The Primary News about Secondary Education: PSIPSE Grantees at CIES

Author: Dana Schmidt, Echidna Giving 

In September 2015, governments boldly declared their commitment to ensuring that “all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant…learning outcomes” by the year 2030. I think that’s what they call a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. And it garnered a lot of attention at the Comparative and International Education Society Conference this year.

Some panelists problematized the goal and its measurement. Others spoke about what it will take to meet the goal. Learning was at the center of many of these conversations—a sign of the shift from the Millennium Development Goals, which were all about school access and completion, to the new goals, which are about access, completion, and learning. In particular, literacy and early childhood education were frequently discussed.

What was NOT frequently discussed was secondary education. A quick analysis of Monday’s conference session titles (omitting any word with “education” in it) suggests that secondary appeared as infrequently as “America,” and far less frequently than “higher education.”

This is surprising not because literacy and early childhood and higher education aren’t important. But because there is also a long way to go to meet the Sustainable Development Goals for secondary education. On the access goal alone, as of 2015 a third of youth across the developing world did not enroll in secondary school, and more than half in sub- Saharan Africa did not enroll. All this suggests a need for more innovation and strategic thinking about how to accelerate progress

Here’s the good news! The Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education (PSIPSE) is starting to do exactly that. In case you missed it amidst all the other topics of discussion, here are three crucial ideas that PSIPSE added to the conversation around secondary education at CIES:

  1. We have some evidence in secondary education, and a big opportunity to expand that evidence. Mathematica Policy Research and the Poverty Action Lab’s Post-Primary Education Initiative have helped pull together the evidence on secondary education thus far. It’s helped reveal as much about what we don’t know as about what we do know, but that alone is a good place to start. We need more long-term, cost-effectiveness, and replication studies. Some of this evidence will be drawn and shared from ongoing PSIPSE projects. And there is a call for proposals out from J-PAL for the 8th round of funding on Post-Primary Education. Don’t miss the May 5 deadline!
  2. Academic skills are crucial, but a broader set of skills are needed to support students to stay and succeed in school and to transition to success beyond school. Whether you call this broader skillset soft skills, life skills, non-cognitive skills, or transferable skills, it’s increasingly clear how much they matter. PSIPSE partners Africa Educational Trust, Asante Africa, and Educate!  all shared insights on a broad set of skills that youth need to develop for livelihoods. Their examples provide clues for creative new approaches to delivering secondary education that might enable this broader set of skills to be embedded in every day teaching and learning.
  3. Increasing teacher motivation could be a cheap and effective route to increasing learning opportunities for students. STIR Education has found that teachers who engage in networks to solve problems with other teachers invest significantly greater effort in teaching. The value of the additional time they spend teaching outweighs the cost of the intervention eight-fold. Given the central role teachers play in education, even small insights in how to make more of their time could make a big difference.

We’re grateful for the hard work and dedicated of PSIPSE grantees to accelerate progress in secondary education. Stay tuned for more insights!