Global perspectives on primary education
Global perspectives on primary education

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Global perspectives on primary education

Comparing interviews: part 1

In the following ten-minute interview, Sally Gear, Senior Education Adviser at DFID, talks to Liz Chamberlain, Senior Lecturer at The Open University, about key issues for the education of girls around the world.

Activity 6a

Listen to this interview and then answer the questions that follow.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Audio 1: Educating girls
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Transcript: Audio 1: Educating girls

LIZ CHAMBERLAIN

Our students are interested in knowing a little bit more about some of DFID’s education projects, for example, the Girls’ Education Challenge. Could you share some headlines from the project?

SALLY GEAR

The Girls’ Education Challenge was a slightly different model when we first set it up because as you know DFID normally works very decentralised with government. Some of our money will be in partnership with government, some with projects. So it’s looking at reforming the whole of the education system. The Girls’ Education Challenges are what we call a centrally managed programme. So that was across around 30 countries, £355M is the largest ever global fund for girls’ education. And the aim was to work with at least one million girls to achieve a better learning outcome. It was also in the new context of the SDG’s before they actually were established that the outcomes for success were about improving learning, not just getting girls in school. The target was very much on the most marginalised girls. So we were working in some really challenging contexts like Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan and when we were in countries that were relatively stable we were working with the most marginalised students. So, for example, in Kenya we’ve got a programme in Dadaab, at the refugee camp there working with marginalised girls. Most of the projects are multisectoral. So we’re not just doing education interventions. We’re looking at the wrap around needs of girls, for example, risk of violence, potentially also marriage. So working with the communities, with girls clubs, etc. to try and look at those different needs too.

LIZ CHAMBERLAIN

Why is it important to have that wrap around? Why not just education?

SALLY GEAR

I think we’ve learnt over the years, in this country as well, that when you’re working with very marginalised children, yes you need excellent teaching and learning. But also they bring to school lots of issues from home and it’s exactly the same in developing country contexts. And there’s specific needs for girls but for marginalised boys and girls, nutritional needs for example. Health needs are really important because children can’t learn if they’re not sufficiently well fed or they haven’t got support. In addition in countries like Somalia a lot of these girls would have gone through a civil war, for example. So there is sort of trauma as well which can affect learning.

LIZ CHAMBERLAIN

And is there one project that you feel has made a difference to the broader community beyond the original aim of supporting the girls?

SALLY GEAR

One of our programmes is in partnership with Avanti which is a private sector company working in Kenya. And that’s now been going for about three or four years. We found that part of it was improving learning outcome through technology, edtech. And that was quite complicated because there was no access to electricity. There was no access to broadband, etc. They used satellite technology but actually they involved the local community and they found that some of the local community pay a small amount and then are able to use that for businesses, etc. It’s still early days. But I think that’s got a really interesting example of how a school can also be a community basis as well as an educational establishment.

LIZ CHAMBERLAIN

You mentioned the SDGs there. So to what extent does sustainable development goal four, drive the way the different projects are designed and delivered?

SALLY GEAR

I’m just going to pick up on the word projects because for DFID we are around changing and reforming national education systems on a larger scale ideally. That is about looking at how a whole education system actually is geared towards improving learning outcomes. That’s looking at teacher policy and teacher reform. It’s like driving up standards through assessment, good curriculum linked with teacher curriculum, particularly for us as DFID, the sort of basic literacy, numeracy levels which are very, very low as you are aware in many of the countries we work in at the moment.

LIZ CHAMBERLAIN

And you’ve talked about some of the obstacles to girls’ access to primary education. Are there particular obstacles that you find are recurrent across the countries that you work with?

SALLY GEAR

We’ve got a new programme developing in Tanzania, for example, which is looking at child protection alongside education. So we’re recognising we need to bring those together. I think that’s a big issue. Early marriage is a key one. And again I think we’ve got much more information about that and how that can affect. And I think a more nuanced idea about access. I mean access actually to primary education at the lower levels is vastly improved for girls across the piece. If you look at the data from 20 years ago the major challenge now is girls staying in school. And actually once they stay in school in many countries they’d be better than boys. So it’s a gender issue this as you’re probably aware of it in the UK as well. But where we’re losing girls is very much at adolescence. It’s where these pressures, these societal pressures come in for early marriage or when the cost of sending a girl to school for a family, is the opportunity cost much better if the girls are at home helping or they can marry her out, in a way. I think it is now it’s not so much about access to primary school but about girls staying and transitioning through the system.

LIZ CHAMBERLAIN

I believe you’ve got quite an extensive background in girls’ education and international development. I understand you worked for VSO, the British Council and now a senior adviser at DFID. Have you found similarities between the ways in which the different organisations set their priorities for primary education?

SALLY GEAR

Working for international NGO such as VSO you are working much more with projects. It’s different than potentially working with ministers of education and looking at sort of system reform. There is definitely a difference. I think the other difference obviously is DFID is, we’re a government department. So ultimately our priorities are set by the government. And so we have a certain technical response to how we approach education and development but at the same time we have to support our minister’s vision for development across the world. And with VSO obviously there’s a lot more freedom in terms of how you approach what you approach. But also you’re limited because there’s fund raising elements. I would say between VSO and DFID there’s quite a lot of difference. But that said I think we are fairly aligned with our international non-governmental organisations in this country. In terms of our actual vision on the learning outcomes and girls’ education I think we’re very aligned. With the British Council there was also it’s a cultural organisation too. So a lot of what I did with the British Council was about looking at how UK institutions can support development work overseas. So we did school linking. We looked at bringing ministers of education over to show them UK best practice. And interestingly that’s coming in very much now to DFID’s work.

LIZ CHAMBERLAIN

You talked a lot about learning outcomes for the girls and that it isn’t just about access now it’s about staying in school and good teaching and learning. So what are your reflections on the notion of quality, which is something that’s talked about quite a lot in terms of teaching and learning across the countries you work in?

SALLY GEAR

It’s a very good question. I think for me, this is very much a personal reflection over the years is, I feel we really need a push on the sort of teaching effectiveness and good teaching. I think we’ve had a period where obviously we had the push on access because many children were out of school so there was a lot of infrastructure projects. And we were just about numbers. And I think there was a shift to learning but we went on to sort of measuring learning outcomes. And I feel now if you look at a lot of the evidence that’s coming out there’s definitely not one silver bullet for education. But if you don’t have a good teacher teaching you you’re very unlikely to succeed. And I think we’ve got a vast challenge, particularly in Africa. And with the demographic challenges now we’re a million short of sufficient teachers. But also teachers of good quality that are able and that are supported and incentivised to teach well. For me now I think we do need an international push on the value of teaching. And I know it’s always a challenge. It has been in this country. I was a trained teacher myself. And in many of the countries that we work in it’s still, it’s increasingly not a profession of choice for the brightest and the best young people. We need to work and help countries to shift that. But also the model of teacher training is still in many countries again a sort of throw back from potentially colonial times where we had a very elite sort of university based teacher education. And we need to shift that to much more school based approaches. For me that’s where I feel the next big push should be. But that’s very much a personal reflection.

LIZ CHAMBERLAIN

And you work with a number of different countries and institutions of education. How do you make the sort of comparison data, you talked about data and outcomes, how do you make use of that data to inform the decisions about where to deploy resources?

SALLY GEAR

I mean data is really, really important. And I think with the role of edtech and mobile technology we’ve got the potential now of actually getting live data. Much of the data we used in the past was based on UNESCO Institute for Statistics which was regarded as the sort of quality assured. The only challenges with that was that it was often two or three years out of date by the time we were using it. In terms of things like PISA, for example, obviously many of the countries DFID works in they don’t have PISA. And also they can be quite controversial these international comparisons, particularly now with the learning data because obviously not many ministers of education want the world to know that their education system is delivering very poor learning outcomes. So I think they need to be handled sensitively by the international community. And for me data is much more useful actually for the country itself and also to put assessment for learning using data to actually improve practice as opposed to just extracting it for international comparisons.

LIZ CHAMBERLAIN

How confident are you that the international community will have met its education 2030 goal to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality and primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes?

SALLY GEAR

That’s a hugely ambitious goal. We’re not there in primary let along secondary for every child. If we’re really serious about it and that’s not just going to be another set of international words we really need a step up. And equally domestic governments themselves need to prioritise it. It’s not just about international aid. So I think we need the work the international Education Commission recently, for example is a good start in raising commitment and advocacy but we all need to make a big change because otherwise I think it’s unfortunately going to be an idea, rather a vision, rather than an achievable goal.

End transcript: Audio 1: Educating girls
Audio 1: Educating girls
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What are the issues that Sally Gear raises with regard to a worldwide need for a focus on facilitating girls’ access to schooling and fostering their continued attendance?

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What is the concept of ‘wrap around needs’ in relation to the socio-economic factors that can affect girls’ attendance at school and their transitioning through a country’s educational system?

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What are the reasons why some countries may be reluctant to be included in PISA tests and the consequent ranking of shared results?

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