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Cirenia Chavez

Consultant (Former title)

Cirenia joined Innocenti in October 2017 to support research related to adolescence, humanitarian settings and other emerging areas. She is a mixed-methods researcher, and has carried out extensive work on the subject of youth and organised crime in Mexico. Her research interests include adolescent well-being and capabilities, multidimensional poverty and their contribution to youth participation in risky behaviours. She has a PhD in Development Studies (University of Cambridge) and a background in International Relations (M.A. New York University, B.A. Tecnologico de Monterrey). She was the recipient of numerous scholarships, including Cambridge Trust, Conacyt and Fulbright. She has previously worked as a research assistant and consultant for development organisations, including the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in London and UNDP-Regional Bureau of Latin America and the Caribbean in New York. She has also engaged in teaching activities in the master’s programme at the Centre of Latin American Studies at the University of Cambridge. (picture attached)

Publications

Analyse méthodologique pour la recherche Data Must Speak: Enseignements tirés de l’approche modèle positive, des sciences comportementales, de la recherche sur la mise en oeuvre et de la science de la mise à l’échelle
Publication

Analyse méthodologique pour la recherche Data Must Speak: Enseignements tirés de l’approche modèle positive, des sciences comportementales, de la recherche sur la mise en oeuvre et de la science de la mise à l’échelle

La pandémie a aggravé une crise de l'apprentissage et mis en péril les objectifs mondiaux. Et pourtant, même dans les contextes éducatifs les plus difficiles, certaines écoles obtiennent de meilleurs résultats que d'autres, situées dans des contextes similaires et avec un niveau de ressources équivalent. Pourquoi ces écoles exceptionnelles, connues sous le nom d'écoles "modèles positives", obtiennent-elles de meilleurs résultats en matière d'apprentissage, de rétention, d'équité et d'égalité des sexes ? Data Must Speak (DMS) - une initiative mondiale mise en œuvre depuis 2014 - vise à combler les lacunes en matière de preuves tangibles pour atténuer la crise de l'apprentissage en utilisant les données existantes. Le volet recherche de DMS est cocréé avec les ministères de l'éducation. Il s'appuie sur des méthodes mixtes pour générer des connaissances, parallèlement à des enseignements pratiques sur ce qui fonctionne, pourquoi et comment mettre à l'échelle des solutions de terrain pour les décideurs politiques nationaux et la communauté internationale dans le domaine de l'éducation. La recherche utilise des approches innovantes et complémentaires telles que l’approche modèle positive, des sciences comportementales, de la recherche sur la mise en œuvre et de la science de la mise à l'échelle pour identifier et mettre à l'échelle les comportements et les pratiques des écoles "modèles positives". Cette revue méthodologique présente les définitions, concepts et méthodologies clés de ces approches afin de guider et d'informer le développement et la mise en œuvre de la recherche DMS au niveau national. En s'appuyant sur des exemples existants tirés de la recherche sur l'éducation et d'autres domaines, cet revue propose également les meilleures pratiques et les leçons tirées de ces approches qui peuvent être utilisées comme référence commune et langage standard pour leurs applications futures.
A Methodological Review for the Data Must Speak Positive Deviance Research: Insights from Positive Deviance, Behavioural Sciences, Implementation Research and Scaling Science
Publication

A Methodological Review for the Data Must Speak Positive Deviance Research: Insights from Positive Deviance, Behavioural Sciences, Implementation Research and Scaling Science

The pandemic has aggravated a learning crisis and put global goals in jeopardy. And yet, even in the most challenging educational contexts, some schools outperform others located in similar contexts and with an equivalent level of resources. Why do these exceptional schools, known as ‘positive deviant’ schools, achieve improved outcomes in learning, retention, equity and gender equality? Data Must Speak (DMS) – a global initiative implemented since 2014 – aims to address the evidence gaps to mitigate the learning crisis using existing data. DMS’s research component is co-created with ministries of education. It relies on mixed methods to generate knowledge, alongside practical lessons about ‘what works’, ‘why’ and ‘how to’ scale grassroots solutions for national policymakers and the broader international community of education stakeholders. The research utilizes innovative and complementary approaches of positive deviance, behavioural sciences, implementation research and scaling science to identify and scale up behaviours and practices of ‘positive deviant’ schools. This methodological review presents key definitions, concepts and methodologies of those approaches to guide and inform the development and implementation of the DMS research at country level. By drawing on existing examples from research on education and other fields, this review also offers best practices and lessons learned from those approaches that can be used as a common reference and standard language for future application.
Bringing Education to the Most Marginalized Girls in Nepal: Evidence from the Girls’ Access to Education (GATE) programme Let Us Learn: Nepal research brief
Publication

Bringing Education to the Most Marginalized Girls in Nepal: Evidence from the Girls’ Access to Education (GATE) programme Let Us Learn: Nepal research brief

This research brief provides a snapshot of Girls’ Access To Education (GATE), a non-formal education programme that aims to bring the most marginalized adolescent girls in Nepal into school. The nine-month programme provides out-of-school girls with the basic literacy, numeracy and life skills they need to enter and learn in formal schooling. The analysis draws on GATE monitoring data for 2018/19, covering 7,394 GATE beneficiaries in five districts of Nepal, and is combined with qualitative evidence including case studies and focus group discussions with former GATE participants conducted in 2019. The mixed-methods analysis finds that the GATE programme has been highly effective, with 95% completion of the programme by enrolled girls and 89% of girls making the successful transition to formal school. Moreover, GATE graduates enrolled in Grades 3 to 5 in formal schools outperformed non-GATE girls enrolled in the same grades, even though GATE girls overwhelmingly had no prior formal school experience. Qualitative evidence reveals that poverty, caring responsibilities and parents’ traditional views may be important factors in explaining why GATE girls had never previously attended school. Despite this, GATE beneficiaries who were interviewed maintain a positive outlook on the future and have clear career goals. One of the recommendations stemming from this brief is to explore the feasibility of expanding GATE approaches to target out-of-school children in other contexts, as GATE has been a cost-effective solution in the context of Nepal.
The Long-term Effect of Humanitarian Emergencies on Adolescents: Existing evidence, gaps and considerations for research and practitioners
Publication

The Long-term Effect of Humanitarian Emergencies on Adolescents: Existing evidence, gaps and considerations for research and practitioners

This short paper grew out of discussions at a two-day research workshop focused on famines and adolescents. It explores some of what we do and do not know about the impacts of humanitarian situations on adolescents’ lives. Adolescents and their specific capacities and vulnerabilities have tended to be overlooked in the design and implementation of humanitarian responses, including in social protection and further components of such responses. This paper seeks to bring these questions to the attention of researchers, policy makers and practitioners in order to address identified priority gaps; build on existing knowledge; invest in better evidence generation; and include adolescents in research and response efforts in meaningful ways. Such improvements to humanitarian responses would assist in developing more inclusive efforts that consider all ages in the child’s life-course; aim for more sustainable well-being outcomes and help meet core commitments to children in these settings.

Blogs

Promising Futures: Vocational training programme in rural Bangladesh
Blog

Promising Futures: Vocational training programme in rural Bangladesh

This is the second in a two-part blog series that draws from the authors’ field visit to Let Us Learn programme sites in Bangladesh in February 2020.  The first part can be found here. In a town in the rural Sumanganj District of Bangladesh, we met recent graduates of  Alternative Learning Pathways, a Let Us Learn-supported programme implemented in partnership with Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee. The project targets adolescents aged 14 to 18 who have dropped out of school and are mostly unemployed or out-of-school. Alternative Learning Pathways provides them with vocational training in trades for which there is market demand in the community. In the Sumangani District, these trades included tailoring and dress making (the most popular), wood furniture design, IT support technician, mobile phone servicing, and beauty salon (for girls exclusively), amongst others (see Figure 1). Participants are trained for 6 months in their selected trade by a master craft person who owns a local business in the trade. The students train on-the-job with the master craft person four days per week and also receive classroom training twice a week, the latter of which includes theory, foundational literacy and numeracy skills, and life skills. The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee supports graduates to find a job in their trade upon completion of the programme. More than 80% of the graduates are typically taken on as full-time employees by the person they trained with. The incomes vary by trade, with those working in a trade such as woodwork receiving a slightly higher salary than those working in tailoring. The authors with recent ALP graduates they met with at the marketplace alongside colleagues from UNICEF Bangladesh, government, and implementing partners.In a market carpentry shop, we meet two adolescent boys making wooden chairs. They tell us that they recently completed their ALP training in wood-working and are now employed by the master craft person they trained with. They reflect that one of the most enjoyable aspects of the programme was being able to make new friends. They also highlight that their master craft person was constantly worried about their well-being, phoning parents if participants did not show up for training or work. A number of female Alternative Learning Pathways graduates we also met are now working at a tailoring shop. Most of the adolescent girls who participate were previously confined to a household helping with daily chores. Once girls start bringing money to the household through the earnings they make from their work, parents realize that their daughters can contribute financially to the household and they see a benefit to delaying their marriage. “It saved us from [early] marriage”, the three female practicing tailors from the programme tell us. Having been hired by their master craft person after completing their training, they earn between 2,000 and 4,000 Taka per month ($23.6 and $47.2USD) according to their production rate. Given the high rates of poverty in these communities (half the population live under the poverty line), these wages go a long way. The three young tailors say they have each been able to save money in bank accounts as a result. Their parents like what they are doing and now say, “later on we will think about marriage,” suggesting that productive work coupled with an income can trump the belief that girls need to be married to be taken care of. Once girls start bringing money to the household from their work, parents realize their daughters can contribute financially and they see a benefit to delaying their marriage.Through Alternative Learning Pathways girls who were initially confined to the household are freer to participate in social spaces predominately occupied by men. The programme allows girls to gain the confidence they need to pursue their interests and to visualize a future with opportunities. Another group of  three girls in the marketplace completed their vocational training as IT support technicians and now work on such tasks as editing photos, typing in Bangla or English, sending emails, and converting videos for customers. Within 6 months they had learned it all, their master craft person explains, saying “they can run the shop.” The girls are excited to train in this field because it is the future. “We are going for ‘digital Bangladesh!’” Echoing the tailors we met earlier, one participant shares that this opportunity prevented her early marriage, adding that she wants to run her own computer shop and get a better job working with software in the future. Two Alternative Learning Pathways trainees and their Master Craft Person (left) show us the products and tools they use as beauty salon practitioners.A recent impact evaluation by the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee found that the programme has a more significant benefit for girls in comparison to boys, which is why Alternative Learning Pathways aims for 60% of programme participants to be girls. One of the explanations behind this trend is that boys are still expected to be breadwinners in their households. While Alternative Learning Pathways does provide the programme participants with a small stipend (approximately 10 USD monthly), boys may be engaged in hazardous forms of labor that pays them a higher wage. The National Child Labor Survey from 2013 estimated that there were 3.4 million working children in the country between the ages of 5 to 17, with 1.2 million children performing hazardous labor. Cultural expectations of males being breadwinners brings about a strong pressure to have higher earning power, which means that boys are less likely, and less willing, to participate in training programmes that provide limited stipends. We end our visit meeting with additional programme graduates and master craft persons, who show us some of the tools they utilize in their trades; a beauty salon practitioner even offers to give us a makeover! While ALP has contributed to a high rate of job placements and productive livelihoods for graduates, the longer-term impact of the programme is yet to be investigated. COVID-19 has placed some of these gains in question, as many business owners and workers have struggled to make ends meet during the periods of lockdown. Fortunately, as of the writing of this blog, the master craft persons engaged by the programme have been able to restart their work and are ready to receive a new cohort of trainees once Let Us Learn programmes are able to proceed. Cirenia Chavez is a education research consultant with UNICEF Innocenti and Annika Rigole is a research monitoring and evaluation specialist with the education section in UNICEF’s headquarters Programme Division.
Bright Beginnings: Community-Based Early Childhood Education in Rural Bangladesh
Blog

Bright Beginnings: Community-Based Early Childhood Education in Rural Bangladesh

The first in a two-part blog series on Let Us Learn programme site visits in Bangladesh in February 2020.According to the most recent census, around half of the population in Bangladesh’s Sunamganj District lives below the poverty line. Monsoon flooding in the district perennially cuts villages off from one another and makes access to schools difficult. We drive past bustling markets and vast stretches of rice fields, arriving in a sparsely populated village on the banks of the Shurma river. Welcomed by members of the community, we take off our shoes to pay a visit to a new community pre-primary education center established by Let Us Learn in partnership with Dhaka Ahsania Mission. Community-based pre-schools are a critical way to expand early child education in this region, where only 30% of children attend a government pre-primary programme. In the community we are visiting, the nearest government school with a pre-school is 2 kilometers away, too far for young children to walk, especially during monsoon season, when the rising river is a major risk factor considering that most children do not know how to swim. While the river rose high last year, it did not overflow, and the school we are visiting was able to stay open the whole season. With support from Let Us Learn, community members here contributed their own land, resources, and water and sanitation facilities to establish and maintain the pre-school so that young children can learn closer to home. This community joins a group of 150 Let Us Learn-supported communities which established such centers in late 2018, serving 4,500 children who completed pre-school in 2019 and another 4,500 children (52.5% girls) who enrolled in pre-primary in these centers for the current school year. On the walls a profusion of learning materials – numbers, colors, and pictures displayed, images of famous historical figures, including Mother Teresa and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first prime minister of Bangladesh.From Sunday to Thursday, 5-year old children in this community attend class for 2.5 hours each day at the center. Classes follow a daily learning structure using the government curriculum of one year pre-primary education; the government provides the centers with the same teaching and learning materials used in government schools. The room has four corners for learning that the children can freely choose to access during a part of the class day. These corners include reading and drawing, block and movement, creative imagination, and sand and water. One facilitator is responsible for instructing the children; she shares that she initially received 15 days of training on pedagogy for her role and participates in both monthly and annual refresher trainings. the nationwide percentage of children on track in early literacy and numeracy skills was close to 50% amongst those who had attended early childhood education and only 20% for children who had notBecause the center is close to their homes, parents are able to bring and pick up their children each day. Even with a nearby center, flooding during the monsoon season can still create challenges for children’s access, so UNICEF and Dhaka Ahsania Mission have helped the communities develop disaster risk reduction plans. Without this center, parents describe, the pre-primary aged children in the community “would all be out of school.” There is an abundance of evidence  showing that children who attend pre-primary education score higher on a School Readiness Index (see for example UNICEF, 2016) and tend to have better learning outcomes once they are in primary school. In Bangladesh in 2019, the nationwide percentage of children on track in early literacy and numeracy skills was close to 50% amongst those who had attended early childhood education and only 20% for children who had not (Figure 1). At this center, we learn that all children from the previous pre-primary cohort have mainstreamed into primary school - an amazing result! “So how do you track whether the children are learning?” we asked the pre-primary facilitator. Children’s learning progress, per the government curriculum, is assessed every 3 months across 15 indicators with grades A to C. Children who score a C receive special support; they are paired with a high-performing student, a technique for which there is evidence of positive results. In the context of COVID-19, with all schools and Let Us Learn centers being closed, the likelihood of enrolling in primary education for these children may be further jeopardized. During the pandemic closures, facilitators are continuing to engage the children and their parents with learning through 10-minute phone check-ins every two days. UNICEF is also currently working on a 3-month package so that these children can be prepared for primary school and to mitigate the risks that those children might not enroll in primary education. Cirenia Chavez is a education research consultant with UNICEF Innocenti and Annika Rigole is a research monitoring and evaluation specialist with the education section in UNICEF's headquarters Programme Division.  
How prepared are global education systems for future crises?
Blog

How prepared are global education systems for future crises?

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an education emergency of unprecedented global scale. At its peak, over 190 countries closed schools in response to the health emergency, leaving 9 out of 10 enrolled learners around the world out of school. Although previous health emergencies – such as the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009 and the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2016 – have caused short- and long-term school closures in several countries, the COVID-19 crisis has caught most of the world’s education systems unprepared. As a result, countries have been scrambling to implement immediate, wide-scale distance learning for the first time. 
What we know and what we don't know about youth gangs in Latin America
Blog

What we know and what we don't know about youth gangs in Latin America

*This blog post has been translated into Spanish: Lo que sabemos y lo que no sabemos sobre las pandillas juveniles en América Latina Gang violence in Latin America has become one of the central security concerns in some countries of the region, including the countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America and more recently, Mexico. Gang members tend to join these identity-shaping groups during early adolescence, which has contributed to the continued stigmatization of this population group. Indeed, adolescence is a period of growth, of change, and of risk-taking (not necessarily always negative) — a fork in the road where choices can determine futures. Assumptions about youth gangs in Latin America are flawed. By discussing what we actually know, touching on involvement of gangs in violent crime, existing work and data gaps, and education, we can move towards addressing existing issues. To what extent can gangs be blamed for violent crime?This is still unclear. Media hype over gangs, referred to as pandillas in Mexico and maras in Central America, has given the impression that gang members are responsible for a large share of violent crime in some countries of the region. In Honduras — largely believed to be the country with the highest rate of gang membership in Central America, although estimates are not accurate  — former security minister Oscar Alvarez blamed the maras for a large share of crime in the country, yet the Honduran police have failed to release statistics to back up this claim. According to available data, less than 5% of all crime in Honduras is committed by people under 18 years of age, and it is this adolescent group that generally comprises a large share of mara membership. In the case of El Salvador, where gangs are considered to be one of the main problems facing the country according to its citizens, no precise figures exist to document the actual number of gang members in the country or their contribution to violent crime. Not all gangs created equalIn fieldwork with adolescents and young men in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, once considered the epicentre of organised crime throughout the 'war on drugs' declared in Mexico in 2006, I found that having spent time with a gang throughout their childhood and adolescence increased the probability of participating in organised criminal activity related to the drug trade; but I also found that participation in serious criminality was conditional on other factors, including the type of gang that was joined, the type of activities the gang was involved in, with participants joining at an older age more at risk of engaging in serious criminality. In other words, associating in a gang was not necessarily nor forcibly conducive to participating in serious criminal activity. No hay nadie que no pase por las esquinasExtreme violence has historically been avoided in Mexican gangs, and it is only until recently that the social dynamics of gangs in Mexico have left behind their traditional logic and some have been associated to high impact and organised criminality, although the extent of their cooperation is not well understood or documented. As a local young man I interviewed made clear, being part of a pandilla, or a gang, is part of the culture amongst impoverished and disenfranchised youth in Ciudad Juarez. As he succinctly told me: 'No hay nadie que no pase por las esquinas'. In other words, no one manages to avoid the street corners - the traditional birth place of the gang.

Journal articles

What we know and what we don't know about youth gangs in Latin America
Journal Article

Impacts of health-related school closures on child protection outcomes: A review of evidence from past pandemics and epidemics and lessons learned for COVID-19