Donika Dimovska

Innovations in Education: What CEI has learned in its first year, and what’s ahead

One year ago, our team at the Center for Education Innovations (CEI) set out to increase our understanding of the universe of education innovations serving the poor around the world. We wanted to capture the scale, scope and impact of promising programs, policies and practices, and share our findings as a public good, so that new ideas, good practices and shared learnings could be widely available to those who can act on them for the benefit of the world’s poor.

Over the past 12 months, we have learned a lot about the geographic spread of innovation, the types of innovations being implemented and the challenges they seek to address. We have documented close to 500 innovative programs, working in more than 135 countries, and now serve as the largest database of education innovations serving the poor.

Uncovered in collaboration with our global network of partners in India, South Africa, East Africa and Nigeria, these innovative models provide an initial view of the myriad of creative solutions currently addressing challenges in education all over the world.

We know more about the universe of innovations

When we started, we did not know what we would find. We now know that the innovative landscape is hugely diverse – it includes programs directly providing education and training to children; services or products that enable schools to increase efficiency and effectiveness; services or products that increase access to quality learning experiences; interventions that improve the policy environment and build the education evidence base; and mechanisms that finance students, schools, teachers or systems.

For example, student support programs such as Eneza Education – whose SMS-based study tool allows students in remote areas of Kenya to practice what they have learned in the classroom – make up more than a third of the CEI database.

Similarly, school support models like Ghana Reads – which provides teachers in Ghana with resources and coaching to promote a curriculum that is more interactive – account for more than one quarter of the innovations we have profiled so far.

As a whole, the innovative education programs profiled by CEI serve more than 80 million learners. The most common types of programs in our database are those with a focus on providing skills for employment; programs that bridge the significant gap in education for girls; programs that address early childhood development; and programs that focus on using technology to improve learning.

Catalyzing learning and connections to opportunities

In addition to documenting the universe of innovative models, we recognize the importance of knowledge facilitation at the global and regional levels – connecting stakeholders to information and opportunities. To that end, we have partnered with several global collaborators to direct more than 200 innovative models to potential funding and other relevant resources such as technical capacity or evaluation opportunities. We have also aggregated more than 600 documents in our virtual Research & Evidence Library to provide open access to the latest literature in the field.

(The Ocean View Toy Library in Cape Town, South Africa, left.)

But some of our most exciting work is taking place in key regions. Through our network of regional partners, CEI has established a strong presence in East Africa, India, Nigeria and South Africa, powered by regional hubs that catalyze learning and development opportunities for education innovators. Activities vary by country, depending on perceived needs in each context.

In India, for example, Catalyst Management Services (CMS) – CEI’s hub in the country – has launched Education Innovation Forums (EdiF) in seven states, bringing together more than 242 innovators to discuss common challenges and opportunities. Dialogue from these sessions has blossomed into new, collaborative education initiatives and partnerships – e.g., Dream a Dream has partnered with the Jnana Karanji Charitable Trust (JCT) to design and implement a teacher development program for their chain of affordable private schools.

CEI’s hub in South Africa, the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, has partnered with JPAL to ensure that innovators are aware of the latest research and evaluation findings. They have also established innovation as a major topic of discussion at national events, including African Education Week and the EMASA Conference.

Meanwhile, CEI’s hub in East Africa, GEMS Education Solutions, has facilitated learning opportunities for local innovators, connecting them to experts on organizational development, resource mobilization, and monitoring and evaluation. Partnering with STIR, the team has also assisted in highlighting micro-innovations happening within the classroom.

Focusing on what works, why and how

We are thrilled with what we have accomplished in the first year, but our work is just getting started. In addition to growing the program’s database, expanding our regional network and continuing to connect promising innovations to opportunities, CEI will focus on increasing our understanding of what works, why and how.

We are already moving in that direction through our partnership with UNICEF, which will design and test a strategy to better understand what types of innovative programs and interventions have the greatest potential for scalability and impact.

We will soon launch new analysis that focuses on “windows” in the database, highlighting key themes and patterns emerging in select geographic areas and education topics such as early childhood education, girls’ education, low-cost private schools and several others. We will also enrich the level of detail available to users of the database to provide them with additional information about programs’ monitoring and evaluation practices, and the availability of any external evidence – all to get us closer to a more comprehensive understanding of what is producing promising results.

And finally, we will expand our efforts to foster learning and connections among education stakeholders, globally and regionally. Working with our regional hubs, we will aim to promote learning in select geographies and across borders, linking innovators to funding and operational opportunities and fostering peer-learning and collaboration. And we will deepen and strengthen our work with global collaborators, serving as a platform for global competitions, awards, challenge funds and research efforts looking to surface promising models for further study and support.

In the past 12 months, we have only scratched the surface of what is possible by systematically identifying, analyzing and connecting the universe of education innovations, and we are eager to continue to build on this knowledge to improve the education and livelihoods of millions of the world’s poor.

In the meantime, we welcome your perspective on CEI at one year and suggestions on how we can further maximize our impact to serve as a useful resource for the global education community.

Donika Dimovska is the director of CEI, an initiative of the Results for Development Institute.

Education, Impact Assessment
impact measurement, rural development, skill development