By Jan Fransen, Tom Vandenbosch, Sven Rooms and Bart Dewaele, VVOB.
VVOB, a technical agency active in education for development, recently went through a participatory process to determine its new global objectives. This strategic process happened in an era of new challenges (such as growing inequalities in terms of learning), evolving country strategies in education, newly emerging scientific knowledge (for instance about early education), continuing specialisation amongst agencies, and post-2015 discussions. Though VVOB’s approach has been recognised as being relevant and effective in the latest Education for All Global Monitoring Report, we felt the need for an updated education portfolio for VVOB in this changing environment as part of our focus on delivery of results and our commitment to continuous improvement of our work.
There is now international consensus on putting equity at the heart of a post-2015 education goal, with explicit mention in the proposed goal. Equity will not only have to be made explicit in the goal itself, but also in the indicators and targets. Obviously, this is much easier said than done, and the time has come to “walk the talk”. Ministries of education, development agencies and other stakeholders will have to search for concerted efforts to achieve the desired learning outcomes for those who are denied the opportunity to learn because of their poverty, gender, disability or where they come from.
In an analysis presented at the UKFIET International Conference on Education and Development in September 2013, we describe the process we followed in the development of a new education portfolio for VVOB, and we draw some valuable lessons for others who may be considering reviewing their own strategies. A deliberate choice was made for a number of participatory sub processes, which led to one overall strategy with three clear objectives.
Equity was used as an overarching starting point in the development of our new strategy, and appears implicitly in all three of our global objectives. The choices made also took into account considerations of coherence, synergy and practicality of implementation. Our approach to realise these objectives is to enhance the capacities of education partners to ensure that they are capable to realise their own education priorities. Our UKFIET paper reflects on how the choices made will remain relevant in the post-2015 education agenda. Based on our analysis, we provide some tips and tricks on how to develop strategies that are clear, simple and measurable, and that put equity in learning at the centre of envisioned results.
Equity was integrated in different ways and at different levels in VVOB’s new education portfolio:
- Adaptation and adoption of an equity-based definition of quality education
- Selection of priority education subsectors based on their potential to promote equity
- Formulation of objectives informed by equity concerns
- Selection of geographical priorities within a country based on equity
- Formulation of programme results with a focus on equity
- Mainstreaming of equity in programme monitoring and evaluation
In our UKFIET paper, we describe the integration and mainstreaming of equity at these different levels in more detail and we give some practical examples of how this can be done.
A change of mindset across our organisation was necessary to achieve the mainstreaming of equity in our education portfolio. Just like with any other change process, the shift in focus required constant attention, follow-up and support from the organisation’s management and technical advisors. Although organisational change doesn’t happen overnight, VVOB has managed to put the reduction of inequalities in educational opportunities at the core of its work within the timeframe of one year. The formation of several feedback groups and the organisation of an internal organisation-wide seminar were probably good cornerstones towards the success of this change.
Although the promotion of equity in learning offered a global framework for VVOB’s new education portfolio, it was not restrictive and allowed for flexibility. Country-level contextualisation, decision-making and target setting for the new programmes was necessary and proved to be at least as important as the global priority setting. The result is a specialised education portfolio, with the promotion of equal opportunities for all learners as its backbone.
The process was lead and implemented from within the organisation. Some sub-processes (such as the analysis of available scientific research) were supported and validated by small teams of external experts. This proved to be useful in adding the required credibility to some of the choices made.
One of the challenges VVOB encountered in the process was the lack of reliable data and scientific studies, particularly from countries and regions where the problems are the biggest. There are a lot of data and studies available on access to education, but much less on education quality. And when they are available, they are often not disaggregated by gender, region or socio-economic background. Measures for assessing equity in learning have been lacking. This is surely a research topic the international community should invest in in the coming years.
We would be interested to read more about the experiences from others in developing a new education strategy, and any feedback on our own process and choices made would be very welcome.
Jan Fransen (Education Advisor, VVOB; email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tom Vandenbosch (Education Advisor, VVOB; email: email@example.com)
Sven Rooms (Programme Director, VVOB; email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Bart Dewaele (Director-General, VVOB; email: email@example.com)