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UKFIET 2017 conference page

Posted on 15 September 2017

The conference had a central theme of ‘Learning and Teaching for Sustainable Development: Curriculum, Cognition and Context’.

UKFIET, The Education and Development Forum, provides a proactive forum for universities, non-governmental organisations, consultancy groups and professional associations to share ideas, knowledge and expertise. John Martin, our education technical director, is a member of the Executive Committee.

Cambridge Education was a lead sponsor of the conference and our colleagues and project partners took part in 16 sessions and talks, highlighting some of our work worldwide and discussing key education issues such as teacher development, girls' education, and delivering sustainable programmes.

Presentations and materials from the conference sessions are now available on the UKFIET website

Delivery approach: yes or no?

Posted on 06 September 2017

Delivery units look like the holy grail of development: political will combined with technical focus. Indeed, they can work extremely well, especially where the focus is on technically straightforward, measurable priorities such as teacher attendance, student attendance or facilities construction.

A unit may also be an appropriate intervention to improve an education system or a specific issue from ‘poor’ to ‘adequate’. However, please don’t believe anyone who sells a unit as a silver bullet solution for transformational change across an education system. In my experience, they get the best results in combination with a wider set of interventions to bring about performance improvement.

Of course, delivery systems vary considerably by sector and country. Bear in mind that there is no one ‘ideal structure’ for a unit. Context is key. A heavily populated, centralised country like Malaysia will require a different approach to a vast, decentralised nation like Tanzania. Local innovation is often more effective than a top-down technocratic solution.

Act with humility

Rather than wield the big stick over the civil service, the unit’s role is to add value by supporting interventions where performance is off-track. It’s worth remembering that the unit itself does not deliver. Instead, it plays a role in supporting the system to deliver. You must remain self-critical and keep a close connection with frontline workers when analysing problems and developing solutions.

There are some genuine caveats that come with a delivery unit. They can bring a preoccupation with structure over substance. They can create parallel structures, systems and processes. They risk focusing on what’s easily measurable in the short term rather than what’s genuinely important in the long term. Unscrupulous governments will always find ways to pervert or manipulate them to suit their own interests. In the same way that a caterpillar can make itself look poisonous to a hungry bird, those ministries go through the right motions, but nothing ever changes.

Nevertheless, they can provide valuable cut-through and rapid progress. To keep control of the outcomes, it’s important to keep sight of the unit’s basic principles. Focus on a small number of things. Set up a direct line to the frontline. See the world through the eyes of individual citizens rather than government financiers. Get evidence and resources flowing both ways.

A few years ago, I might have given a resounding thumbs-up for delivery units. But now, my response is more circumspect. The first step should always be to look at existing structures. If you can embed what you want to achieve as part of what you’re doing already, then you don’t need a delivery unit. If you can’t, then a unit is perhaps the right call. I’ve seen talented people in government use them to improve delivery and make a massive difference to communities. But it won’t happen without genuine political will.

Has the delivery approach delivered?

Posted on 01 September 2017

In recent years there has been growing interest in looking beyond the formulation of best practice and policies, to focus on implementation and ‘getting things done’ using a set of ideas and structures called the ‘Delivery Approach’.

Tanzania’s Big Results Now! (BRN) Education was a transformational government led programme initiated in 2013 and which sought to apply the Delivery Approach to adopt learning orientated education reforms, to bring about dramatic improvements in examinations results across Tanzania’s 20,000 public schools. Complex, politically sensitive education reforms were proposed, particularly around enabling and motivating teachers and the use of accountability measures derived from high stake examinations and learning assessments.

This paper considers the extent to which BRN Education adhered to the principles of successful delivery and its sustainable impact on quality and access at national scale and identifies important lessons regarding the application of education system performance management through country-led (rather than donor-driven) reform programmes. It considers limitations in wholesale export of prescriptive educational reforms, and the need for local inclusive and politically grounded solutions that tackle the main barriers to equitable teaching and learning.

This is a follow up to Cambridge Education’s March 2014 paper Pulling the lever: Can delivery units deliver?