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Failing to Read: Why global disparities in reading skills matter and what we can do about it
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Failing to Read: Why global disparities in reading skills matter and what we can do about it

As we walked through classrooms in Bangladesh,  we were struck by the hope and aspirations of the children. Already, children in grades three or four, said they wanted to be teachers, scientists, and prime ministers. They knew they must get an education in order achieve these dreams, but like so many children around the world, without evidence-informed interventions to close the gaps in literacy, their potential will remain unfulfilled. More and more, children around the world are failing to read – and it is expected to get worse due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The inability of 4 out of 10 children to master reading, one of the core foundational skills, is alarming, since it predicts their ability to gain other foundational, transferable, digital and job-specific skills later on in life.In fact, these numbers might be even more alarming, since this data excludes the 59 million primary-aged children who are out of school. UNICEF-supported household-level assessments from 26 countries suggest that those children are 50 per cent less likely to acquire foundational reading skills compared to their peers in school.The biggest impact on reading skills? Wealth. Globally, the poorest students are 40 per cent less likely to acquire foundational reading skills than the richest.While foundational reading skills are almost universal among children in high-income countries, only one in nine students achieve minimum reading proficiency in low-income countries. The poorest children in wealthy countries read at higher levels than the wealthiest children in poor countries.And the inequality continues even within countries – in lower-income countries, family income has a stronger effect on reading proficiency than it has in wealthy countries. In fact, in low income countries, the richest are four times more likely to be able to read than the poorest, while the difference in high income countries this difference is only around 13 per cent.The evidence also shows another trend: the impact of gender on reading skills. According to the data, boys are 10 per cent less likely to acquire foundational reading skills by the end of primary education than girls. Interestingly, these findings vary significantly between countries: In Cambodia, Kuwait, Laos and Saudi Arabia boys are 30 per cent less likely to acquire foundational reading skills, while in Burundi, Chad and the Demographic Republic of Congo boys are 10 per cent more likely to have these skills at the end of primary."The solution? Coordinated global action to transform foundation learning and optimize human capital development in all countries. Support is needed for countries to ensure that children return to school as soon as possible and can access digital learning options with affordable devices, connectivity and electricity."Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the limits of education systems worldwide and deprived children from acquiring important foundational skills. Evidence shows that even short interruptions in children’s schooling can have dire effects on their acquisition of those skills. And digital learning solutions only reach a global minority of children – some students have not had any contact with the remote learning programmes implemented by education systems. Many digital solutions require internet access, which is still a luxury in many homes around the world. In fact, only six percent of school-aged children in low-income countries have internet access at home compared to 86 per cent in high-income countries. Devices need electricity, yet still just under half (47 per cent) of households in sub-Saharan Africa have electricity. Great disparities exist within countries around wealth, in seven countries less than 10 per cent of the poorest households have access to electricity.As this crisis deepens, a global learning catastrophe is unfolding, especially for poor children. Low levels of foundational skills and poor education put progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals at risk.The solution? Coordinated global action to transform foundation learning and optimize human capital development in all countries. Support is needed for countries to ensure that children return to school as soon as possible and can access digital learning options with affordable devices, connectivity and electricity.Pre-primary education needs to be prioritized to ensure that children are ready to transition to learning in the primary years. Urgent investment is needed for formative assessments to support learning and to ensure health, protection, and wellbeing needs of children are met.As schools reopen, they must open doors wider in order to provide tailored support to bring in and support students most in need. We must support accelerated education initiatives that address disparities in foundational skills like these programmes for out-of-school children in Bangladesh, so that children who dream to be teachers and doctors achieve their full potential.Download the one-page infographic.Learn more:1. Mission: Recovering Education in 2021: Three priorities to enable all children to return to school safely2. Learning Data Compact – UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank Unite to End the Learning Data Crisis3. It’s Not Too Late to Act on Early Learning – Understanding and recovering from the impact of pre-primary education closures during COVID-194. COVID-19: Effects of school closures on foundational skills and promising practices for monitoring and mitigating learning lossRobert Jenkins, Global Director of Education for UNICEF, joined the organization in 1995. He brings over 20 years of experience in international development and humanitarian programming in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Follow Rob @RobertG_Jenkins on Twitter.Haogen Yao is an education specialist at UNICEF New York Headquarters, where he focuses on economic analysis of education and monitoring of education in emergency. Follow Haogen (Haogen Yao) on Linkedin.Kenneth Russell is an education specialist at UNICEF New York Headquarters, where he leads the organisation’s work on Primary Education including foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN) including learning assessment, curriculum, and teacher training. Follow Kenneth (Kenneth A. Russell) on Linkedin. 
A mother and infant wait at a LEAP 1000 distribution point [© Michelle Mills]
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Beyond targeting: Making social protection work for women in Ghana

I feel like a human being now and the luckiest one as well(LEAP 1000 participant, Barrington et al. 2021)The Government of Ghana launched the LEAP 1000 pilot – a ‘cash plus’ programme – targeted at pregnant women and those with infants living in poor households in 2015. The motivation of the pilot was to support children during the first 1000 days, a key period of physical and mental development, with the overall goal of reducing child malnutrition and improving child health outcomes.Participant women received both a bi-monthly unconditional cash transfer (of approximately USD $10-18), as well as a premium waiver for the national health insurance scheme. Ghana is not unique in offering this type of social assistance — in fact, a 2016 mapping of 127 non-contributory social protection programs implemented by governments in Africa found that unconditional cash transfers were the most common type of assistance, and households with children were the most common target group.Despite the clear benefits of putting cash directly in the hands of women, and meeting their practical needs during pregnancy, some questions remain: does LEAP meet and respond to the strategic needs of women or does it use women instrumentally to facilitate the goal of reaching and benefiting children? Furthermore, is targeting women enough to nudge participants towards better social and economic outcomes, or would the focus on women’s role as primary caregivers and mothers unintentionally reinforce gendered inequalities in the household?Questions around the positive and negative effects of the pilot programme on women were integrated into a mixed-methods evaluation led by experts under the umbrella of the Transfer Project. The overall findings were encouraging. Women’s health and wellbeing improved across multiple domains, beyond the explicit objectives of the program. For example, women’s economic standing as measured by their personal savings increased, as did enrollment in the national health insurance scheme and health-seeking behaviors. LEAP 1000 also increased women’s social support in their own households and the larger community, as cash increased dignity, self-esteem, and confidence and allowed them to participate in savings groups and reciprocate support to others.I couldn’t mingle with my colleagues but with the coming of LEAP I can now raise myself and be part of my colleagues (the other women). If I get to the market, I can buy salt or buy a few clothes for my children to wear. Even if don’t dress well myself I have been able to dress my children well so they can mix with their peers.(LEAP 1000 beneficiary, de Milliano et al. 2021)Alongside reductions in household poverty, improvements in women’s social and economic standing were important pathways that led to reductions in their experience of intimate partner violence, including reductions in experience and frequency of physical and emotional violence. Taken together, LEAP 1000 improved tangible development milestones, as well as meaningful improvements in the quality of women’s lives.Truly speaking, at first the relationship between women and their husbands wasn’t good, but now it is better because of the LEAP support. I can say it is … poverty that caused all problems.(LEAP 1000 participant, Barrington et al. 2021)These findings, alongside broader positive impacts of the program on children and households contributed to the decision to integrate the program into the flagship social protection scheme nationwide in 2017. They also led to LEAP 1000 being touted as an example of a ‘gender-responsive’ program in the eyes of numerous stakeholders. But what does this mean in practice?While the social protection community has increasingly recognized the value of paying attention to gender — and frameworks have been proposed unpacking a continuum from ‘gender- discriminatory’ to ‘gender-transformative’ — there is still debate and lack of clarity as to assessment criteria, and what qualifies a program as being truly transformative. Is placing benefits in the hands of women, and improving her wellbeing enough? It is a start, but ultimately the program needs to tackle the root causes of gender inequality and transform harmful gender norms — aspects that the qualitative work suggest were largely unchanged in the context of LEAP 1000. A challenge in understanding how to go about this is that there is no one-size-fits all template. Design and operational components that facilitate gender-transformative change, like gender norms and drivers of inequality, are often context-specific.So, what lessons can be drawn from Ghana’s experience with LEAP 1000? A few reflections emerge:For gender-transformative change, start from a solid base: Long-term change starts with building a strong gender-responsive system and framework to guide growth. In Ghana, stakeholders are moving towards the development of a national framework that provides guidance and political backing for integration of gender in program design, implementation, and monitoring—this anchoring sets the stage for future progress and financing.Think beyond cash to address gendered constraints: While cash transfers have been effective in improving many dimensions of wellbeing, they are limited by contextual barriers that women and poor households face. In Ghana, new work is underway strategically linking participants to a range of complementary social protection and referral servicesto accelerate improvements in health, protection, and violence, all with explicit gender components. Stakeholders are working toward institutionalizing and scaling up these integrated social services nationwide to promote better outcomes for women and children.Address gender in human resources: It is critical to address the limited institutional capacity and lack of collaboration on gender issues at both the national and district levels. The lack of integration between gender focal points and social protection service providers at the local level is a missed opportunity for operational and impact synergies. We cannot forget the importance of investing in people if we want meaningful change in communities.Leverage face time for gender dialogue: Work towards better communication and more effective use of interface between service providers and program participants. Meetings or other face time create spaces and opportunities to discuss issues with communities on topics like social discrimination, exclusion, and gender inequality. These spaces have the potential to influence perceptions on gender norms, and through open dialogue women are able to seek support and exercise agency in their own communities.Poverty cannot be sustainably reduced without tackling gender inequalities. Ghana’s experience shows that moving towards gender-transformative social protection must go beyond just reaching and benefiting women, using local learning and solutions. To truly change gender inequalities, we need political will, adequate financing, and support from broader social welfare services. For Ghana, the gendered evidence-to-action social protection journey is just beginning. Acknowledgements: The LEAP 1000 Evaluation Team included researchers from ISSER at the University of Ghana, Navrongo Health Research Centre, UNICEF Ghana, UNICEF—Innocenti and the University of North Carolina. Learn more about the evaluation here. We thank Clare Barrington, Tia Palermo, Nyasha Tirivayi and Dominic Richardson for helpful comments and suggestions on this blog. Authors: Christiana Gbedemah is a social policy specialist at UNICEF Ghana; Amber Peterman is an research associate professor at UNC Chapel Hill and a social policy consultant at the UNICEF Office of Research—Innocenti and Jennifer Yablonski is head of social protection unit and social policy specialist at UNICEF Ghana.Read more:Impact evaluation of a social protection programme paired with fee waivers on enrolment in Ghana’s National Health Insurance SchemeMore Evidence on the Impact of Government Social Protection in Sub Saharan Africa: Ghana, Malawi and ZimbabweCrowding-out or crowding-in? Effects of LEAP 1000 unconditional cash transfer program on household and community support among women in rural Ghana  
Why we need to champion
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Why we need to champion children’s and young people’s voices: Three things we learned from speaking to them about COVID-19 in Italy

Leggi questo blog in italiano.As researchers at UNICEF Innocenti, we believe in the importance of listening to children and young people to inform decision-making and policies. For this reason, we designed a qualitative research project to explore how children and young people are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic. The project is currently running in six countries around the world – Italy, Canada, Madagascar, Lesotho, Indonesia, and Chile – and aims to understand:Children and young people’s experiences and feelings during the pandemic; The issues they consider important for their well-being in this context;   Their suggestions to parents, teachers, politicians, and all adults to put their wellbeing first.As a first step, we carried out a pilot project in Italy, where we talked to 114 children and young people aged 10-19 between February and June 2021. Our research participants shared thoughts, reflections, drawings, photographs, and diary entries to describe what it means to grow up during COVID-19. Through multiple interactions, we learned about their memories, emotions, and opinions.   All conversations, writings and drawings echoed three key messages:  Having free time is a protective factor. It is therefore key not to overburden children and young people with school workloads to fill the gap in formal learning. Public discourse focuses on the missed learning opportunities due to remote learning. Surveys measuring students’ learning outcomes show worse results compared to previous years. However, our research project shows that children and young people value and need free time to process the difficulties of their lives, worsened by a global emergency.Recognizing children’s and young people’s contributions, their sacrifices, and what they have learnt throughout the pandemic is a fundamental starting point for future planning. Children and young people have had the time to reflect about themselves, to learn from the peculiar situation they and the people around them have been experiencing, and to grow throughout these lessons and reflections. During crises people tend to ask themselves existential questions. Many children and young people told us they feel that they have changed and grown from dealing with lockdowns, remote learning, and social distancing. By modifying their behaviors, they contributed to collective health and safety, but they had to sacrifice many life experiences, and “normality” like everyone else.Children and young people want to be involved and be part of decision-making processes. We should listen to them. Participants in our research enjoyed talking about how they felt and what they think. They were surprised when asked to put forward recommendations for their parents, teachers, politicians, and for adults in general. They shared good ideas that, if well and quickly channeled, could make meaningful changes. They are concerned about their future and how current responses to the pandemic will affect their lives. Most of them cannot vote yet but they want to take part in decision-making processes.  In a nutshell, this generation of children and young people in Italy is different from the previous ones in a substantial way: they have collectively learnt important life lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic experience. For example, they explained that they learned to value the “little things,” act with responsibility and care vis-à-vis their community, and understand the importance of social relationships. They also often reflected on what they think can make their present and future better. If recognized and supported, they will be able to contribute to rethinking life after the pandemic, in a positive and innovative light.  Children and young people are already speaking out, but they need allies. Parents, teachers, communities, researchers, and politicians can play a major role in supporting, encouraging, and listening to them. How can we as adults, support and be allies to children and young people?  We can look at the opportunities, not just gaps. Do not focus solely on the losses in traditional learning and start thinking creatively about the new learnings the pandemic brought.    “In this period, I have learnt that nothing can be taken for granted. I have learnt the importance of a second, the weight of a hug or a handshake. I learnt that life is just a breath, it is so short that there is no time to waste. I learnt to live second by second, minute by minute, as if they were the last to enjoy to the fullest; a dignified life that I will be able to tell my grandchildren about when I become a grandmother.” (A, 15 years old)  “Looking back at these past months I see a girl who has overcome numerous obstacles that seemed like mountains, a girl that has discovered sides to herself that did not know she had, like stubbornness and a strong determination that brought her great satisfaction. I also see a girl that looks at school with different eyes compared to years ago, she is happy to learn and rack her brain, and she wants to do her best. I think I have also changed a lot, especially in my maturity and I hope to always continue listening to myself, my mind, but above all my heart.”  (S, 16 years old)  We can acknowledge and thank them. Children and young people have strongly contributed to the health and safety of their communities.   “We have renounced to many things, but we are also conscious that we became stronger as people and have proven that as teenagers we belong to a community (…) and that in tough times we can also be supportive of adults while we continue to dream about our future.” (G, high school)  We can listen to what they have to say. We cannot assume that we already know how children and young people feel and what is best for them.   "The issues that the ruling class in Italy should focus on to ensure the present and future well-being of adolescents, in my opinion, are related to their freedom to live surrounded by friends and family. For this reason, it would not be a bad idea to increase the number of green outdoor spaces, to allow children to be together and close to each other in an area with clean, natural air, where they can have fun and talk without too many worries.” (M, 15 years old)   “As far as our political class is concerned, I hope that this epidemic has taught us and made us realize that schools are fundamental for us to be able to grow up in a safer world, and I hope that in the future the government will invest in schools in an intelligent, conscious way, without wasting money that our whole society will pay for.”  (G, high school) We, as researchers, learnt many lessons by talking directly to children and young people and, now more than ever, we strongly believe all adults should listen to and engage with them as key members of society.  For example, by working closely with children and young people in the preliminary stages of the research process, we learnt to dismantle our assumptions about what was ‘best’ from a methodological and ethical perspective and welcomed new and unconsidered possibilities that gave high value to the research work. During the analysis phase, we also started noticing that several of the “characters of the pandemic,” collectively created and drawn by the participants during the focus groups, were purposefully genderless. In that moment we realized that, using creative research methods that allow young people to fully express themselves, can unlock the research potential to tell us more than what we were looking for.  We now look forward to continuing and expanding this research to find out what children and young people have to say in other contexts around the world, and to becoming a bridge between their emotions, thoughts, and ideas, and the decision-makers.  Learn more about the research and related studies in the report “Vite a Colori”.      
Why we need to champion
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Perché è importante ascoltare le voci di bambinə e ragazzə? Tre cose che abbiamo imparato parlando con loro di COVID-19 in Italia

Read this blog in English.Come ricercatori del centro di ricerca di UNICEF Innocenti, crediamo nell'importanza di ascoltare bambinə e ragazzə per informare i processi decisionali e le politiche pubbliche. In quest’ottica, abbiamo progettato una ricerca qualitativa per esplorare come gli adolescenti  hanno vissuto e stanno vivendo la pandemia di COVID-19. Il progetto è attualmente in corso in sei paesi del mondo – Italia, Canada, Madagascar, Lesotho, Indonesia e Cile – e mira a comprendere: Come bambinə e ragazzə vivono la pandemia, come si sentono;   Quali tematiche considerano cruciali da affrontare al fine di preservare il loro benessere in relazione alla pandemia;   Quali sono i loro suggerimenti a genitori, insegnanti, politici e a tutta la società adulta al riguardo.Come primo passo, abbiamo realizzato un progetto pilota in Italia, dove abbiamo parlato con 114 bambinə e ragazzə di età compresa tra 10 e 19 anni tra febbraio e giugno 2021. I partecipanti alla ricerca hanno condiviso pensieri, riflessioni, disegni, fotografie e diari per descrivere cosa significa crescere durante la pandemia di COVID-19.  Attraverso molteplici interazioni, abbiamo imparato a conoscere i  loro ricordi, le loro emozioni e le loro opinioni.  Tutte le conversazioni, gli scritti e i disegni hanno fatto eco a tre messaggi chiave:   Avere tempo libero è un fattore protettivo. É quindi fondamentale non sovraccaricare bambinə e ragazzə con eccessivi impegni scolastici per colmare il divario creatosi nell'apprendimento formale. Il discorso pubblico si concentra sulle opportunità di apprendimento perse a causa della didattica a distanza. I sondaggi che misurano i risultati di apprendimento degli studenti mostrano un peggioramento rispetto agli anni precedenti. Tuttavia, il nostro progetto di ricerca dimostra che bambinə e ragazzə apprezzano avere più tempo libero a disposizione e lo necessitano per elaborare le difficoltà delle loro vite appesantite da un'emergenza globale.  Riconoscere i contributi di bambinə e ragazzə, i loro sacrifici e ciò che hanno imparato durante la pandemia è un punto di partenza fondamentale per la pianificazione futura. Bambinə e ragazzə hanno avuto il tempo di riflettere su se stessɘ, di imparare dalla peculiare situazione che loro e le persone intorno a loro hanno vissuto e di crescere attraverso queste lezioni di vita e le loro riflessioni. Durante le crisi, le persone tendono a porsi domande esistenziali. Molti bambinə e ragazzə ci hanno detto che sentono di essere cambiatɘ e cresciutɘ affrontando i lockdown, l’apprendimento a distanza e il distanziamento sociale. Modificando i loro comportamenti, hanno contribuito alla salute e alla sicurezza collettiva, ma hanno dovuto sacrificare molte esperienze di vita e la loro "normalità" – come tutti gli altri.  Bambinə e ragazzə vogliono essere coinvolti ed essere parte dei processi decisionali. Dobbiamo ascoltarli. I partecipanti alla nostra ricerca hanno apprezzato il fatto di poter parlare di come si sentivano e di cosa pensavano. Sono rimasti sorpresi quando gli abbiamo chiesto di presentare raccomandazioni per i loro genitori, insegnanti, politici e per gli adulti in generale. Hanno condiviso buone idee che, se canalizzate bene e tempestivamente, potrebbero apportare cambiamenti significativi. Sono preoccupati per il loro futuro e per come le attuali risposte alla pandemia influenzeranno le loro vite. La maggior parte di loro non può ancora votare, ma vuole prendere parte ai processi decisionali. In poche parole, questa generazione di bambinə e ragazzə in Italia è sostanzialmente diversa dalle precedenti: hanno imparato in modo collettivo e come gruppo importanti lezioni di vita in relazione all'esperienza di pandemia di COVID-19.  Ad esempio, hanno spiegato di aver imparato a valorizzare l'importanza delle "piccole cose", agendo con responsabilità e cura nei confronti della propria comunità, e comprendendo l'importanza delle relazioni sociali. Hanno anche riflettuto molto su ciò che pensano possa rendere migliore il loro presente e il loro futuro. Se sostenuti e riconosciuti, saranno in grado di contribuire a ripensare la vita dopo la pandemia, in modo positivo e innovativo. Bambinə e ragazzə stanno già parlando, ma hanno bisogno di alleati. Genitori, insegnanti, comunità, ricercatori e politici possono svolgere un ruolo importante nel sostenerli, incoraggiarli e ascoltarli.Come possiamo noi adulti sostenere ed essere alleati di bambinə e ragazzə?  Guardando le opportunità, non solo le lacune. Non concentrandoci esclusivamente sulle perdite nell'apprendimento tradizionale ma tenendo in considerazione e facendo leva sugli altri apprendimenti portati dalla pandemia.“Durante questo periodo ho imparato che nulla è scontato, ho appreso l’importanza che racchiude un secondo, il peso di un abbraccio o di una stretta di mano, ho appreso che la vita è un soffio, dura talmente poco che non c’è tempo da sprecare, ho imparato a vivere secondo per secondo, minuto per minuto, come se fossero gli ultimi per potermi godere la vita al massimo, una vita degna, una vita che potrò raccontare ai miei nipoti quando sarò nonna.” (A, 15 anni) “Guardando indietro a questi mesi passati vedo una ragazza che ha oltrepassato numerosi ostacoli che sembravano quasi montagne, una ragazza che ha scoperto dei lati che non pensava di avere come la testardaggine e la forte determinazione che l'ha poi portata a numerose soddisfazioni. Vedo anche una ragazza che guarda la scuola con occhi diversi rispetto ad anni fa, è felice d’imparare, “scervellarsi” e ha voglia di dare il massimo. Penso anche di essere cambiata molto, soprattutto a livello di maturità, e spero di continuare sempre così, ascoltando me stessa, la mia mente ma soprattutto il mio cuore.” (S, 16 anni)  Riconoscendoli e ringraziandoli. Bambinə e ragazzə hanno fortemente contribuito alla salute e  alla sicurezza delle loro comunità. “Abbiamo rinunciato a molte cose ma abbiamo anche la consapevolezza di esserci rafforzati come persone e di aver dimostrato che anche noi adolescenti facciamo parte di una comunità (...) e che nel momento della difficoltà anche noi possiamo essere supporto agli adulti  pur continuando a sognare il nostro futuro.”  (G, scuola superiore)  Ascoltando quello che hanno da dire. Non dando per scontato di sapere a priori come si sentono e cosa è meglio per loro.   “I temi su cui la classe dirigente in Italia si dovrebbe focalizzare per garantire il benessere, presente e futuro, degli adolescenti, secondo me, sono legati alla loro libertà di vivere circondati dagli amici e dalla famiglia. Per questo non sarebbe una cattiva idea aumentare gli spazi verdi all’aperto, per permettere ai ragazzi di stare insieme e vicini in una zona con aria pulita e naturale, dove possono divertirsi e parlare senza troppe preoccupazioni.” (M, 15 anni)“Per quanto riguarda la nostra classe politica spero che questa epidemia abbia insegnato e fatto capire quanto la scuola deve essere un punto fermo per poter farci crescere in un mondo più sicuro e spero che in futuro il governo investa nella scuola in modo intelligente, consapevole, senza sprechi che tutta la nostra società andrà a pagare.” (G, scuola superiore)Come ricercatori, abbiamo  imparato molte cose parlando direttamente con bambinə e ragazzə e, ora più che mai, crediamo fermamente che tutti gli adulti dovrebbero ascoltarli e confrontarsi con loro come membri chiave della società. Ad esempio, lavorando a stretto contatto con bambinɘ e ragazzɘ nella primissima fase del processo di ricerca, abbiamo imparato a smantellare le nostre ipotesi su ciò che pensavamo fosse "migliore" dal punto di vista metodologico ed etico e abbiamo accolto possibilità nuove e non considerate che hanno dato un valore estremamente elevato al lavoro di ricerca. Durante la fase di analisi, abbiamo inoltre iniziato a notare che molti dei "personaggi della pandemia", creati collettivamente e disegnati dai partecipanti durante i focus group, erano volutamente genderless. In quel momento ci siamo resi conto che utilizzando metodi di ricerca creativa che permettono ai ragazzi di esprimersi appieno, possiamo sbloccare il potenziale di ricerca e ottenere più di quello che stavamo cercando. Ora siamo ansiosi di continuare ed espandere questo progetto per scoprire cosa hanno da dire bambinə e i ragazzə in altri contesti del mondo e per diventare un ponte tra le loro emozioni, pensieri e idee e i decisori politici. Seguite il nostro lavoro per ricevere informazioni sui prossimi risultati di ricerca.  Scopri di più su questo progetto e sugli studi correlati nel rapporto "Vite a Colori".    
Students studying in a school in Roça Diogo Vaz, São Tomé and Príncipe
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Reimagining education through digital learning in São Tomé and Príncipe

São Tomé and Príncipe, an island country off the west coast of Africa, is facing a learning crisis.Already before the pandemic, two out of three students at the end of grade 2 were unable to read. With support from UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education has stepped up to the task: The small nation is now becoming a trailblazer for digital learning. Thanks to large investments from the World Bank, the Millennium Foundation, the Akelius foundation and the Learning Passport fund, access to digital learning technologies and platforms is being expanded. The Millennium Foundation and jp.ik have already provided enough laptops to reach every child and adolescent in the Autonomous Region of Príncipe.   A student in the Autonomous Region of Príncipe working on a learning laptop. Understanding that technology by itself does not ensure learning outcomes, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and UNICEF have teamed up to develop a systems approach to digital learning. This approach includes improving electricity and connectivity, training and upskilling teachers, developing digital learning solutions and content, maintaining and managing devices – and lastly, engaging young people, communities and educators around the topic.  The nation’s ambitious project and learnings from its implementation could benefit not only the country, but children everywhere. Generating evidence, especially for offline digital learning is crucial in a country where 70 per cent of the population does not use the internet and 25 per cent do not have access to electricity.   That is why the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, UNICEF São Tomé and Príncipe, the University of São Tomé and Príncipe, and UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti are working together to embed mixed-methods research into the deployment of the enhanced digital learning system. Using human-centered design, the team aims to learn from students and teachers about how to improve the learning experience, to then share the findings among users, partners, developers and colleagues facing similar challenges across the globe. The research will answer the following questions: Which skills and support do teachers need in order to use technology effectively in their teaching practices?  What are the best ways for teachers to manage technology in the classroom with their students? How can digital learning solutions like the Learning Passport and the Akelius digital course be used to improve learning?   Young students in São Tomé, São Tomé and Príncipe on their way back from school. The journey to reimagine education in São Tomé and Príncipe has just begun. Follow along the progress of this research as we test, iterate, learn and document a path to deliver digital learning at scale in West and Central Africa. When implemented well, digital learning has the power to transform education systems worldwide, mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on learning and improve learning outcomes for all children. Helena Botelho, PhD, is the Director of Basic Education at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in São Tomé and Príncipe. Mirabel Costa Ribeiro is the Chief of Education at UNICEF São Tomé and Príncipe. Rafael Pontuschka is an Education Researcher at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti. Nujoma Quaresma is the Coordinator of the Technology Studies in the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of São Tomé and Príncipe. 
Can more women in school leadership improve learning outcomes?
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Can more women in school leadership improve learning outcomes?

 The global education community has long focused on girls’ education and finding pathways to increasing girls’ access and retention in school, improving learning, and supporting girls’ holistic wellbeing. While the positive effects of female teachers on girls’ education have been well-researched, one piece often missing from gender discussions in education is school leadership – and the noticeable absence of women school leaders around the world.  For much of his life, Matt Brossard, Chief of Education at UNICEF Innocenti, has been surrounded by teachers and school leaders: both of his parents were teachers, his sister and his cousin are teachers, and his aunt was a primary school leader. Before segueing into a career shaping evidence, policy, and programmes on education, Matt taught mathematics in a secondary school center led by a man. Jessica Bergmann, an education researcher at UNICEF Innocenti, spent her entire education – from primary to secondary school and even to university – without a single female school leader. This experience continued when she became a secondary school English teacher, teaching in a school that was also led by a male principal.  As part of a new research initiative they are developing at UNICEF Innocenti, Women in Learning Leadership (WiLL), Matt and Jessica reflect on their personal experiences while looking at the available research and data. They realized that having more female head teachers could be an untapped opportunity to address the learning crisis, for both girls and boys. There is a gender gap in school leadership  School leaders play a critical role in creating high-quality teaching and learning environments. Effective school leaders can contribute to improving student learning outcomes, closing equity gaps, and fostering strong relationships between schools and the communities they serve. Yet, women remain underrepresented in school leadership roles, despite their increasing representation in the teaching workforce. Across several Latin American and Caribbean countries, including Mexico, Chile, and Colombia, there is a 20-percentage point difference between the share of female public primary school leaders and the share of female teachers, according to 2013 TERCE data.  Similar trends are seen across 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa that participated in the 2019 PASEC assessment, where only 22 per cent of surveyed students attended a school with a female head teacher. Findings from our Data Must Speak positive deviance research show similar results: in Niger, Mali, and Togo, only about 1 in 10 school leaders are women (see Figure 1). Even in Niger, where 40 per cent of teachers are female, only 11 per cent of school leaders are women.  Figure 1: Female participation in school leadership and in the teaching workforce (primary education)  Emerging evidence shows students attending women-led schools may learn more  Early analysis and research from UNICEF Innocenti and other organizations shows that women-led schools may perform better than men-led schools. Across the PASEC-participating countries, learning outcomes at the end of primary school for both girls and boys in female-led schools are higher. PASEC 2019 assessment shows that the difference is statistically significant in eight countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Madagascar, Niger, and Senegal) in reading and in six countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Madagascar, Senegal) in mathematics.   In Lao PDR, our research shows that highly effective schools – schools that perform better than others in a similar context with the same resources – are twice as likely than other schools to be led by a woman. In Mozambique, schools with a female school leader have lower dropout rates than schools with a male school leader, noting that these results may be driven by the higher concentration of female school leaders in urban areas and more developed regions of the country (UNICEF Innocenti, forthcoming). In Togo, primary school exam results and promotion rates are higher for girls in schools where the head teacher is a woman, even when controlling for a set of contextual and geographical variables, such as whether the school is in an urban or rural area (UNICEF Innocenti, forthcoming).  We do not know enough about women’s participation and impact in school leadership   There is a lot we still do not understand about women in learning leadership.  First, we need to better understand women’s participation in school leadership roles and identify the critical barriers preventing them from moving into these roles. We need to look at recruitment and selection policies and also at social and cultural perceptions to find solutions that can increase women’s representation in school leadership. Second, more evidence is needed to understand the differences in learning outcomes for schools led by women compared to men and identify what practices, behaviors and attitudes contribute to these differences. What do women school leaders do that leads to better school performance? And how can we incentivize more school leaders, both women and men, to adopt these behaviors? These questions have formed the foundation of UNICEF Innocenti’s new research initiative, Women in Learning Leadership, which aims to expand the evidence base on gender and school leadership. Too many students around the world still move through their educational experiences without seeing women as part of the leadership landscape. This reinforces existing gender norms and stereotypes surrounding effective leaders and leadership capabilities. Both girls and boys could benefit from more women school leaders.  For International Women’s Day and beyond, as we reflect on ways to create a more gender equal world and #BreakTheBias, school leadership must remain a part of the conversation – because where there is a WiLL, there is a way. Read more about women’s underrepresentation in school leadership roles and the emerging evidence that suggests women-led schools perform better in the latest evidence brief, Increasing Women’s Representation in School Leadership: A Promising Path Towards Improving Learning, co-authored by UNICEF Innocenti and IIEP-UNESCO Dakar.Jessica Bergmann is an education researcher at UNICEF Innocenti and Matt Brossard is the Chief of Education at UNICEF Innocenti. For more information about our Women in Learning Leadership (WiLL) research initiative and how to engage, Jessica and Matt can be contacted at jbergmann@unicef.org and mbrossard@unicef.org.   
Innovative tools help fill data gaps on skill development
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Innovative tools help fill data gaps on skill development

In the midst of a global learning crisis, there is an urgent need to improve children’s basic literacy and numeracy skills. But preparing young people for further success at school, work and life will require more than these foundational skills: to thrive in the 21st century, they need to think critically, adapt to new technologies, collaborate with others and be equipped to navigate challenges. Children need to develop the full range of skills including foundational, transferable, digital, job-specific and entrepreneurial skills. This is in line with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on quality education, which calls for not just reading and math proficiency, but also an improvement in a wider set of skills to prepare children and youth to thrive in school, work and life.To ensure a brighter future for all children, we must first understand where they are in developing this full range of skills. Our recent mapping of skills assessments, however, reveals an overall dearth of data on skill development. Less than a fifth of countries, most of which are high-income, have data on all five skill areas. Across age groups, there are relatively limited data on children of primary school age. Large-scale assessments tend to measure only a few select transferable skills, mostly for adolescents. Moreover, data typically represent students in school, leaving out children who are not in school—and for whom skills development levels may be far worse.How do we fill these gaps? We present three examples of innovations to existing surveys and new tools that provide potential solutions.First, to address the lack of data on primary school-age and out-of-school children, UNICEF has developed the Foundational Learning Skills module in the sixth round of the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS6). Although some international surveys have begun expanding their coverage of developing nations, low-income countries remain underrepresented and out-of-school children excluded. While the PISA for Development (PISA-D) includes an option to assess out-of-school 14- to 16-year-olds, learning disparities often begin much earlier in children’s lives. To help fill these gaps, the MICS Foundational Learning Skills module is the only household survey that captures basic reading and numeracy skills at Grades 2 and 3 for in- and out-of-school children aged 7-14 years, in line with SDG 4.1.1a on minimum proficiency in reading and math. Data from this module can help us better understand the magnitude of the learning crisis and ensure no child is left behind.Activities measured in MICS Foundational Learning Skills moduleSecond, to support data on digital skills, UNICEF has updated the Mass Media and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) module as part of MICS6. The module collects data on the recent use of ICT skills in various computer-related activities among men and women aged 15 to 49 years, in line with SDG 4.4.1 on ICT skills. Data from this module can improve our understanding on the prevalence of digital skills, on which only a little over half of countries currently have data. Better insight into these skills can help inform how we support children and youth to become digitally literate, well-equipped to use digital learning solutions and prepared for the future of work in the digital economy.Activities measured to assess ICT skills in MICS Mass Media and ICT moduleLastly, UNICEF has developed standardized approaches to measuring transferable skills. Within the regional Life Skills and Citizenship Education (LSCE) initiative in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, UNICEF and the World Bank have developed the LSCE Measurement Instrument which measures the life skills (or transferable skills) outlined in the LSCE Framework below. These life skills have been identified as the most essential skills to develop the knowledge, attitudes and behaviors to deal with everyday life and to succeed in school and work. The instrument is designed as a national large-scale assessment to measure life skills scores at Grade 7 (or ages 12-14). The instrument provides a standardized approach for measuring life skills and can be applied in every country in the MENA region, as it is not based on any national curricula. The instrument is currently available in English and Arabic, and UNICEF is actively working to adapt the instrument and to deploy it to other regions.The MENA Life Skills and Citizenship Education frameworkAdditionally, UNICEF supported the development of the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM), designed specifically for countries in Southeast Asia. Along with assessing Grade 5 students’ proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics, SEA-PLM is the first large-scale assessment to measure global citizenship attitudes, values and behavior at the primary level. In SEA-PLM, global citizenship refers to the appreciation and understanding of the interconnectedness of all life, a definition formulated in collaboration with Southeast Asian countries and which explores skills such as critical thinking, empathy and collaboration.Findings from the MENA LSCE Measurement Instrument and the SEA-PLM can provide insight into the levels and distribution of transferable skills across the school-age population, inform the nature and scope of interventions to foster teaching and learning of transferable skills, and help track the progress of policies and interventions designed to enhance these skills. These large-scale assessments are only one approach to measuring skills development, which varies depending on context and purpose. Aside from large-scale assessments, UNICEF also supports the development of formative assessments, which can help inform learner-centered teaching and learning in the classroom, and impact assessments, which focus on the effectiveness of particular interventions aimed at developing skills.These innovative tools help fill data gaps towards more comprehensive skills assessments and developing the full range of skills, a goal of UNICEF’s Reimagine Education initiative. With more and better data, we can provide greater support – and a brighter future – for all children. Anna Alejo is an education consultant and Haogen Yao, Bassem Nasir, Rachel Cooper and Manuel Cardoso are education specialists at UNICEF New York Headquarters. 
From Learning to Earning: Alternative Credentials and Youth Employment
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From Learning to Earning: Alternative Credentials and Youth Employment

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the global learning and skills crisis. Before the pandemic, 267 million youth (15-24) were not in employment, education and training (NEET), two-thirds of whom were young women due to gendered expectations of unpaid family work and informal employment. Globally, over 73% of youth experienced the closure of schools, universities, and training centers during the pandemic. This exacerbated the learning crisis, leaving those most marginalized – including adolescent girls – without the skills needed for basic educational attainment and lifelong learning.The pandemic also forced governments, education and training institutions, and employers to harness new technologies to ensure that young people have the foundational, transferable, digital, entrepreneurial, and job specific skills needed to succeed on the job and in life – including through the use of alternative and micro-credentials. Alternative credentials are those “that are not recognized as standalone educational qualifications by education authorities such as academic and industry certificates, badges, etc.” Micro-credentials “are focused on a specific set of learning outcomes and achieved over a shorter period of time; they also verify achievements acquired elsewhere, such as in the workplace, volunteering, etc.”It is estimated that learners, companies, and governments spend more than $10 billion USD on alternative and micro-credentials, and the market is estimated to double over 3-5 years. With this projected growth and shift to skills-based education, the boundaries between formal, accredited degree programs and shorter, more targeted micro-credential programs, create more dynamic learning opportunities. Figure 1. Alternative Credential User Landscape While these forms of credentials are not new, many companies are revisiting their use case and impact on employability for three reasons: first, the fast pace of technological advances means that skills and knowledge produced in traditional degree programs cannot keep pace with market demand; second, transferable, or 21st century skills, are becoming more recognized signalers of employability; finally, employees recognize the need to become lifelong learners to ensure they have the skills needed for today and tomorrow.Alternative Credentials: Opportunities for YouthWhile currently used in developed contexts, alterative credentials have the potential to facilitate the school-to-work transition in places where UNICEF is on the ground, particularly for displaced youth. There are approximately 281 million migrants worldwide, and more than 4 out of 10 forcibly displaced persons below 18. Forced migration disrupts young people’s learning-to-earning journeys, leaving them “without recognized credentials, social networks, or mentors, as they move and settle in unfamiliar places.”Alternative credentials offer flexible opportunities to gain skills, and provide a customized learning experience that give individuals control over the time and space where they learn. For displaced and vulnerable populations, this flexibility is important as they face additional barriers to complete formal education, often cut short due to economic need, gender barriers, natural disasters, etc.For learners and earners, alternative credentials offer both short-and long term opportunities that provide a pathway for lifelong learning. This is advantageous for non-traditional earners who may require immediate skills for employment, while working toward an accredited degree by obtaining stackable credits.For employers, alternative credentials are innovative, cost effective, and time sensitive approaches that maximize employee performance and retention.For providers on both the education and employment side, alternative credentials are more agile than traditional post-secondary and higher education programs, which often require bureaucratic review processes that prevent programs from meeting market demand in real time. The market driven nature of alternative credentials can lead to increased collaboration between education providers and employers, ensuring that both agree upon the value and relevancy of specific learning and workforce outcomes.Alternative Credentials: Barriers for YouthDespite the promises of alternative credentials, the majority of employers still view traditional degrees and previous work experience as primary signalers of an individual’s knowledge and skills. One alternative credential provider noted, “while there is a shift away from degrees, changing a company’s culture takes time; innovation requires discomfort and a move away from what was once viewed as the only way things worked.”Online education requires self-control, self-motivation, and self-management, so many youth may require additional support, such as mentorship, peer-to-peer exchanges, and opportunities to practice skills with project-based work. Alternative credentials may be best suited for mature learners who are self-regulated. Because the majority of alternative credentials are built on internet technology, the move toward digital also runs the risk of worsening learning inequalities, particularly for young women.As boys are 1.5 times more likely to own a phone and 1.8 times more likely to own a smartphone than girls, alternative credential tools also overwhelmingly favor adoption by males and may leave girls and young women further behind.What’s next?This is still an emerging field and several coalitions such as the International Council on Badges and Credentials and the Open Badge Network have immerged to develop standards and drive coordinated efforts to realize the potential alternative credentials have in supporting youth’s transition from education to employment.  Still greater investment and commitment to partnership and research is required to understand how alternative and micro-credentials can be used to translate youth’s diverse skills, knowledge, and experiences for the needs of 21st century employers or other stakeholders. Finally, there is a need to develop alternative credentials systems that cater to marginalized youth including girls, youth with disabilities, and migrants. Through an increased emphasis on data, learners, earners, educators and employers can overcome barriers to build inclusive economic opportunities for the next generation. Julia Sellers is an education consultant and Bassem Nasir and Rachel Cooper are education specialists at UNICEF New York Headquarters.           
Can social protection simultaneously reduce violence against children and violence against women?
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Can social protection simultaneously reduce violence against children and violence against women?

Despite the identification of cash transfers as a promising evidence-informed strategy to address violence against children (VAC) and violence against women (VAW) – until recently, there was little evidence from low- and middle-income country settings (LMICs), that assessed the effects of such interventions on both in the same study. Yet, cash transfers and broader forms of social protection have potential to address both forms of violence through shared risk factors, including reductions in poverty and economic stress, or through complementary ‘plus’ programming targeting risk factors related to conflict in the home or violence norms (see reviews on VAC and IPV).   In this blog, we summarize five studies completed in the last two years that examine impacts of cash, cash-for-work and cash plus programmes on both violent discipline of children and male intimate partner violence against women (IPV) from diverse LMICs – Bangladesh, Colombia, Mali, the Philippines and Rwanda. We include both studies evaluating the effects of cash alone, cash plus programming, as well as those that evaluate just the impacts of the ‘plus’. We focus on studies that were rigorously designed and measured violent discipline and IPV in the same household (rather than those focused on violence against adolescent girls, which might fall in the nexus of both categories of violence). To our knowledge, with the exception of a previous study in Mexico (from 2013), these 5 studies are the only available publications from LMICs examining both types of violence in the same evaluation. We also offer key take away messages and suggest areas for future research.     Bangladesh: An experimental study examined post-intervention effects of the Transfer Modality Research Initiative pilot, implemented in rural areas over 24 months by the World Food Programme. The intervention provided both transfers (cash and food), as well as a group-based nutrition behavior change (BCC) intervention to women with young children living in poor households. The evaluation found reductions in physical IPV of 26% among women in the cash plus BCC arm, however no impacts in the transfer only arm (and no impacts on emotional IPV). In addition, the authors examine two indicators of physical violent discipline from parents taken from the HOME inventory (whether mothers had hit the child during the week prior to the study and if parents react with physical discipline if they are hit by the child). The study found reductions of 25% to 38% across violent discipline indicators, again in the cash plus BCC arm (8 to 12 percentage points [pp]- reported in the online appendix). The author’s examination of mechanisms for IPV suggests that reductions in poverty-related stress, and increases in household economic status, which were larger in the BCC arm, may be a possible joint pathway for reductions in both violence measures (Roy et al. 2019 in the Review of Economics and Statistics).   Colombia: A quasi-experimental study of the government’s conditional cash transfer program targeted to poor households with school-aged children, Familias en Acción, used variation in the timing of bi-monthly payments at the municipality level paired with municipality-level administrative data on reported levels of violence from health and legal services. The authors show that rates of overall domestic violence, as well as rates of IPV from administrative data reported to health and justice systems, decrease by 6% in payment months. In contrast, there are no changes in reported domestic violence specifically against minors. Authors also show that household spending is higher in payment months—suggesting a poverty and stress reduction mechanism achieved via higher consumption expenditures (Camacho & Rodriguez 2020 in the CEDE Working Paper series)   Mali: An experimental study of the government’s Jigisémèjiri program, an unconditional quarterly cash transfer given primarily to male heads of household found decreases in IPV after 24-months. These decreases were concentrated in polygamous households (making up 40% of the sample), where reductions were found for controlling behaviors (23% or 16 pp), emotional IPV (37% or 13 pp) and physical IPV (40% or 7 pp). The study also reported on VAC among a target child aged 2 to 4 years old using the UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey measures – showing similar trends as for IPV. Measures of psychological aggression against children were insignificant in the full sample, however physical punishment and number of total acts showed reductions—which increased in magnitude and significance among the polygamous households (showing decreases in psychological aggression of 16% or 11 pps and in physical punishment of 20% or 17 pps). Key mechanisms underlying impacts were reductions in men’s stress and anxiety, as well as in reported household disputes (Heath et al. 2020 in the Journal of Development Economics).   The Philippines: An experimental study of a locally-adapted 12-session group-based parenting program (Masayang Pamilya Para Sa Batang Pilipino – or MaPa) layered on the government flagship conditional cash transfer (Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Programme) reported impacts at program end and 12-months post program. The evaluated intervention reached female caregivers of children aged 2 to 6 years in low-income families in urban Manila. The evaluation found reductions in incidence and frequency of child maltreatment at both follow-up waves, measuring using the ISPCAN Child Abuse Screening tool (e.g. a 49% reduced risk of physical abuse at post-intervention and a 48% reduced risk of neglect). For IPV, risk reductions at program end were 63% and at 12 months post-intervention were 49%. Possible common mechanisms of impact were those reducing overall incidence of family conflict and stress, increased caregiver efficacy and confidence when dealing with male spouses, fewer daily child behavior problems, and lower parenting dysfunction, among others (Lachman et al. 2021 in The Lancet Regional Health – Western Pacific).   Rwanda: An experimental study examined the impacts of the Sugira Muryango program – a home-visiting-based parenting intervention – layered on a government flagship social protection program ‘Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme’ targeting poor households with direct cash support and public works. Sugira Muryango included 12 sessions delivered over 3 months by community-based coaches promoting early childhood development (ECD) and preventing family violence. The study examined outcomes at 12-months post-intervention, showing reductions in female caregiver reports of IPV experience (IRR=0.616, 95% CI 0.458 to 0.828) as well as VAC as measured by harsh parenting using the UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey measures (IRR=0.741, 95% CI 0.657 to 0.835). However, no significant impact was shown on male caregiver report of IPV perpetration (among an alternate sample of households where male caregivers were surveyed). The program also showed significant increases in engaging fathers in childcare and select child development outcomes (Jensen et al. 2021 in BMJ Global Health).   Take away messages and future studies   Taken together, these studies suggest a similar pattern of impacts. Across all but one study (Colombia), where impacts are found on IPV—the similar direction of impacts are found for VAC. In Bangladesh, impacts are only observed with the addition of plus components. However, in Rwanda and the Philippines—the evaluation focuses exclusively on the plus intervention—thus we are unable to fully disentangle if there are synergistic or countervailing impacts of the economic component alone. In three cases (Bangladesh, the Philippines and Rwanda) the evaluation includes post-intervention effects, showing that reductions in both IPV and VAC are sustained even after the program ends. The lack of impacts for VAC in Colombia may be due to the use of administrative data on cases of violence reported to health and justice systems (which capture only a fraction of violence prevalence), or the identification strategy (relying on the timing of payments) may not be meaningful enough variation for impacts. In spite of differences in social protection strategies and methodologies used to measure impact, overall, these results show that social protection is a promising intervention and platform to reduce both violence against children and violence against women.   Moving forward, more studies are needed that explore the effectiveness of social protection on multiple dimensions of violence. In doing so, evaluations will need to take a more holistic approach to map out pathways of impact and measure violence. For example, to affect IPV, social protection evaluations often target and focus on women alone and seek to empower her and change her circumstances – however to fundamentally change violence inside the home and parenting practices tied to violent discipline, it is essential to involve and collect data from men as well. In addition, more evidence is needed on possible intergenerational effects – another key point of intersection between VAC and VAW — for example, linking benefits realized by adolescent girls in households receiving social protection benefits to stability and freedom from violence in future intimate relationships. From a methodological standpoint, this research agenda is ripe for inter-disciplinary collaboration between development economists who typically evaluate social protection programming, and public health experts on VAC and VAW.   Stay tuned for more work from UNICEF Innocenti and partners on the intersection of VAC and VAW, including systematic reviews (on effective interventions and shared risk factors) and results from Mozambique’s Child Grant evaluation measuring impacts on violent discipline and IPV.         Authors: Amber Peterman is a Research Associate Professor at UNC where she co-leads the Cash Transfer and Intimate Partner Violence Research Collaborative and consultant to UNICEF Innocenti, Alessandra Guedes is the Gender & Development Research Manager at UNICEF Innocenti.   The authors would like to thank Elena Camilletti and Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed for helpful comments.      
Four young researchers reflect on their work at UNICEF Innocenti
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Four young researchers reflect on their work at UNICEF Innocenti

  The authors worked at the UNICEF Innocenti from May to November 2021 as interns within the Research in Education and Development (READ) team. Here they talk about their experience and lessons learned as young researchers at UNICEF’s Office of Research - Innocenti.Four of us flew from different parts of the world – France, Peru, Philippines, and the United States – to work as interns at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti in Florence, Italy. Living in Florence and having the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a variety of education research projects was something out of a dream. We were different and diverse in our individual backgrounds, and interest and specialty in research, but our internship experiences brought a shared memory of warm collegiality and of both personal and professional aspects of education research. In this blog, we share our reflections from our internship experiences and the different elements that constitute successful research in action from stakeholder partnership to professional and ethical management of research: Co-creating with stakeholdersCo-creating research with stakeholders at the onset ensures alignment with priorities and promotes research uptake and sustainability. When we let national governments and other local stakeholders take part in conceptualization, they identify research problems and approaches that could best respond to the challenges that they are experiencing. Additionally, the co-creation process allows them to take full ownership of both the research and the resulting policies. Kevin: “With co-creation being one of the core guiding principles of the Data Must Speak (DMS) research, I particularly witnessed how Ministries of Education (MoE) and various stakeholders co-developed and co-implemented the research to fit their context. Before the research takes place, stakeholders participate in co-creation workshops to analyze the resources and contexts associated with school performance in their country. They also participate in actual data collection, cleaning, and analysis. For instance, in Nepal, MoE personnel and other education stakeholders participated in technical workshops on using a statistical software that strengthened their technical skills in research and allowed them to harmonize existing education datasets.”Adapting research to realitySomething we learned right away as new researchers at UNICEF Innocenti is that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Drawing from our academic training and applying it to ongoing research requires us to think on our feet, constantly adapting to what is most relevant, practically and ethically feasible and appropriate. There are no cookie-cutter answers: The best research approach for a given situation will look different for each case. It is also imprinted upon us very strongly that the goal of our research is to best serve the programme and ultimately improve the lives of children around the world. Andrea: “I recently worked to support the restructuring of survey instruments for the Akelius programme in Mauritania. We started from a ‘data we would like to have’ standpoint, then worked our way to ‘data that is available’, keeping in mind the time it requires for students and teachers to fill out the surveys. I also learnt quickly that what I, as an external researcher, consider useful data is not necessarily the data and analysis that would best inform and benefit the program implementation. Embedding research into program implementation is a process of tailoring, and it is important that it be done in close collaboration with local project staff and management.”Working collaboratively across disciplinesAnother highlight of our experience was the opportunity to work with a diverse, interdisciplinary team. At Innocenti, we are a mix of cultures, experiences, disciplines and methods. The four of us ourselves have been trained in a broad range of topics – education, psychology, economics, communication, etc. We each bring something different and equally important to the table and are ultimately focused on a common goal, rather than on defending our respective methods. This has been a valuable experience - we have a lot more perspective now and can no longer go back to working in our own disciplinary silos. Turning research findings into action pointsThe internship has demonstrated to us how powerful and useful research can be for the improvement of children’s lives. A crucial part of research is not only generating more knowledge and conducting a methodologically appropriate project, but most importantly, informing policy and guiding action. Therefore, it is essential to translate research findings into concrete and contextualized policy recommendations that can be applied by stakeholders at different levels. This is a key step if our aim is to bridge research, policy and practice, and ensure a high research uptake. Stefania: “For the WCAR ‘Time to Teach’ report, we developed policy recommendations for stakeholders at different levels (national, subnational and district) based on rigorous existing evidence. We previously conducted a literature review to inform this section of the report and included specific initiatives to address the gaps identified in the education systems of participating countries. We ensured that all recommendations were feasible in the context we were working in”. Tailor-fitting research outputsDisseminating research findings can be an overwhelming process for researchers who have been trained to produce long reports. It is easy to rely on communication and design specialists when producing research outputs tailored to different audiences beyond academic journals. However, researchers should be good communicators as well. Understanding the basics of the design process can go a long way in terms of disseminating research findings effectively and promoting research uptake. Kevin: “When it was time to share the findings of the DMS research in Lao PDR with various national and local education stakeholders, the real task was thinking of a way to present the research in a manner that is easy to understand and engaging. After a series of conversations with the MoE, we decided to publish a series of short and catchy policy briefs (Policy Brief 1 and Policy Brief 2) to complement the longer quantitative report. This way, the target audience was given a chance to quickly read and reflect on the main research findings, while attending to their other equally important day-to-day tasks.”Researchers versus ‘subjects’ of researchBeing immersed in the field of educational research, it is challenging to empathetically situate ourselves in the harsh realities that subjects of our research confront in their everyday life. Amid the hectic procedures of research from web scraping to data analysis and internal/external review processes, it is easy to forget that the “subjects” or true beneficiaries of the research are millions of young children in need who are living and breathing right now in all corners of this world. Youngkwang: “In It’s Not Too Late to Act on Early Learning, I had a chance to advocate for the importance of reopening pre-primary education to alleviate the learning loss of many young children across the globe. However, preoccupied with procedural sequences of the project, I was thinking less of the young children missing out on opportunities due to school closures, but rather about the ‘process.’ Although I was very proud of being a part of the research project, I found myself feeling relieved from the completion of the project and planning for another upcoming project. In this self-reflection, I learned the importance of not losing touch with the bigger, ultimate goal of research – to genuinely advocate the very lives of many young children in need."Who are we doing the research for?Honestly speaking, it is hard for us as interns to only think about the lives of many young children living in far distances across the globe. As young researchers, we cannot help ourselves from thinking about how effectively we are serving the needs of the organization we are working for. Throughout the internship, we have to constantly measure ourselves whether we acclimate to the organizational culture (whether or not we make any faux pas) and whether we are making the best out of our internship and fine progress in our career trajectory. While it is very difficult to suppress the stream of these thoughts, we need to keep asking ourselves this fundamental question: Who are we doing the research for and why? Yes, this internship is a great opportunity to learn about educational research and to proceed in our career paths. More importantly, however, it is an honorable opportunity to support and shape the future of young people in the world and to remind us that we too are young people who share the same future. Reflecting on ethicsCollaborating across different education projects at UNICEF Innocenti has made us think about what ethical research really means and what it entails. We have learned that, beyond formal reviews by ethical committees, there are critical questions that researchers should ask themselves: Why are we doing the research? Is it feasible in that location? Who benefits from the research? These questions allow us to challenge our own assumptions and ensure a more reliable and context-specific research process. Moreover, it is crucial to consider what voices the research findings are echoing. When possible, it is key to include the users and actors involved in delivering the services we are researching. Their voices will provide us with some of the most valuable insights. Stefania: “When drafting the ‘Time to Teach’ reports, I have learnt the importance of truthful storytelling. The way in which we jointly presented qualitative and quantitative data in the WCAR report helped us to tell the story of the challenges faced by teachers in the region. We wanted our findings to reflect teachers’ experiences as much as possible, for readers to understand the complexity of the drivers that can lead them to be absent from schools. When selecting quotes to illustrate findings and writing sections of the report, I tried to ask myself if my words were echoing the tough circumstances that teachers live every day to reach their students”. Our time as interns and young researchers at UNICEF Innocenti flew swiftly. Armed with passion to discover how we can improve the lives of children and youth through research, we were welcomed whole-heartedly by the READ team and given the opportunity to fully immerse ourselves in every aspect of the research process. What made our internship experience truly special was our willingness to actively collaborate with one another and a strong sense of collegial connection amongst us four interns. As we complete our internship at UNICEF Innocenti and continue our journey as researchers, what will stay with us are important lessons of what constitutes exemplary education research and fond memories of learning together with the kindest, most supportive team.   Andrea Dsouza worked with the Innovations in Education unit of the READ team, on the Let us Learn (LUL) and Digital Learning projects. She holds a Masters in Development Economics from Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. Kevin Clidoro worked for the Data Must Speak Research at UNICEF Innocenti READ Team. He is currently on his way to earning a master's degree with a focus on education policy at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy in Universität Erfurt. Stefania Vindrola worked in the ‘Time to Teach’ project at UNICEF Innocenti READ team. She is an Educational Psychologist and holds a Masters in Sociology of Childhood and Children’s Rights from University College London (UCL). Youngkwang Jeon worked for the Early Childhood Education (ECE) unit at UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti READ team. Youngkwang holds a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School and recently completed his M.Ed. in International Education Policy from Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Mind the gap(s): Are we seeing the full picture of children’s skill development?
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Mind the gap(s): Are we seeing the full picture of children’s skill development?

More than four-fifths of countries lack the data to provide a baseline on the full range of skills children and youth need to thrive in school, work and life. UNICEF uses a fivefold typology for the development of broad, interconnected skills : 1) foundational skills, such as basic literacy and numeracy; 2) transferable skills, or ‘life skills’ such as problem-solving, negotiation and critical thinking; 3) digital skills, which allow individuals to use and understand technology; 4) job-specific skills, also known as technical and vocational skills that support older adolescents’ transition into the workforce; and 5) entrepreneurial skills, which support business and social entrepreneurship (Figure 1).Figure 1. UNICEF’s skills typologyAiming towards more comprehensive measures of skill development, UNICEF has begun mapping available assessments on these five types of skills. The mapping exercise identified large-scale assessments, including household surveys and databases, that: a) measured at least one of the five skills categories; b) were administered within the last 10 years; and c) had data publicly available. Information such as category of skill(s) measured, participating countries and target population were collected to create an inventory of assessments. This allowed us to see where data may be lacking across countries, skill categories and age groups.What gaps do we find? Within the last 10 years, only 38 of 224 countries and territories (17 per cent) have reported data on all five skills categories, while 48 countries and territories (21 per cent) do not have data on any of the five skills. Data gaps are especially prevalent among low-income countries, few of which have participated in large-scale assessments beyond foundational skills measurement. As a result, only 5 per cent of all low- and lower-middle-income countries have data available on all five skills (Figure 2).Figure 2. Data availability across countries and territoriesNote: This map is stylized and not to scale. It does not reflect a position by UNICEF on the legal status of any country or territory or the delimitation of any frontiers.Across skills categories, three-quarters of countries have data on foundational skills, but only about half have data on digital skills and a fifth have data on job-specific skills. Data availability also varies by age group: for instance, a third of countries have data on transferable skills for children of secondary school age, but only 7 per cent have the same for those of primary school age (Figure 3).Figure 3. Data availability by skill category and age groupGaps are also seen in most assessments’ exclusion of out-of-school children, for whom outcomes may be far worse. Results from the Programme for International Student Assessment for Development (PISA-D), which includes in-school and out-of-school assessments comparable with the main PISA, reveal exceptionally poor outcomes for participating countries (Figure 4). More than half of 15-year-olds in these countries have dropped out of school before completing basic education. Understanding where out-of-school children are in their skills development will be especially crucial as school closures brought by COVID-19 pose a significant risk of dropout.Figure 4. Percentage of 15-year-olds achieving minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics, PISA-D and PISA 2018Source: PISA 2018 and PISA for Development databases.Note: Percentages of 15-year-olds achieving minimum proficiency was computed as a weighted average of the percentage of students performing at Level 2 or above and that of youth not enrolled in school performing at Level 2 or above. The OECD average is a student average.Lastly, areas such as transferable and job-specific skills are often only partially addressed by existing assessments. Compared to foundational skills, assessing transferable and job-specific skills is less straightforward, with no single approach or tool to measure these skills. Existing large-scale assessments like the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS) and PISA provide insight into a few select transferable skills such as civic participation and perspective-taking, but they may not fully capture other core social and emotional skills. Similarly, as skills requirements differ from job to job, no single assessment of job-specific skills may apply across all occupations. Participation rates in technical-vocational education and training can give some indication of how many might be acquiring job-specific skills, but this does not tell us about the quality or relevance of skills development in these activities.To help fill some of these gaps, the development of alternative measures for these various skills are now underway. Emerging efforts include the Foundational Learning Skills and Mass Media and ICT modules in UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), and the Life Skills and Citizenship Education (LSCE) measurement tool co-developed by UNICEF and the World Bank. The LSCE tool, currently being finalized, aims to provide a standardized approach to measuring proficiency in 12 core life skills.It is essential that we continue tracking the development of the various skills children need to thrive in today’s world, especially with the new skills required to adapt to digital learning. This is what we envision through Reimagine Education, an initiative to end the learning crisis by connecting every child and young person to world-class digital learning solutions that help build a broad range of skills for a better future. We must work towards closing the data gaps to ensure all children are set up for success in school, work and life.Download the 1-page infographic on data gap for tracking the full range of skills.Anna Alejo is an education consultant and Haogen Yao, Bassem Nasir, and Rachel Cooper are education specialists at UNICEF New York Headquarters.  
Eight Great Childhood Stories in Eight Decades: A celebration of UNICEF75 in film
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Eight Great Childhood Stories in Eight Decades: A celebration of UNICEF75 in film

UNICEF turns 75 this year. To celebrate its resolute commitment to children – and as we launch the second UNICEF Innocenti Film Festival showcasing new, high-quality cinema narratives of childhood – we look back to some of the greatest film narratives of childhood. After watching hundreds of amazing films about childhood from every corner of the world, from the 1940s to 2010s, we selected one from each decade that tells a story in consonance with UNICEF’s mission to protect children's rights, help meet their basic needs and expand their opportunities to reach their full potential. From helping displaced or abandoned children to ensuring special protection for the most disadvantaged – victims of war, disasters, extreme poverty, all forms of violence and exploitation, and those with disabilities – UNICEF strives to work for every child, at all stages of childhood, including adolescence.    The Search, USA, 1948Against the backdrop of post-World War II Europe, is the story of a Karel (Ivan Jandl), a young concentration camp survivor in search of a future; Steve (Montgomery Clift), a US Army engineer in search of justice; and Hanna (Jarmila Novotná), a mother desperately in search of her son. While Steve befriends Karel, he devotes himself to working with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) – re-emerged in 1946 as “temporary” programme then called the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). Directed by Fred Zinnemann, a pioneer in “location” films – mostly shot among the ruins of war in Germany – The Search is one the early films to show the horrible impacts of the war on children. It might also be the first Hollywood production to depict the work of the United Nations and UNICEF, which still addresses the most challenging humanitarian issues facing children in conflict zones today. The Search won the 1948 Academy Award for Best Story and a Special Juvenile Oscar given to Ivan Jandl was accepted on his behalf by Fred Zinnemann because he was not allowed to travel to the US from his home in the country today known as Czechia.    Pather Panchali, India, 1955A poetic and immersive directorial debut by one of India’s greatest filmmakers, Satyajit Ray, Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road in Bengali) was a bona fide international film festival sensation. While not widely distributed at the time of its release, it premiered at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1955 – just two years after the UN General Assembly approved a new, and for the first time permanent, mission for UNICEF to assist vulnerable children around the world. Heavily influenced by the Italian neorealism movement, Pather Panchali focuses on the lives of poor children and their family, particularly their female caregivers, in a rural Bengal village. India’s first independent film to attract major international attention and sensitize a global audience to the hardships of the country’s rural poor, it has been criticized for romanticizing the lives of the poor, and praised for its realism and humanity.    L’Enfance nue, France, 1968Abandoned by his mother, François is a child of the French foster care system, continually placed in and kicked out of foster families because of his troubled and, at times, cruel behavior. However, at 10 years old, he also has a softer, reflective side. Maurice Pialat’sL’Enfance nue (Naked Childhood), presents an unvarnished look at what happens to children when things go wrong, and parents cannot provide the care they need. Released during the tense May 1968 civil unrest in France, which began with a series of student protests, L’Enfance nue, drew attention for its unsentimental portrayal of children in the foster care system. At the same time, new research and thinking about children in care showed unacceptable outcomes for institutionalized children. Orphanages and childcare institutions – including the Ospedale Degli Innocenti in Florence – had begun to rethink their forms of care for abandoned children and to consider closing such institutions in favor of homelike care settings, a trend which would grow and expand to countries at all levels of economic development in the years to follow.    Tale of Tales, Soviet Union, 1979Judged in 1984 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to be the best animated short film of all time, Tale of Tales is a good example of the great achievements in animation across the Eastern Bloc prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Director Yuri Norstein’s scenes were said to appear like masterful oil paintings that came alive with perfect realism. This powerful impression was said to have been achieved by a unique system of photographing animated cells on multiple glass planes which were moved relative to the camera. The film’s structure is non-linear, and designed to convey the fragmentary and fuzzy images of human memory. The binding element is the perception of childhood during war-time poverty combined with nostalgic scenes of close human relationships experienced during times of deprivation. In Norstein’s words, the film is “about simple concepts that give you the strength to live.” Tale of Tales appeared at a time when international efforts toward the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) began to accelerate with the passage of numerous international agreements in the 1970s, building to near universal consensus on the need for the Convention and culminating in a International Year of the Child in 1979. The CRC was eventually passed by the UN General Assembly in 1989.    Bashu, the Little Stranger, Iran, 1986A dazed and traumatized boy emerges from a truck thousands of miles from his war-ravaged town near the Iran-Iraq battlefront of the 1980s. Little Bashu finds himself in Northern Iran, haunted by the spirits of his deceased mother and family members and unable to understand a single word of the local dialect (Gilaki). Taunted for his dark skin and seemingly alien ways by the villagers, he is taken in by Naii, a mother of two children trying to manage the family farm while her husband is far away in the war. Considered by many as one of the most powerful Iranian feature films of the time, director Bahram Beyzai successfully portrays an ostracized child with dignity and dimensionality, while revealing the problem of racial and ethnic prejudice. At a time of growing awareness of and concern about the dramatic increase in the number of civilian casualties of armed conflict, with disastrous implications for children, Bashu, the Little Stranger tells an important story about overcoming differences.   </div><p> </p> <p> </p> <h3>La Petite Vendeuse de Soleil, Senegal, 1999</h3> <p>Sili, an adolescent with a disability in Dakar, decides she will be the first girl to sell <em>Le Soleil</em>, the national daily newspaper – a job ruled by boys. Even though she is repeatedly harassed and mistreated by the boys, Sili overcomes her challenges with unruffled confidence. Despite having only made two features and five short films, Senegalese filmmaker <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Djibril_Diop_Mamb%C3%A9ty">Djibril Diop Mambéty</a> caught the attention of the film world several times before he died in 1998. <em>La Petite Vendeuse de Soleil</em> (<em>The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun</em>) attracted wide acclaim at the Berlin, Toronto, Hong Kong and Rotterdam international film festivals when it was released in 1999, and broke new ground by featuring the story of a disabled child. While UNICEF continues to work and advocate for children with disabilities, far too many are still denied a fair chance to make their dreams real or to be included as equal participants in their communities, as recognized in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities. </p> <div class="iframe-container"><iframe allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ByXuk9QqQkk" title="YouTube video player" width="560"> Spirited Away, Japan, 2001While driving to their new home in a faraway town, nine-year-old Chihiro’s family falls into a mystical world populated by humans and Kami, the traditional Japanese spirits of the natural world. To rescue her parents and safeguard her future, Chihiro embarks on an epic journey, one that will test her judgment, courage and loyalty. That said, Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Spirited Away – an enormously popular film that remains one of the top grossing Japanese feature films of all time – defies any simple description. It combines the highest art of storytelling with a deep meditation of complex themes: the transition from child to adult; resistance to consumerism; and respect for the natural world. Appearing at a time when UNICEF and others started focusing more attention on adolescent health and skills, it speaks to those same themes. “It's not a story in which the characters grow up, but a story in which they draw on something already inside them, brought out by the particular circumstances.”— Hayao Miyazaki.    La Jaula de Oro, Guatemala/Mexico, 2010Despite the dangers, Samuel, a rag picker, Chauk, an indigenous boy, and Sara – disguised as a boy named Osvaldo – are determined to leave Guatemala for the US. After crossing the Mexican border by boat, the trio hop on slow moving trains headed north. Along the way, they are exposed to violent police, drug cartels and petty criminals, all looking to deceive or exploit them. Only one of the three survives the journey. Screened at Cannes Film Festival’s 2013 “Un Certain Regard” showcase, The Golden Cage (distributed in the US as The Golden Dream) received notable attention. Diego Quemada-Diaz won awards for best director and best ensemble cast (played by young non-professional actors). Shot in Guatemala and Mexico, the film offers a stark look at what happens to the thousands of unaccompanied minors who still undertake this same journey today. When the film opened, the news of surges of unaccompanied minors arriving at the US border began to hit the headlines, foreshadowing an even larger version of the same humanitarian crisis affecting Europe in 2015. The film authentically portrays children on the move in the 21st century, providing an unflinching revelation of the danger and trauma these young people are exposed to and the depths of their determination to move. (Please note: The UNICEF Innocenti Film Festival, 2nd edition is being held in theater at Cinema La Compagnia and online 21 - 24 October 2021. In 2021 UIFF presents 38 films from 29 countries touching on the exhileration, the pain the joys and the dangers of childhood).Dale Rutstein is the Chief of Communication for UNICEF Innocenti and Coordinator of the UNICEF Innocenti Film Festival  which showcases cinema narratives of childhood from all parts of the world. 
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