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18 Jul 2017

Towards a Learning Generation in Africa: From the Nairobi Workshop, a Newfound Value for 'Ruthless Prioritization' by Veronica Dzeagu

Veronica Dzeagu, Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition

From 8-12 May 2017, the Education Commission hosted the Learning Generation Lab Workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. It was my privilege to attend this gathering, which brought together 12 African countries, at the invitation of Ghana’s Ministry of Education. Our network, the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition (GNECC), has more than 200 member organizations. Founded in 1999, our mission is to influence policies, practices, and attitudes toward quality basic education for all. Over the years, GNECC has worked closely with the Ministry of Education and its agencies to establish policies to make the school environment safer for children, ensure equitable teacher distribution, help make schools more inclusive, and education management more efficient. We have maintained our independence and earned the confidence of the Ministry as a partner in the promotion of education in Ghana.

For this reason, the Ministry contacted GNECC to be part of the delegation from Ghana attending the Learning Generation Workshop for African Pioneer Countries to help us make progress in the education sector. As a civil society organization, our role is to ensure that government focuses on and prioritizes  the areas with the greatest need; so our core interest in attending the workshop was to get a clear understanding of what is expected of our government in order that upon our return to Ghana we could help ensure the right actions are being taken.

What the Learning Generation vision means to me

The Learning Generation vision seeks to change the way education is delivered at the country level. It requires creating a movement of champions in education and mobilizing more funding to accelerate the progress toward achieving SDG4. I fully support this vision, and the Commission’s work could not come at a more appropriate time. In Ghana, education is valued at the national, community, and family levels. Successive governments have prioritized – and allocated a substantial proportion of the national budget toward education. And yet after so many years, rather than improving, the quality of education has declined. Several reforms have been made, but the results have been minimal; in some cases, there was complete failure. This has led to a widespread outcry from Ghanaians, as well as many questions. The government has also expressed concerns about the return on education investments. So we are all in search of solutions – government, civil society, and various stakeholders.

One of the aims of the Learning Generation workshop was to introduce the concept of “ruthless prioritization” to leaders within education so that policies primed for impact are acknowledged and advanced. The process itself entails having a clear sense of the goals governments want to achieve, identifying all possible barriers, and formulating realistic solutions. The prioritization of actions then helps a country determine what steps can be taken in the short-, medium- and long-term. This is a delivery model that requires critical thinking and bold action, and it will serve a country like Ghana very well.

Lessons from the workshop

The workshop opened my eyes to the planning process in a way I have never experienced before. Often, civil society organizations like ours monitor policies only after they are rolled out. Through this workshop, we were exposed to the planning process from the “get go,” and I believe it is going to enhance how we monitor and hold governments to account.

The importance of engaging all relevant stakeholders right from the beginning of the planning process was also emphasized through the lab simulation.[1] Although it is not the easiest approach, it is definitely more effective and guarantees greater impact than planning in silos. Negotiation skills and open-mindedness for the views of each stakeholder are required to navigate this tricky process. However, it is important to have a clearly defined goal to inspire everyone and head down a common, coordinated path for success.

This leads to the concept of ruthless prioritization which, I believe, will be the mantra of all those who were at the workshop with me. The importance of prioritizing policies and initiatives has been elevated by introducing ruthlessness – in the sense of a clear, direct focus. Those individuals with a sincere desire to see results and impact should consider this approach as part of the routine planning process.

Taking the lessons forward

Following on from the workshop, I look forward to applying the knowledge acquired and making sure these lessons are shared with the staff at the national secretariat of GNECC and then the wider network. I believe our approach to policy analysis will be greatly enhanced as a result of this workshop and it will add to GNECC’s credibility within the education sector. And so I hope Ghana’s government makes the decision to participate in the lab process to ensure that ongoing reforms are effectively implemented. This will go a long way toward improving education outcomes and reassuring all Ghanaians that we are getting value for the substantial investment going into education.

[1] The three-day lab simulation included a series of brainstorming, visioning, and “ruthless prioritization” exercises that workshop participants went through in groups to produce a mock detailed implementation plan – complete with a hypothetical budget and KPIs (key performance indicators) – to give them a sense of what a full 6-week delivery lab would entail.

Veronica O. Dzeagu is the National Coordinator at the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition (GNECC).

This blog is based on an interview at AllAfrica.

Image credit: Lana Wong / the Education Commission / Reproduced with permission.

Disclaimer: NORRAG’s blog offers a space for dialogue about issues, research and opinion on education and development. The views and factual claims made in NORRAG posts are the responsibility of their authors and are not necessarily representative of NORRAG’s policy or activities.

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