces into learning opportunities to maximize the “80 percent” of time children spend outside of school. Playful Learning Landscapes looks at new designs, gathers evidence of impact, connects like-minded actors, and ultimately contributes to building a new field of theory and practice that blends the science of learning and innovative urban planning. The lab will capture how key stakeholders in Philadelphia unite around the common activity of supporting children’s development and learning through transforming city spaces and will share lessons learned both within and outside of Philadelphia.
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CUE is collaborating with the Teacher Professional Development at Scale (TPD@Scale) Coalition for the Global South, through direct engagement with the Coalition Secretariat, the NGO FIT-ED, to draw key insights and recommendations from the Philippine Department of Education’s scale-up of a blended TPD program for K-3 teachers in more than 36,000 public elementary schools across the country. Lessons learned inform the expansion of TPD programs in other countries that are part of the Coalition, and are shared with the broader international education community.
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In partnership with The Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED), and in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, this Real-time Scaling Lab supports the expansion of CAMFED's Learner Guide program across five new regions of Tanzania, with the longer-term goal of national integration. The program is designed to improve education outcomes among marginalized children while simultaneously opening new pathways for young women in the transition from school to the workforce. Young women who have graduated from secondary school sign up for an 18-month voluntary commitment to become “Learner Guides” in local secondary schools and obtain qualifications after their service, which can help them enter formal teacher training programs. Lessons learned from the scaling lab help reach more communities in Tanzania and inform future efforts to adapt and scale the Learner Guide program in other countries.
On paper each of these scaling labs has little in common—hailing from different countries across the globe, focusing on completely different education interventions, each at a different stage of scaling—and yet, despite this diversity, participants identified many shared scaling-related challenges and questions across their work and practical areas to learn from each other and problem-solve collectively.
During the workshop, an overarching theme that emerged was the importance of shifting from a project mentality to a systems change approach in scaling—with the aim of expanding impact and altering long-term processes and outcomes in a country, rather than just growing a particular intervention or organization. As part of this conversation, the group discussed the need to approach scaling “beyond ego.” As funders or implementing organizations, it is easy to “fall in love” with one’s project and become too invested in promoting a fixed solution. Participants discussed how the focus should be on long-term impact and being receptive to required adaptations. This includes recognizing what already exists in the system and looking for ways to build upon it. Ms. Devyani Pershad, head of international collaborations at Pratham, stressed this point when discussing implementing the Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) approach in new country contexts, sharing that TaRL is not replicated—it is adapted—with core aspects maintained and other aspects contextualized. Scaling “beyond ego” may mean a loss of control for the originating organization, which can be an uncomfortable prospect, but is essential to expanding and sustaining impact and moving beyond a project-focused approach.
Building on this point, another key theme that emerged during the discussion was the critical importance of focusing on the problem when it comes to scaling, not the solution. Ms. Rapelang Bogatsu, chief education officer at the Ministry of Basic Education in Botswana, underscored the need for local government actors to feel the urgency of a problem and the need for change, rather than the sense that others are pushing a prefabricated solution. For implementers, this means putting in the time to understand the local system and existing government priorities, including how the government conceives of the problem, in order to frame the scaling process as a direct response to existing concerns and policies. Dr. Leonard Akwilapo, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology in Tanzania, further emphasized this point, reminding the group that just as problems differ from context to context, so must solutions.
A third, related theme throughout the three days was the need for local champions that can drive the proposed change forward. Mr. Faustin Koffi, inspector general for administration and school life at the Ministry of National Education in Côte d’Ivoire and also scaling lab manager for the Ivoirian Real-time Scaling Lab, highlighted the importance of a champion, particularly in the Ministry of Education, who believes in the solution and who has the power to convene actors, build government commitment, and propel the scaling process forward. At the same time, participants recognized the risk of depending on one champion and the need to build support throughout all levels of the government to normalize a change.
This brief summary only scratches the surface of three days of illuminating and thought-provoking conversations. Over the coming weeks, we will publish a series of blogs authored by several participants that reflect on common scaling themes and questions emerging across the labs. As always, we welcome and invite feedback.