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Education Plus Development

Planning for scale: The Education Scalability Checklist

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Editor's Note:

This blog is the first in a series of education scaling-related resources.

Given the mismatch between massive educational challenges and resources that are stretched paper thin, it is essential to make the most out of every dollar invested by parents, schools, NGOs, and governments. This requires a sound understanding of impact—how effective an intervention is—not only in the aggregate, but in a variety of contexts and for a range of audiences, including the most marginalized. Efficacy alone, however, won’t tell us whether the intervention can scale to address the magnitude of challenges faced, nor does it indicate whether the intervention can be sustained. The education field is littered with impactful efforts that, at best, remain islands of excellence and, at worst, cease to exist.

To support governments, funders, and NGOs in identifying and overcoming common barriers to the large-scale implementation of effective initiatives, in 2006 Management Systems International (MSI, a Tetra Tech Company) developed a practical, user-friendly checklist to assess how easy or difficult it would be for an initiative to scale. Over the past 15 years, this checklist has been frequently updated and applied in more than 40 countries around the world. The tool is sector agnostic—meant to be useful for those working in agriculture, health, nutrition, and other fields. But while some scaling-related challenges are universal across contexts and fields, there are some factors and hurdles unique to education.

A growing body of scale-up literature focused on the education sector highlights two main challenges. First, education is a highly variable, human-centric, and complex endeavor. The many individual and contextual factors that impact learning do not make it easy for schools and teachers to adapt effective practices from elsewhere to their own settings. Successful scaling depends on striking the right balance between fit with the context, fidelity to a well-structured set of design principles and practices, and flexibility so users can adapt the initiative to their own needs. Additionally, sustaining and institutionalizing an education initiative relies heavily on decisions and system capacity of governments. A change in leadership at the local or national level can be enough to overturn a carefully tested and applied solution. In that respect, successful scaling also depends on building the institutional capacity of an education system itself, so that front-line implementers such as teachers and school leaders are enabled and supported to take on board new approaches.

The newly launched Education Scalability Checklist (ESC) is meant to help determine the ease of scaling a particular education initiative—not as a one-off evaluative exercise but as a dynamic diagnostic tool to help identify areas where an initiative might require further consideration and adaptations in order to increase the likelihood of scaling.

Last year, VVOB – education for development embarked on a consultative process to adapt the MSI Scalability Checklist to the education sector, along with Brookings, Educate!, MSI, Pratham, and STiR Education. Similar to its predecessor, the newly launched Education Scalability Checklist (ESC) is meant to help determine the ease of scaling a particular education initiative—not as a one-off evaluative exercise but as a dynamic diagnostic tool to help identify areas where an initiative might require further consideration and adaptations in order to increase the likelihood of scaling. Ideally, the ESC will be used first to guide the initial design of new education initiatives and then to persistently drive forward the scaling process. As the authors write, “It is first and foremost meant to be a planning instrument.” While the tool is concerned with the ease of scaling, it does not look at the desirability or appropriateness of scaling and, therefore, should be used in conjunction with other metrics and not as the sole decisionmaking tool for education investments.

The ESC is designed for practitioners, governments, and funders who are interested in supporting efforts to move a particular education initiative to larger scale. Its simplicity and clear instructions allow for its use without external guidance or expert support, and the authors created a companion user guide that provides further guidance on the tool. In the coming months, the ESC will be complemented by additional scaling-related tools and resources coming out of the Millions Learning Real-time Scaling Labs, as well as an updated scaling-up toolkit from MSI.

To address the learning crisis around the world, it is essential to understand what does and does not work and why. Just as critical, however, is knowing how to put these new insights and knowledge into practice and to sustain them at scale. The ESC and user guide are part of an important and growing trend in the discipline of scaling to translate conceptual and empirical research into practical and actionable guidance.

For more information on the ESC and upcoming webinars to learn more about the tool, please contact ProgrammeDirector@vvob.org.

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