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New Learning Platform Focuses on Non-State Education

Families in Mpape say they struggle even to keep their children in school and cannot afford to move. (Heather Murdock for VOA)
A new digital platform that focuses on non-state education offers new hope for children from developing countries to have access to education. The program, released this week, was developed by the Center for Education Innovations of the Washington-based Results for Development Institute.

It said the release of the platform comes at a time when education systems globally face unprecedented challenges as they are pushed beyond getting every child into school, to ensuring a high-quality education for all.

Dr. Nicholas Burnett, a lead expert of the program and managing director at the Results for Development Institute, said despite many valiant efforts, there are still major problems regarding education for the poor in developing countries.

“Something like 700-million children are in primary school around the world. But, something like 60-million children of that age are not in school at all. And arguably even worse, among those who are in school, there’s a serious problem of whether learning is occurring. In the east African countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, only one in six, standard three, that would be grade three students, can actually pass a grade two English test,” stated Burnett.

He also emphasized in order to tackle this problem, it is necessary to employ all resources that can be of potential use. The purpose of the new platform is to provide the necessary information regarding the poor so that people from various sectors can connect to help the poor.

“This platform has an online component which is basically a website where anybody in the world can come for free. It’s a public good. And they can find out information about these non-state programs, both run by non-government organizations, and also programs run by purely private organizations. They can find out information about these programs which are profiled on this platform,” said Burnett.

To help with the profiling, CEI is in the process of establishing partners or hubs, around the world. So far they have three that include the online platform -- one in Nairobi, one in Cape Town and one in India.

“After that, there are many, many mechanisms which are available using the platform or using the information available on the platform in order to connect people. And in a way, this is what it is all about, connecting. We anticipate there will be about four types of users of the platform, the people who run these platforms themselves, those who are interested in funding such programs, government policy makers who are concerned to meet their national educational goals, and to use all resources, and finally researchers,” explained Burnett.

CEI said the web platform functions as a programs database, a research and evidence library, and a funders’ platform. The database contains over 100 geographically diverse non-state education programs that are tagged by key categories such as location, target population, education level and program approach that allows users to search for programs according to their interests and needs.

The R&E library serves as a global repository for non-state education resources. It gives users access to a catalogue of education resources including case studies and evaluation materials.

The funders’ platform allows organizations that support non-state education to exchange information and to identify both potential investments and co-funding opportunities.

Burnett said there has been some controversy regarding the non-state education programs which is mostly due to lack of information as to how they actually work. He said the programs are rapidly expanding in regions such as southeast Asia and Africa.

“We’re not arguing that non-state education is better than state education. We’re not arguing it is worse either. We’re arguing here’s a huge phenomenon, for example in Ghana, something like 22, 23 percent of all children now go to private schools, and something like one-third of all the schools in that country are actually private,” explained Burnett.

“What we’re arguing,” he continued, “is that here’s this huge and growing phenomenon, and it needs attention. And it has the potential to help considerably with those broader problems of providing a quality education to everyone in the developing world.”

Though the platform was just launched, the lead expert of the program said policy makers around the world, including in Africa, are already showing interest. He described three important points regarding this innovative form of education.

“It’s very clear that those in charge of education policy realize that there is something here to which they need to pay attention. The second point is that I think there are more and more countries in which basically the education system is becoming mixed in which the kind of idea of state versus non-state is becoming old-fashioned and that governments are looking more and more for ways to collaborate with the private sector,” explained Burnett.

He emphasized that the third and most interesting point is that innovations which are crucial to reforming and improving education tend to come from the non-state sector, and many of these innovations are beginning to be adopted by the public sector.