Promoting Research Uptake and Evidence-based Decision-making to Improve Education Outcomes in Northeast Nigeria
This post contributed by Silvia Diazgranados Ferráns, Associate Director of Education Research at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), is published as part of the NORRAG Debates series: Data and Evidence in Emergencies in Education. The author discusses how the involvement of researchers, practitioners and policy makers, as well as producing and sharing research findings efficiently, can improve educational outcomes in Northeast Nigeria, allowing children who have been out of school for more than two years to catch up with their peers.
How can we increase evidence uptake, and what role should all stakeholders – academics, practitioners, Ministries of Education, NGOs, and donors – play in strengthening the evidence base? One of the biggest challenges facing the education in emergencies (EiE) community is the lack of evidence about what works, as well as how, for whom, under what conditions and at what cost. Furthermore, generating evidence is not enough; evidence is only useful if it is communicated, understood and used to inform program design, policy and resource decisions. If we do not spend the time, energy and money to understand, communicate and apply evidence, we risk wasting scarce resources on “dead on arrival” data that does nothing to improve the lives and outcomes for crisis-affected children.
The IRC is firmly committed to ensuring all of our programs are evidence-based and evidence-generating by 2020. We have sought to understand best practices in doing research and in ensuring that research is actionable. As a key part of that broader effort, our work in Nigeria has yielded some important insights.
The DFID-funded EiE Non-formal Learning Centers (NFLC) project supports the literacy, numeracy and social-emotional skills of 9 to 14-year-old children who live in Yobe or Borno states and have been out of school (OOS) for more than two years or never attended school at all. The IRC has worked to provide these children with an accelerated learning programming (ALP) in basic literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional skills at community-based NFLCs.
This project equips learning facilitators (LFs) with content knowledge and the pedagogical skills they need to teach these subjects through instructional coaching, face-to-face facilitator training, coaching through mentor teachers and teacher learning circles, which provide on-going peer support. The IRC conducted a mixed-methods, longitudinal randomized controlled trial with two treatment arms and one wait control group to learn what works, for whom, under what conditions and at what cost for Nigerian OOS children to learn and transition to the formal school system. This research also sought to better understand whether adding on-site coaching to professional development opportunities was worth the cost.
The project yielded compelling findings. These include the fact that while ALP is effectively helping OOS children learn basic numeracy and literacy skills and decrease their orientation toward the use of aggressive conflict resolutions strategies, adding on-site coaching was not a cost-effective approach to improve the instructional practices of LFs or the learning outcomes of OOS children. Some of our most important learnings stemmed from the approach we took to ensure our research was designed, conducted and shared in a way that would promote its uptake. Aspects of this approach include:
- Involving key evidence users in the identification and refinement of the research questions. We engaged donors, policymakers, practitioners and local researchers from the very beginning of the research process. This involved creating a research steering committee that included donors such as DFID and USAID, representatives from education ministries at the national and state levels such as the Executive Secretaries of State Agencies for Mass Education, the Chairman of State Universal Basic Education Board, local Nigerian researchers from TEGA Girl Effect, and country teams working on the ground to implement the project from the IRC and Creative Associates. This group worked with researchers from IRC’s Research Evaluation and Learning Unit to adjust and decide upon the research agenda and questions at the project’s inception and to ensure our questions responded to the concerns and priorities of policymakers. We launched our research in an event in Abuja in December 2017 and visited local education policymakers to ensure they were aware of our research questions and had the opportunity to provide feedback. In our meetings, we learned that government stakeholders from the Federal Ministry of Education valued information on cost and wanted to understand how the impact of findings varied according to children’s gender, disability, displacement status and home language. We aligned our research plans accordingly, such as by including a costing component to identify the cost of different ingredients of our intervention and disaggregating our findings according to relevant demographic characteristics.
- Generating quality, clean data and producing research findings quickly. IRC’s research team set up digital processes to collect high-quality data with as few mistakes and missing data as possible. The team analyzed all data and produced reports in a timely way. Within a month of completing data collection our researchers had all results ready for discussion with our donor and country teams. Having access to research findings quickly allowed the country team to make immediate programmatic changes to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of the intervention received by upcoming cohorts of students. Research findings were used to make decisions that had immediate effect and to guide actions that needed additional planning. For example, when researchers identified that on-site coaching visits to learning facilitators did not lead to improved student outcomes and were not worth the cost, the country team made an immediate decision to discontinue coaching activities from the larger group of schools and a longer term decision focused on refining coaching activities and to continue researching the effect of an improved model of professional development on a smaller group of research schools. Researchers also identified that social-emotional learning (SEL) programming was well-received and highly valued by all stakeholders but that teachers and coaches reported difficulties implementing SEL activities given that SEL is a new concept in the region. For this reason, our country team made a decision to increase the time allocated to SEL training for teachers and coaches in our DFID EiE program and to partner with Harvard EASEL lab to engage in a longer term process of designing and contextualizing SEL kernels of practice in Nigeria, which received funding from USAID
- Sharing findings with different stakeholders throughout the research. Dissemination did not just occur when the research was complete. We not only met with stakeholders at the inception phase to negotiate research questions we met throughout the project to discuss baseline, midline and endline findings. The research team built relationships with evidence users by sharing preliminary findings in reports, briefs and presentations that addressed the unique concerns of different stakeholders including practitioners, donors, policy makers and researchers. The team held regular dissemination events to share findings. Feedback from stakeholders was collected and addressed before finalizing and distributing documents. Involving relevant stakeholders in the research process ensured that evidence users found the evidence produced by the project relevant, and strengthened their commitment to understanding and using the data. On July 29th, the IRC convened a dissemination event in Abuja, which was attended by 70 participants. These participants included representatives from the Federal Ministry of Education, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Planning and Budget, State Universal Basic Education Board and State Agency for Mass Education with parastatal heads from Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States, State Ministry of Education with permanent secretaries from Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States, office of the secretary to the governor of Adamawa state and donors including the Swiss Embassy, Dutch Embassy, DFID, ECHO, World Bank and GIZ. During the events, stakeholders were invited to contribute to the interpretation of the findings, to discuss the implications of the findings for actions in their own work and to pose questions to guide future research.
In conclusion, involving researchers, practitioners and policymakers throughout the research process, producing research findings efficiently and sharing them in a timely way has increased the uptake of our research work in Nigeria. Our research approach has led to greater commitment by government stakeholders from Northeast Nigeria to support non-formal education initiatives in the region as a way to create pathways for OOS children to learn the skills they need to catch up with the peers in school and enter the formal education system.
About the Author: Silvia Diazgranados Ferráns is the Associate Director of Education Research at the IRC. Silvia leads IRC’s global education research agenda in conflict affected settings such as Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Lebanon and Colombia. She previously taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is the founder of Juegos de Paz, a peace education program that works to promote social-emotional learning and citizenship education in Colombia. Silvia holds an Ed.D in Human Development and Education and a MA in Prevention Science and Practice from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and BA degrees in Psychology and Philosophy from the University of Los Andes.
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