A global learning crisis is undermining children’s education and their futures. Pre-COVID, more than half of children in low- and middle-income countries could not read and understand a simple text by age 10. In poor countries, this “learning poverty” rate was as high as 80 percent. Due to COVID-19, an additional 10 percent of children globally will fall into learning poverty.
UNICEF Innocenti’s education research looks to address the learning crisis to ensure that every child learns. By co-creating the research with Governments, implementing partners, and communities, evidence is embedded within programmes for maximizing its use. Innocenti’s education research focuses on three areas: i) what works at school level (service delivery); ii) what works at policy level (system strengthening); and iii) how to scale up what works and address the “know-do” gaps between policies and their implementation (scaling and implementation science).
COVID-19 and Education
COVID-19 school closures have laid bare how unprepared education systems are to deal with crises and has uncovered the uneven distribution of the technology needed for remote learning. We are investigating impacts of school closures on children and how to design and deliver effective remote learning for more resilient education systems. To deliver high quality rapid and useful research on COVID-19 and education, this research agenda is done close collaboration with the education section and Data and Analytics team in UNICEF, regional offices, and partners such as the World Bank, UNESCO and WFP.
Data Must Speak
Despite the global learning crisis, even in the most difficult contexts, there are some “positive deviant” schools that outperform others in terms of learning, gender equality, and retention. Since 2019, in line with UNICEF's Foundational Literacy and Numeracy Programme, Data Must Speak (DMS) identifies these positive deviant schools, explores which practices make them outperform others, and investigates how these could be implemented in lower performing schools in similar contexts. DMS uses a participatory, mixed-methods approach to improve uptake, replicability, and sustainability. The research is being undertaken in ten countries across two continents.
UNICEF Innocenti’s digital learning research investigates the development, implementation, and effectiveness of digital learning across various connectivity settings (no/low/high), types of learning (blended/remote), populations, and education goals. Monitoring and implementation research is built into large scale digital learning programmes, such as Learning Passport and the UNICEF-Akelius Foundation partnership. Research is currently being carried out in: Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Lebanon, Mauritania, Serbia, Timor Leste. By embedding rapid mixed methods research into these programmes, this research provides timely evidence to improve digital learning solutions for all children. We not only examine what works, but also how it works in order to develop the key steps to achieve effective and inclusive digital learning.
Early Childhood Education
The first years of a child's life build the foundations for their learning and development that allow them to succeed in school and beyond. The early childhood education (ECE) research portfolio aims to use research to support the strengthening of ECE systems to ensure all children have a strong start to life. This is being achieved through implementation research into quality assurance mechanisms; benchmarking of early childhood education systems; secondary research into what works, how and in what context to improve equitable access to and learning quality in pre-primary education; as well as research on gender-transformative early childhood education systems.
Learning is For Everyone (LiFE)
Learning is for everyone. The inclusive education for children with disabilities research portfolio aims to ensure that education systems are inclusive of the needs of and can provide learning for children with disabilities. This will be done through applying the guidelines developed by UNICEF, GPE, UNESCO and FCDO outlined in the Education Sector Analysis (Volume III) that can facilitate the diagnosis of education systems through an inclusive lens. Additionally, the inclusive education portfolio has supported education systems by developing and trialing public-goods resources to support marginalized caregivers of children with disabilities with learning in inclusive settings.
Let Us Learn
Let Us Learn (LUL) uses innovation in education delivery to improve learning for vulnerable children in five countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Liberia, Madagascar and Nepal. LUL programmes support children across the education lifecycle: from early childhood education; to primary and secondary school, and finally through to vocational training. Programmes are targeted to the most marginalized, such as children who are out of school or at high risk of dropping out. Mixed methods research builds evidence on how these programmes work and are effective in improving the outcomes of vulnerable children.
Sport for Development
Sport for Development (S4D) uses sports to achieve crucial outcomes for children and youth, such as learning, health, empowerment and protection. Collaborating with partners, including the Barça Foundation, this research aims to expand the evidence base on S4D. Building on the findings of the Getting into the Game report, the second phase of this mixed-methods study includes in-depth, exploratory case studies of S4D organizations and programmes across the globe. By harnessing the experiences of stakeholders from different countries, it identifies best practices and aims to develop a clear set of guidelines on designing, implementing, and ensuring the sustainability and scale-up of effective S4D programmes for children and youth.
Time to Teach
Teachers attending lessons and spending sufficient time on task is a critical prerequisite for learning in school. Yet, in sub-Saharan Africa, teacher absenteeism is as high as 45 per cent. Time to Teach identifies factors affecting teacher attendance and uses this evidence to inform the design and implementation of teacher policies in twenty African countries. Drawing from both quantitative and qualitative data on a range of topics—from motivation to retention—this research aims to identify solutions for sustainable change.
Teachers for All
African countries are facing the world’s worst teacher shortage. To shore up the deficit and achieve universal primary education by 2030, 6.1 million primary school teachers need to be hired in Africa alone. As COVID-19 exacerbates pressures placed on education budgets, it is crucial that the allocation of quality teachers in Africa is driven by a quest for equity, effectiveness, and efficiency, since no child should be deprived of learning opportunities because of the school they attend or their area of residence. UNICEF Innocenti is seeking to expand the evidence base on teacher allocation in Africa in order to identify how the allocation of qualified teachers can be optimized to improve equity in learning outcomes. While the equity of primary school teacher allocation is the intended focus of this research, pre-primary teacher allocation will also be analyzed.
Women in Learning Leadership (WiLL)
School leaders play a critical role in creating high-quality teaching and learning environments within their schools that can contribute to improving student learning outcomes. Early analysis from UNICEF Innocenti and other organizations shows that women-led schools may perform better than schools led by men. Yet, women remain largely underrepresented in school leadership roles. In some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, as few as 1 in 10 primary school leaders is a woman. The Women in Learning Leadership (WiLL) research aims to expand the evidence base on gender and school leadership and identify concrete policy and programmatic measures for increasing women’s representation. Using mixed-methods research, the project will examine the various contextual, cultural, societal, and structural barriers preventing women from advancing into school leadership roles.