Spritz­ing up the ed­u­ca­tion ecosytem

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - COMMENT - By Wendy Kopp and Dzin­gai Mu­tum­buka. Ex­clu­sive to the Sun­day Times in Sri Lanka

NEW YORK – This month, heads of state and se­nior of­fi­cials from all 193 United Na­tions mem­ber states are gath­er­ing in New York City to try to make progress on some of the world’s thorni­est devel­op­ment chal­lenges – in­clud­ing en­sur­ing qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion for all. Progress on this front is not just a moral im­per­a­tive; it is also vi­tal to put coun­tries on the path to­ward sus­tain­able devel­op­ment. But suc­cess will not be easy. It will re­quire sig­nif­i­cant new in­vest­ments in lo­cal lead­er­ship – an el­e­ment of in­ter­na­tional devel­op­ment work that has rarely got­ten the at­ten­tion it de­serves.

“Lead­er­ship,” in this case, doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean an in­di­vid­ual po­si­tioned at the top of a govern­ment or business hi­er­ar­chy. Rather, it is de­fined by ac­tions aimed at im­prov­ing a com­mu­nity’s well­be­ing, and it can come from any­one. We have seen first­hand how the pres­ence of a di­verse set of en­gaged lead­ers at all lev­els – ed­u­ca­tors, par­ents, stu­dents, pol­i­cy­mak­ers, ad­vo­cates, and oth­ers – can make or break ef­forts by a com­mu­nity or coun­try to max­imise op­por­tu­ni­ties to im­prove its ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

The good news is that ed­u­ca­tors and ed­u­ca­tion ad­vo­cates world­wide now seem to be recog­nis­ing the value of in­formed lo­cal l e a d e r s h i p. The In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion on Fi­nanc­ing Global Ed­u­ca­tion Op­por­tu­nity re­cently called for greater in­vest­ment in a “global ecosys­tem for ed­u­ca­tion” that would help to cul­ti­vate more of such lead­er­ship. The rest of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity should heed that call.

A global ed­u­ca­tion ecosys­tem would com­prise new part­ner­ships among bi­lat­eral and mul­ti­lat­eral donors, the phil­an­thropic com­mu­nity, and global non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions. This dy­namic net­work would work with lo­cal ac­tors to sup­port lead­er­ship devel­op­ment and in­no­va­tion, while cre­at­ing ef­fi­cient new chan­nels for those lead­ers to share knowl­edge, ex­pe­ri­ences, and so­lu­tions across com­mu­ni­ties and coun­tries.

As it stands, this type of ed­u­ca­tion ecosys­tem doesn’t ex­ist. In­stead, al­most all of the $17 bil­lion of for­eign aid chan­nelled to­ward ed­u­ca­tion each year goes di­rectly to lo­cal gov­ern­ments or lo­cal op­er­a­tors. Re­gional or global or­gan­i­sa­tions that could help de­velop a global learn­ing in­fra­struc­ture, sup­port lead­er­ship de­velop- ment among lo­cal stake­hold­ers, and help cre­ate ef­fec­tive chan­nels for knowl­edge and best- prac­tice trans­fer among com­mu­ni­ties, re­ceive no mean­ing­ful in­vest­ment.

That amounts to a wasted op­por­tu­nity, be­cause the prom­ise of such ecosys­tems to ac­cel­er­ate over­all progress has been proven in other areas – in par­tic­u­lar, the pub­lic-health sec­tor. Over the last 35 years, driven partly by the global AIDS epi­demic, the num­ber of in­ter­na­tional part­ner­ships and non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions work­ing to pro­mote pub­lic health more than quadru­pled, to over 200.

To­day, the global pub­lic-health land­scape is pop­u­lated by numer­ous NGOs and civil-so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions, which, along with many pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships, the UN sys­tem, and other in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, com­prise a dy­namic net­work that fa­cil­i­tates progress. This ma­ture, if im­per­fect, ecosys­tem has al­most cer­tainly helped to im­prove and even save the lives of mil­lions of peo­ple around the world.

One or­gan­i­sa­tion that is help­ing to sup­port the pub­lic-health ecosys­tem’s con­tin­ued devel­op­ment is Re s u l t s for Devel­op­ment, which leads the Joint Learn­ing Net­work for Uni­ver­sal Health Cov­er­age. By es­tab­lish­ing and deep­en­ing con­nec­tions that en­able prac­ti­tion­ers and pol­i­cy­mak­ers from coun­tries around the world to share their ex­pe­ri­ences and ex­per­tise with their coun­ter­parts else­where, the Joint Learn­ing Net­work is help­ing to en­sure that we make progress to­ward im­proved health- care cov­er­age world­wide faster than would oth­er­wise be the case.

This is pre­cisely the kind of ap­proach that is needed to ad­vance the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s goal of en­sur­ing qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion for all. Given re­mark­able sim­i­lar­i­ties in the causes of the in­equities and chal­lenges af­fect­ing ed­u­ca­tion across com­mu­ni­ties and coun­tries, knowl­edge- shar­ing among lo­cal lead­ers – not to men­tion ef­fec­tive ca­pac­ity-build­ing – prom­ises to be as ef­fec­tive as it has been in the health sec­tor. We sim­ply need a global ed­u­ca­tion ecosys­tem to sup­port such ef­forts – and we need it as quickly as pos­si­ble.

This month’s UN Gen­eral Assem­bly meet­ings present an im­por­tant op­por­tu­nity to kick­start this en­deav­our. If we in­crease cur­rent mul­ti­lat­eral in­vest­ment in re­gional and global non­profit ed­u­ca­tion ac­tors by even a small amount, the world could be­gin to de­velop a shared ecosys­tem to fos­ter lo­cal in­no­va­tion, learn­ing, lead­er­ship devel­op­ment, and ca­pac­ity build­ing. And we would sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease our odds of achiev­ing the progress on ed­u­ca­tion – and our col­lec­tive wel­fare – that all of us seek.

(Wendy Kopp is the CEO and co- founder of Teach For All. Dzin­gai Mu­tum­buka is for­mer Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion for Zimbabwe and Chair of the As­so­ci­a­tion for Ed­u­ca­tion Devel­op­ment in Africa.) Copyright: Project Syn­di­cate, 2017. www. project-syn­di­cate.org

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