Stefan Dercon

Stefan Dercon, Chief Economist of the DFID spoke at the UKCDS event on education research for international development on Thursday 23 January.

For videos and reports of the event this is based on please visit the event coverage.

On Thursday 23 January I had the pleasure of speaking at the UKCDS event on education research for international development. I say ‘speaking’ but of course I was there to announce DFID’s two major new funding calls for education research, as well as to chat with the various other funders, researchers and policymakers and hear their thoughts on how we might improve education research.

In recent decades, organisations such as DFID have invested heavily in education for developing countries, getting children around the world into school. In total, DFID will invest  around £2.9 billion in education programmes between 2010/11 and 2014/15.  This represents almost a fifth of the money we spend directly in countries as development aid. Together with the vitally important domestic investment funded through taxes, we have made massive gains on getting children into school. Over 50 million in the last decade.

Despite this progress the world is facing a “ learning crisis”. There are 250 million children in schools that are not able to read or count even though half of them have spent 4 years at school. We are facing up to this challenge and a focus on learning runs throughout DFID’s work in education.   To do this well we need better data and a greater understanding of what works to improve learning.

In terms of education research it’s quite a different picture in terms of spending. Until about a year ago we were spending less than £0.5 million on research into education. It is therefore with great pleasure that I am able to announce these new programmes that will mean an almost 100 fold increase in DFID’s investment in education research – with an overall portfolio of over £40 million – all right, I admit, it was from a dreadfully low base.

The big challenge is that still we know relatively little about education. Our current evidence base is mainly made up of a lot of anecdotal, fragmented evidence, or evidence on rather narrow and very specific inputs to learning, including from rigorous experiments.

We have to get better at bringing together what we have learnt about the different components of education – including the home environment, teaching practice, delivery systems and political economy  – and establish how they work together as a system.

The first of our major new programmes is a joint research fund on raising learning outcomes with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) . The programme will fund a portfolio of research focused on addressing the critical bottlenecks in education systems and ensure greater learning outcomes. £5 million of funding is available through the first call, which is focused on “Effective Teaching”. Three different types of grant are available, ranging from £150,000 to £1 million for up to 5 years.

The second programme “Effective Education Systems” is a large scale, multi-year, multi-disciplinary research programme looking at system wide reform in 3 to 5 countries.    If we want to move beyond incremental improvements in education and close the huge learning gap facing developing countries, we need to understand how to leverage whole system reform.  This will require close collaboration with our partner governments as well as other donors (including World Bank, USAID, UNICEF and Building Evidence in Education group).  We have just posted the advert to appoint a Research Director and Intellectual Leadership for the programme.  I will be hosting a supplier event for this programme in early February where more details will be made available.

While these are our flagship programmes in education, we will continue to explore other areas including early childhood development, gender, and the relationship between education and growth.

So please keep an eye out for the many other initiatives and announcements DFID will be making on education research in the coming years. With DFID’s commitment, we’ve got some exciting years ahead of us for education research and a big challenge. Girls and boys need a good quality education, developing the skills required for future learning and employment. We need to find out the most effective ways for education systems to deliver this.