Best of UNICEF Research showcases the most rigorous, innovative and impactful research produced by UNICEF offices worldwide. While evidence highlights emerging issues, it also informs decisions and provides policy and programme recommendations for governments and partners, to improve children's lives.
This year, Best of UNICEF Research celebrates its 10th edition. It features 12 research projects that the selection panel concurred deserved special recognition for delivering results for children in 2022.
At the intersection of childhood and womanhood, adolescent girls are falling through the cracks of violence prevention
Violence is pervasive – experienced by adolescent girls in all its forms, and across all settings. Its effects are cumulative, disrupting not just their daily lives but also the realization of other rights, to education, to physical and mental health, and to safe transitions into adulthood. In this blog we present evidence from our collective body of research to spotlight some key issues and to reflect on the emerging evidence on the effectiveness of different types of violence prevention strategies for the most marginalised young people.
Right from the start: Advancing gender equality through early childhood education
Gender transformative Early Childhood Education has incredible potential to change the lives of children, their families and communities around the world by addressing gender inequality in the earliest years of a child’s life.
Our Teachers, Our Researchers: Three Insights from Teachers in Lao PDR on Co-Implementing Education Research
Authors: H.E. Dr. Phouth Simmalavong, Minister of Education, Ministry of Education and Sports Lao PDR; Dr. Pia Rebello Britto, UNICEF Representative Lao PDR; Bo Viktor Nylund, Director, UNICEF InnocentiResearch methods traditionally separate data collectors from research participants. In educational research, those participants are often teachers. However, emerging methods are employing innovative techniques in which teachers play an active role in evidence generation. The learning environment is shaped by teachers, making them key actors within education systems. Co-implementing research with teachers could benefit the integration of evidence into practice and help answer key research questions.In Lao PDR, a country where student performance varies across districts and schools, the Ministry of Education and Sports (the Ministry) is piloting putting schools and teachers at the centre of evidence-generation. This effort contributes to the Ministry’s bid to meet SDG 4 (i.e., inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all). The Ministry believes that teachers, being the implementers of education programmes and policies, should also be given the chance to actively take part in generating evidence. Involving teachers in the Data Must Speak Research:The Ministry of Education and Sports, UNICEF Lao PDR Country Office, and UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight co-created and co-implemented the Data Must Speak (DMS) Positive Deviance Research, a mixed method research initiative to understand what makes schools effective and scale grassroot solutions to improve education outcomes across Lao PDR. Data Must Speak is an opportunity to design research methods that actively involves teachers and all other school-level stakeholders.During a technical workshop in Vientiane in October 2020, representatives from different departments at the Ministry, the National University of Laos, and UNICEF designed and reviewed both the methodology and instruments for the Data Must Speak Positive Deviance Research. Interestingly, instead of hiring external enumerators, the Ministry turned to 60 teachers in training from their local teacher training colleges to collect data that will help unpack factors influencing school performance in the country. Those soon-to-be-teachers, now also researchers, received a three-day training on using digital tools, such as smartphones and tablets, to collect and record data. They also received ethics training on how to appropriately engage with research participants. They were later sent into the field to interview students, teachers, and school leaders across 120 primary schools in eight provinces: Bokeo, Champasak, Houaphanh, Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, Vientiane Province, Vientiane and Xieng Khouang. What we have learned:A few months ago, those 60 teachers-turned-researchers were tasked with collecting data from schools across the country. They later shared their experiences and feedback on this new, exciting exercise. Their insights on involving teachers in the research implementation are outlined below: 1. It fosters teacher engagement as they participate in how the research is both designed and implemented. Co-implementing education research with teachers goes beyond engaging them through consultation. It provides them with concrete opportunities to contribute to and participate in decisions related to education programmes and policies. In the Data Must Speak research, teachers are involved from the outset, they help the research team make decisions on the research design, methodologies, and data collection instruments. Moreover, “teachers bring great insight and perspective through their hands-on experience with teaching students,”as one of the teachers involved in the research highlighted. 2. It promotes ownership and helps ensure follow-up actions based on research findings. Having teachers collect education data ensures that research outputs, will later be understood, used, and valued by end-users, particularly the teachers themselves. Additionally, it encourages teachers to take ownership of education data, programmes and policies. “I think it is important that teachers are involved in studies on education because it will help them get a better understanding of the different challenges to effective education and help identify solutions,”said one of the teachers who collected data for the research. 3. It enriches teachers’ understanding of education issues. When teachers take part in education research, they are further exposed to the realities and problems across the education system. This helps them better understand the interconnection between factors influencing school performance. More importantly, it grounds them as they implement context-specific solutions to problems in their classrooms. One of the soon-to-be-teachers underlined: “As part of this study, I got to see many different types of schools all over the country, from schools in the Northern parts of the country to the Southern provinces, all of which have their own approaches to teaching. The experience was enlightening, and I try to pick out the best practices from these schools and keep them in mind so that I can implement them and become a better teacher in the future.”When reflecting on their life experiences people often speak of the influence their teachers had on them. Not only do teachers play a fundamental role in their students’ learning, but they also serve as the backbone of education systems. At their best, teachers transform their understanding of the key factors of school effectiveness into the best learning outcomes for their students. The Data Must Speak research strives to create the space for teachers to be researchers, respondents, and beneficiaries all at once. What’s next?The Data Must Speak Positive Deviance Research in Lao PDR is progressing well amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic. Quantitative data collection was completed in 2021 in more than 120 schools. The research team, together with the Ministry, finalized the additional qualitative data collection in 12 schools in May 2022 in accordance with all national and local rules and regulations. Stay tuned for preliminary findings coming soon.The DMS Research is a multi-stage mixed-method initiative, co-created and co-implemented with ministries of education. It aims to generate knowledge about the positive deviant practices and behaviours of schools performing comparatively better considering their contexts. It also seeks to unravel practical lessons about ‘what works’ and how national policymakers and the broader international community can scale up these grassroots solutions. It is currently carried out in 14 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America with the support of the European Union, Jacobs Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, IDRC/GPE KIX, NORAD and Schools2030.For more information on the Data Must Speak Positive Deviance Research, please contact:Mr. Panya Chanthavong, Deputy Director General, Department of Education Quality Assurance, Ministry of Education and Sports Lao PDR, email@example.comLeotes Helin, Chief of Education, UNICEF Lao PDR, firstname.lastname@example.orgJessica Bergmann, Co-Manager Data Must Speak Research, UNICEF Innocenti, email@example.com
Listening to Children and Young People to Transform Education Through Digital Learning in São Tomé and Príncipe
Digital learning has the potential to transform education systems, by providing students with interactive and fun learning experiences. However, reaching the promise of digital learning requires much more than inserting technology into a school. Beyond improving access to electricity and affordable connectivity, effective digital learning requires a systems approach with teachers and students at the center. In São Tomé and Príncipe, UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) has begun the implementation of the Digital Learning Strategy for the next 5 years in primary and secondary education. This systems approach includes teacher training, developing methods for improving pedagogy with technology, plans for how to manage devices in the classroom, and the development of free and high-quality educational content. The strategy is data-driven, with research embedded to allow the country to continually adapt and improve the digital learning system based on evidence. In preparation for the launch of digital learning, qualitative data was collected from students, teachers, and caregivers in four schools on Príncipe island to understand how ready the learning ecosystem is for digital learning in the classroom. This rapid exercise allowed the MEHE and UNICEF to learn directly from users and inform upcoming teacher training and implementation of digital learning tools, including the Learning Passport and the Akelius digital learning course in schools. Below are some key findings:Communication between the school and the community on the use of technology for learning is key and engagement with young people is a crucial part of this process. Mobile phones were the most commonly reported technology used by households, and caregivers report using mobile phones primarily for social networking and messaging apps. Caregivers control the time of use by children and had concerns about their use for learning especially with regards to privacy, security, and content that children can access. Thus the introduction of technology at school must be well communicated to families so that they understand how it can contribute to learning, and that digital protection and security will be taken seriously. Caregivers frequently rely on their older children to support them to understand and use digital devices, as such communication campaigns on the use of digital learning should involve young people as key catalysts for change.“I feel comfortable, but in some respects I sometimes find barriers that I have to overcome, but with the help of my children I overcome them.” - Caregiver, Santo Antônio II School2. Teachers and students see the great promise of digital learning but are concerned over issues of connectivity. Teachers reported their great interest in including digital learning as a tool that can excite and motivate students in the classroom. Students also have positive reactions, they expressed comfort in using technologies, and excitement in using digital solutions in the classroom. Connectivity, however, is a big challenge reported by both students and teachers and even when the connection exists it is often not stable. As connectivity remains a major barrier, it is critical that digital learning solutions can be used without the internet. This is why the MEHE is prioritizing the use of the Learning Passport and the Akelius digital course which can be used both online and offline.3. Teacher training is crucial, especially to strengthen skills in managing technology in the classroom and integrating digital content into lesson plans. Teachers are curious and willing to learn new methods for teaching, some had already begun preparing lesson plans with educational music and videos found online. Teachers mentioned that the use of digital content creates greater interest among students and helps them to retain information. However, they also brought up the challenge of organizing lessons with digital learning, especially in classes with younger students which can be difficult to manage. The views of teachers show the great importance of strong practical teacher training that focuses on how to integrate technology into lessons. "Students in the ninth and eight grades are more grown up, they already have a better mind prepared for this, but those in the first to the sixth grades will be a job." - Teacher at Santo Antônio II School Implementation phases aligned with research More to come. In São Tomé and Príncipe, research with teachers and students will continue as teacher training is scaled and the implementation of digital learning in classrooms begins. This process will provide timely insights to inform the implementation of digital learning as it scales. This effort is part of UNICEF Innocenti’s work to build implementation research into digital learning programmes. Rafael Pontuschka is an Education Researcher at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti.
Why we need to channel teachers’ voices: Perspectives from an Ethiopian student turned education researcher
Aiming to move beyond the quantification of attendance and time on task, the Time to Teach study introduces a conceptual model of multi-dimensional teacher absenteeism. Where, for learning to occur, teachers do not only need to (1) be at school, but they also need to (2) be punctual (i.e., not arriving late/leaving early), (3) be in the classroom (while at school), and (4) spend sufficient time on task (while in the classroom).
Valuing young people’s voices – from research to policy
Florence/Toronto, 6 July 2022 – Today’s adolescents will face the consequences of the pandemic throughout their lives, according to reports under a UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti coordinated project.
GRASSP: Advancing gender equality through social protection
Social protection can reduce income poverty and food and economic insecurity, address financial barriers to accessing social services, and promote positive development outcomes throughout the life course – particularly for women and girls.