Series: 190,000 young people learning more in stronger systems
Building on over a decade’s experience of delivering high-quality secondary education, PEAS has been working hand-in-hand with governments in Uganda and Zambia to improve the wider education system. We’re taking a look at our journey and what have we learned from it so far.
PEAS has 15 years of experience implementing high quality, inclusive and cost-effective secondary education in rural communities in Zambia and Uganda. Over this time, we’ve built a wealth of evidence about what works in delivering secondary education in low-resource contexts.
Our ambition has always been to use our exemplar school networks to support wider change across the education systems we work in to ensure all young people have access to a quality secondary education, not just those in PEAS schools.
Our journey began in partnering with governments to strengthen education systems in 2019. And this year we are working in partnership with governments in Uganda and Zambia in 245 government schools to build stronger, more inclusive education systems.
Where should you start? What matters most to set you up for success?
1. Take time to test and learn where you have the biggest opportunities for impact. From 2018 to 2022 PEAS deliberately took a “test and learn” approach to our system strengthening work. We piloted a range of approaches from sharing resources and open-source content with other school providers, undertaking commercial consultancy projects for clients, and partnering with government departments to roll out PEAS’ school management practices in under-performing public schools. Out of this period, PEAS’ most successful system strengthening project was the MoES-PEAS “Inspect and Improve” programme in Uganda. We are now scaling this programme in partnership with the government in Uganda, working with the government in Zambia to adapt this approach, and exploring how we can roll out similar programmes in new countries.
2. Build a strong reputation for quality first. We’ve learned that our greatest opportunity for impact is in the countries where PEAS has schools and expert teams. Here we have established reputation, relationships, experience, and knowledge of the specific context. An external evaluation of the Inspect & Improve pilot in Uganda highlighted PEAS’ strong reputation as a credible source of school management expertise as pivotal to programme success (NFER 2020). As we plan to support other countries to drive improvements using our approach, we’ll closely collaborate with organisations and stakeholders who are experts in their context.
3. Government is the biggest partner but not the only one. We believe we have the greatest impact working with governments who prioritise ensuring all young people have access to a quality education. However, the non-state education sector is also vital for expanding access to education and we are continuing to look for ways to reach non-state partners. In many countries, a huge proportion of students are still educated in the non-state sector, and improving the quality of education in those schools will make a difference to millions of young people.
4. Know your strengths and where you really add value. At PEAS, we know we can offer valuable expertise on effective school leadership and management. We have a proven track record of running secondary schools and our strong school leadership and management sets us apart. Evidence shows that better quality management leads to better performance, and our approach delivers interventions that lead to improved management. That evidence gave our systems strengthening work direction right from the start.
5. Be prepared to flex around government priorities. As effective government partners and experienced implementers, we aim to support governments to find solutions to the challenges they are facing. If you want to read more about how to be successful government partners, check out this blog.
6. Work within government budgets. Governments have little funding available for additional interventions so grant funding is often needed to launch new programmes. But setting programmes up to rely on grant funding permanently risks sustainability and long-term government buy-in. To embed sustainable new approaches in the long term they need to be low-cost and achievable within existing budgets and staffing structures. It’s not easy, but keeping a tight lid on costs and continually asking ourselves what parts of the programme are most cost-effective is critical to stay on the path to long term system strengthening.