Why non-state education and why CEI?

Nicholas Burnett

Nicholas Burnett, the Managing Director for Education at Results for Development Institute, leads the Center for Education Innovations.

I was in Ghana earlier this year, where as many as two-thirds of the children living in slum areas outside the capital of Accra are estimated to attend private schools, quite a few of which I visited.  Though some think it unfortunate, the poor are increasingly enrolling in non-state schools in Africa and in South Asia, as they have for many decades in Latin America.  These non-state schools include those run by non-government organizations and those owned and operated by private proprietors.

Why do I say some think it unfortunate? We believe far too many people come to the table with preconceived notions about what works and what doesn’t work in education, all too often based on labels such as “public” and “private,” and too rarely based on evidence and results. But, as we move toward 2015 with the Education for All and Millennium Development goals clearly not going to be met, in terms of either enrolment or quality, it is time to move beyond ideology and focus pragmatically on harnessing all parts of the education system and on what works in practice.

So Results for Development (R4D) has initiated the Center for Education Innovations (CEI) in order to illuminate this rapidly growing phenomenon.  In doing this, we don’t mean to imply that non-state education is intrinsically better -- or worse -- than public sector education. We also don’t mean to imply that it’s flawless; indeed there is much that needs to be improved within the non-state education sector. But the global community needs to be pragmatic: the poor’s need for access to quality education in developing countries is so great that every resource must be used that has the potential to improve on the current situation.  Remember that there are still some 61 million children of primary school age who can’t even go to school, missing out on their individual rights while their economies grow more slowly than they would if they were educated.  Remember that far, far too many of those who do go to school don’t even become literate and numerate, and so fail to achieve their potential in their economies and as engaged citizens.  Non-state schools aren’t all of the answer to these problems, of course, but they do have the potential to be an important part of the answer, in themselves and because they can generate innovations that can literally transform education if adopted more generally.

This pragmatism leads us to recognize that non-state education is rapidly growing, especially for poor children, and that it is here to stay; that systematic knowledge is urgently needed about it; and that it needs to be as effective as possible in meeting the needs of poor children and families. We also recognize that non-state education’s greater flexibility to try out new ideas is frequently, but of course not always, more likely to generate education innovations than are traditional public schools, and that these innovations are very often directly adaptable to the public sector. Our ultimate goal is to promote the uptake of these promising education and training models serving the poor, fostering practical solutions to current and future education challenges.

Alashanek ya BaladyMany of these solutions already exist, but quality information on them not widely available. In Egypt, for example, Alashanek ya Balady, a program that started as a student association, works with private companies and public organizations to provide young people with the training and skills they need most to find work in the job market.  In West Africa, the Ghana Reads program partners with technology innovators and government to enhance learning by providing rural schools and their teachers with low-cost digital libraries and with teaching coaches. 

We are not alone in recognizing all this; our initial interactions with you, the users of CEI, have revealed an even stronger thirst for objective and neutral information than even we expected.  You are people who run non-state programs, you are funders of such programs, you are policymakers concerned with improving education, and you are researchers.  You are all important to us.
Ghana ReadsSo we have several purposes in launching CEI, corresponding to CEI’s three core activities: CEI identifies, analyzes and connects.  The first, identify, is the most obvious: to compile and make available as much information as possible about non-state programs in education and training at all levels, from preschool to vocational training and higher education.  To do this we are building a global network of hubs.  Initially these cover India, East Africa and South Africa and we are ourselves also reaching out directly to other regions, though we expect to add further hubs as CEI develops.  With the support of these hubs, we have created the core of CEI: this freely accessible online platform where all the information is centralized.  The platform includes a Programs Database of non-state programs, a Research & Evidence Library about them, and will over time also include a series of forums devoted to particular user groups or to specific topics.  Initially, there is a Funders Platform for organizations supporting non-state education efforts with finance; and we already have plans to include forums on girls’ education and on low-cost private schools, in conjunction with other organizations.
As we develop more information, we will also start to generate analysis based on the programs documented in the database, analysis being the second of CEI’s core activities.  And we won’t be alone in that – we anticipate that researchers will use our data for their own analyses, all of which can be posted on our Research & Evidence Library.
Our third core activity is to connect, to connect programs with each other, to connect programs to funders, to connect policymakers to each other and to programs, and generally to build a global community of those involved in and interested in non-state education for the poor.  Some of this connecting will be online; much will also be driven by our hubs and take place at country and regional level.  All will contribute to greater knowledge of the non-state sector and to ways of better harnessing it to help meet the education challenges of the future.
These activities are the ones we have heard from you to be the most important.  But that may change, so it is crucial that you tell us what you need.  This is not R4D’s CEI; it is your CEI, that we have the privilege of hosting.  But it is for your use.  So send us your thoughts, tell us how you find it, suggest what you need that is not available, and of course let us know about anything we are doing that you don’t find useful.  Poor children in developing countries, including those I met earlier this year in non-state schools in Ghana, have the same right to education as the rest of us, laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.  We are committed to helping you reach and serve them by shedding light on non-state education.
Listen to Nicholas Burnett outline CEI's vision in an interview with VOA Africa's Kim Lewis.
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We've learnt with great appreciation of your efforts in making the unprivileged Kenyans to gain quality education.We say kudos and may you continue the same efforts to other Kenyans living in slum areas like Mathare valley in Nairobi which are in dare need of support.

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