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Innovations closing the educational access gap

Posted 1st September 2022

Many families around the world will be preparing for the start of the new school year this week.

Education is considered a universal human right, and our right to access it will be taken for granted by many. However, there are still huge barriers to accessing education for people around the world, and there are still many — particularly children in developing African countries — who do not enjoy this right.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of education exclusion globally, according to the UN. Nearly 60 per cent of youth aged 15 to 17 are not in school.

And according to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), over one-fifth of African children between the ages of six and 11 are not in school, while nearly 60 per cent of youth between the ages of 15 and 17 are not enrolled.

Access to education for girls is also a pressing issue. Nine million girls in Africa between the ages of 6 and 11 will never attend school. And by the time they reach adolescence, girls have a 36 per cent exclusion rate compared to 32 per cent for boys.

India faces its own crisis in its education sector. In April this year, the World Bank’s Global Director for Education Jaime Saavedra drew attention to the grave crisis in India’s school education sector in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In India, learning poverty has shot up from 54 per cent to 70 per cent,” he said. The World Bank defines learning poverty as the inability of children to attain minimum reading proficiency and correlates this with the proportion of children who are out of school.

Here at GIF, we have invested in innovators who aim to close the educational access gap between developed and developing countries.

The Lively Minds programme addresses Early Childhood Care and Education gaps in Ghana, such as the lack of quality kindergarten and poor home-based care and education.

To date, 8,374 mothers have been trained through the programme, with 50,398 children attending. In 2020, GIF awarded a $2.7 million grant to Lively Minds to support Ghana’s efforts to scale-up the Lively Minds programme in 1,600 kindergartens in eight of the country’s poorest regions and adapt in response to changes caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

Lively Minds equips education services to engage parents in educational play-schemes in government-run kindergartens and provide education and care at home. The Lively Minds Play Schemes involve a specially designed suite of educational games being played in government kindergarten schools in Ghana. The games are designed to encourage the children to act socially, think creatively, solve problems, and learn new skills including counting and pre-literacy skills.

Mothers enrolled in the programme attend schools on different days where they lead an hour-long session. The children are arranged in small groups, rotate around five play stations, and must handwash with soap before taking part, sensitising them to this vital practice. Parents are also given Parenting Workshops to encourage provision of nurturing care and education at home.

A parent in Ghana runs a Lively Minds educational play scheme

Lively Minds has shown to be particularly successful in raising cognitive abilities for children coming from poorer households, with children from the bottom socio-economic quintile seeing more than twice the increase in cognitive development. There was also a significant improvement in the literacy skills of disadvantaged children.

Lively Minds is a low-cost way to improve the school readiness of children – driven by significant improvements in early understanding of numbers, better memory and focus, and fine-motor skills. In keeping with the theme of intergenerational solidarity, Lively Minds has also benefited parents. Benefits include: improved general knowledge about child development and pre-school quality. For example, mothers better recognised the importance of praising children when they try to do something new, and are more likely to believe that play based learning is better for kids than rote based learning. Parents who have used the programme also spend more ‘productive’ time with their children and are more likely to practice productive teaching strategies.

Educational Initiatives delivers a personalised adaptive learning (PAL) software called Mindspark to students in government schools in India.

In August 2017, GIF made a $2.3 million grant to Educational Initiatives to explore how Mindspark can be used effectively in government schools during the school timetable with the school teachers. GIF funding is enabling the roll-out of Mindspark in 40 government schools in the northern Indian province of Rajasthan with the goal of improving the learning outcomes of 6,500 children directly studying in grades 1-8.

The grant also supports the company’s development of public goods intended to accelerate the diffusion of the PAL innovation, including through adoption by other PAL software providers.

The software draws on a database of more than 45,000 test questions that have been answered by more than 500,000 unique children to finely benchmark the learning level of each student and dynamically customise the material being delivered to match the level and rate of progress made by each individual student. The software is widely used by private school students.

A student using the Mindspark software at school in Rajasthan

Educational Initiatives has reached over 100 schools in Rajasthan and over 200 schools in 8 other states reaching a total of over 60,000 children across India.

Children who have used the software have seen a two-fold increase in learning in Math and 2.5 times increase in Hindi (language) when compared to the control group learning levels. The programme was also equally effective for students at all levels of the achievement distribution. However, the relative impact of the programme was much greater for low-achieving students, who were making no progress in school.