SEATTLE — In 2000, 98.7 million children between the ages of 6 and 15 were not in school. By 2013, that number had fallen to 59.9 million. Yet, while enrollment numbers have increased, 250 million out of 650 million primary-school-aged children cannot read, write or count well. Another 200 million finish school without the necessary skills to thrive in the modern world.
While access to education continues to be at the forefront of policy, simply expanding the existing education systems is no longer sufficient. Schools must help students acquire skills and knowledge. In light of this, innovation in education has become increasingly important.
UNICEF has been a leader in implementing successful, innovative educational programs across the globe. In 2014, the organization partnered with the Center for Education Innovations at the Results for Development Institute to highlight five countries that would be part of the first round in a global push for innovation in education.
Can’t Wait to Learn Improves Education in Sudan
Can’t Wait to Learn makes use of solar-powered gaming tablets, which keep kids engaged and incorporate the curriculum mandated by the Ministry of Education. The system also takes into account emotional learning experiences. The program relies on community support to allow the teachers to focus more on teaching and less on administrative tasks, which had become a distraction from teaching.
In its first program, the children involved doubled their standardized scores from an average of 18 to 38 points out of a possible 60 over the course of just six weeks. The second version showed an increase of 31 points. Psychological research also indicated positive effects on self-esteem and motivation.
Can’t Wait to Learn has reached 655 children. The organization aims to reach 170,000 out of school kids across three countries by 2020.
Palavra de Crianca in Brazil Promotes Literacy
This organization—“Word of the Child” when translated—addresses illiteracy in Brazil’s poorer regions. In 2009, only one out of five fifth grade children in the northeast semi-arid region and fewer than one out of four children in the state of Amazonas had achieved the specified reading standard.
Palavra de Crianca utilizes a multifaceted approach to learning goals. Teachers are given training programs and teaching supplements. Parents are supplied with strategies to help foster a supportive community to address childhood literacy. Monitoring systems have been put in place in schools to ensure productive teaching. A standardized reading test has been developed to help assess and analyze.
The program has shown great success: the number of children reading at the two highest levels of literacy increased from 49 percent in 2011 to 76 percent in 2013, leading to a full state implementation and the establishment of a national literacy program.
Accelerated School Readiness Program in Ethiopia Prepared Children for Primary School
Seventy-three percent of children in Ethiopia lack access to preschools. Accelerated School Readiness (ASR) provides intensive schooling for these children, who are about to enter school and have had no formal education. The program includes a 150-hour lesson plan spanning two months and focusing on pre-literacy, pre-numeracy and social skills. In doing so, ASR ensures that its students do not fall behind their peers upon entry to school.
The program uses existing schools and teachers, who are given training on seven activities that implement innovative and engaging teaching methods. ASR is backed by Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education and has helped reach the goal of increasing enrollment rates, serving 9,267 children across 208 schools.
Lively Minds in Ghana Focuses on Play-Based Programs
While school enrollment in Ghana has nearly doubled over the past 10 years, quality education remains evasive. Lively Minds in Ghana helps improve the quality of kindergarten for students who do not have quality stimulation.
The program centers around play-based learning initiatives. Lively Minds also helps to circumvent issues surrounding a lack of teachers by training mothers to serve as volunteers to support teachers. By getting mothers involved, learning is multiplied, as children receive stimulation both at school and at home.
Lively Minds has expanded from eight play schemes in 2009 to 80 in 2015, reaching 9,600 children. The children involved in the programs improved by 31 percent on cognitive assessments after three months, compared to a 13 percent increase among children without play schemes available.
Edutrac Peru Uses Data to Further Innovation in Education
Edutrac Peru was adapted from a similar system in Uganda. The goal of the program is to help communities make informed decisions about the education sector. Communities participate in weekly data collection and monthly discussions based on performance outcomes. Education committees are trained in analyzing the data, monitoring its collection and making evidence-based decisions.
Edutrac has shown increased attendance among students and teachers alike in just its first few months, Teacher attendance increased from 76 to 90 percent and student attendance increased from 73 to 84 percent. UNICEF and its partners hope to turn responsibility over to the national government.
The projects that UNICEF has spearheaded are only the beginning of innovation in education. All of the programs have grown significantly since implementation, showing promise and inspiring other innovative initiatives. In the modern age, schools are faced with teaching the basic skills (like reading and math), but also must encourage critical thinking which will shift toward global productivity. Innovation in education will make this wholly possible by improving learning, equity and systems.
– Jessie Serody