Accelerating Progress towards the SDGs: A Resource List for Scaling Up Quality Education

Wondering how we can scale up progress towards achieving equitable learning opportunities? The Millions Learning team at the Center for Universal Education has compiled a list of recently-released scaling must-reads that offer tips and tools for increasing impact in global education.

In the wake of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly and the launch of two major education reports, the 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report  and the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity’s report on the Learning Generation, the urgent need to dramatically accelerate progress in order to reach the Sustainable Development Goals has never been more apparent. Despite significant progress, today an estimated quarter of a billion children and youth are out of school, and another 330 million are not learning basic literacy and numeracy despite being in school. Thus, scaling up effective education interventions remains a critical factor in ensuring that every child has access to quality learning and in achieving the ambitious education targets set forth in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Back in April 2016, the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution released the report, Millions Learning: Scaling up quality education in developing countries, with findings and recommendations for policymakers, practitioners, academics, and funders grappling with how to scale up quality learning opportunities for children and youth around the world. As we embark on the next phase of Millions Learning focused on advancing recommendations in the report—specifically the need for better learning and scaling data—we continue to review broader scaling literature. So, let’s see what’s trending in some of the most recent tools, blogs, and reports:

Innovating is the Easy Part” – Larry Cooley
Larry Cooley, President Emeritus of Management Systems International, highlights the importance of approaching innovations with a vision for scale, a realistic assessment of scaling challenges, and a plan for addressing potential scaling obstacles. In doing so, he presents a series of tools available for assessing an innovation’s scalability potential and designing an effective scaling strategy.

When Innovation Goes Wrong” – Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair
Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair, visiting scholars at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, explore the potential and limits of innovation to ultimately identify six “pathologies” that prevent organizations from successfully scaling up their innovations. Such pathologies, as worded by Seelos and Mair, include never getting started, pursuing too many bad ideas, stopping too early, stopping too late, scaling too little, and innovating again too soon.

Scaling Innovation Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint” – Ann Mei Chang
Ann Mei Chang, Executive Director of USAID’s Global Development Lab, offers three essential recommendations for a successful scaling process: building user demand for the innovation, finding a sustainable revenue stream, and realizing that those who created the innovation may not always be the best-equipped to take it to scale.

How do you scale up an effective education intervention? Iteratively, that’s how.” – David Evans
David Evans, Senior Economist at the World Bank, discusses the iterative nature of the scaling process and its potential for integration into government systems, either completely or partially, to help improve learning outcomes. In order to demonstrate this concept, Evans explores Pratham, India’s largest education NGO, and more specifically, a recent study by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and Pratham on scaling its “teaching at the right level” approach through testing, diagnosing challenges, retesting, and ultimately achieving significant improvements in literacy and numeracy through different delivery channels, including teachers, volunteers, and local government officials.

“Journeys to Scale” – Center for Education Innovations (to be released October 10)
A team from the Center for Education Innovations at Results for Development Institute tells the story of five education innovations—from Brazil, Ghana, Ethiopia, Peru, and Sudan—as they attempt to scale and ultimately improve accountability, access, quality and ultimately learning. Drawing from the experiences of these five innovations, which range from a play-based early childhood development program to a community-driven school accountability platform, priority recommendations for supporting the scaling of innovations emerge. 

A few key themes emerge from the above scaling resources, the first being the importance of planning for scale from the outset. That is to say, if scaling is the goal, it must be baked into plans from the start, which may include building up organizational capacity, securing sustainable funding, and planning for potential challenges. This idea is reinforced in the Millions Learning study as well, which finds that planning from the outset requires a clear vision of what the endgame is and a theory of change about the best way to get there in order to successfully achieve scale.

However, simply designing for scale does not guarantee large-scale impact. Implementation at large scale can be messy and complex and may require new expertise and capacity. For example, those who were involved in the initial design of the innovation may not always be the best-equipped to take the innovation to scale. Thus, it is vital that an organization remains flexible in order to prepare itself for the shifting demands of the scaling process.

Furthermore, scaling can take on many different forms and look different in various contexts. Regardless of the path to scale, it is clear that scaling does not follow a linear path but is an iterative learning process. While a first attempt to scale may fail, it is important to learn from the process and have space to iterate and evaluate once again. Therefore, it is vital to continuously monitor and evaluate efforts to scale to learn from mistakes and adjust to rapidly changing environments. This echoes our own recommendations in the Millions Learning report, which encourages a stronger culture of research and development in global education.

This scaling resources list is by no means exhaustive, but rather, a snapshot of some reading that we found helpful as we are developing plans for the next phase of Millions Learning. Given the need to collectively build up the state of knowledge around scaling in education, we welcome your feedback and recommendations of additional materials in the comments section below. Happy reading!

Jenny Perlman Robinson is a Nonresident Fellow with the Brookings Institution, Center for Universal Education, where her work focuses on improving quality education and learning for children and youth in developing countries at large-scale. She is the co-author of Millions Learning: Scaling up quality education in developing countries (Brookings Institution 2016) and the author of Global Compact on Learning: Taking action on education in developing countries (Brookings Institution 2011).

Kathryn Norris is a Project Assistant at the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution where she works on the Millions Learning project.

Priyanka Varma is a Research Assistant and Project Coordinator at the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution where she works on the Millions Learning project.

Photo Credits: WorldFish, Georgina Smith ; UN Photo/Cia Pak ; Larry Cooley ; Warchild Sudan

~ Jenny Perlman R...