Presentations from AIR Experts at the Comparative and International Education Society 65th Annual Conference

Experts from AIR, alongside other industry professionals, presented their work at the annual conference of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES), held virtually from April 25 to May 2, 2021. This year’s theme was titled “Social Responsibility within Changing Contexts,” and focused on field research, evaluations, and technical assistance in relation to changing environments with stakeholders who may have the same or a differing vision for future work. CIES is the largest and oldest comparative and international society in the world, with more than 3,000 members representing over 1,000 universities, research institutes, governments, non-governmental organizations, and multilateral agencies worldwide.

AIR experts presented on a wide range of topics that resonate worldwide, including teacher preparation pathways, food security, experiences of refugee students, multilingual reading, education for distance learning during COVID-19, and more.

Presentation Summaries

Pre-primary Education: Luxury or Necessity? Evidence from Mozambique and Laos

Dr. Juan BonillaPrincipal Economic Researcher

Education starts long before children enter a classroom. Data from around the world suggest that by age three there is already a gap in foundational skills like language acquisition, problem solving and self-control between children from poorer homes and their more affluent peers, which widens as they grow. By the time they enter primary school, underprivileged children are already behind the learning curve of their better-off classmates. Although evidence is limited in low- and middle-income countries, it suggests that investing in pre-primary education promotes better learning outcomes and school readiness.

Putting Evidence at the Centre of Achieving Long-Term Sustainable Improvement to Pre-Primary Education in Ivory Coast

Dr. Elizabeth Spier, Principal Researcher (co-author)
Recognizing the needs for continued engagements between independent researchers and local governments, AIR, the Education Partnership Group at Ark (EPG), and the Government of Ivory Coast are using an independent but collaborative evaluation of accelerated school-readiness programming in Ivory Coast to support and develop government capacity in early childhood education. The focus of this panel was to showcase how facilitating partnerships between researchers (or evidence-producers) and policymakers can be used to empower Ministries of Education in bringing about long-term and sustainable improvements to pre-primary education, based on their own priorities and local needs.

Putting the MLE Back Into Mother-Tongue Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE)

Dr. Pooja Nakamura, Principal Researcher

Mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE) describes programs that prioritize learning in the mother tongue in a multilingual environment. The choice of language in education can be linked to politics and structures of power that often disenfranchise marginalized populations. With growing recognition and understanding of the positive impact a child’s first language (L1) literacy achievement has on the child’s second language (L2) literacy acquisition, many more countries are adopting L1 as the language of instruction for literacy and learning in early grades, changing to bilingual literacy and learning in higher grades. But what happens when the language of instruction changes to L2 (or Lx) after grade two or three?

National Refugee-Inclusive Education Policies, Practices, and Implications in the Context of Forced Displacement: Findings from Evidence Synthesis and Intervention Mapping

Victoria Rothbard, Research Associate and Dr. Hannah Ring, Principal Researcher
Panel discussion on national refugee-inclusive education

The environment for educating refugees is evolving rapidly, as an estimated 30 to 34 million (38-43%) of the 79.5 million forcibly displaced persons around the world are below the age of 18, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). However, developing countries, already struggling to deliver high quality education to their own populations, are currently hosting the vast majority of global refugees, further straining their limited resources as they try to respond to the academic and psychosocial complexities of displaced children. This paper presented the findings from initial research on what works to support education for these children and identified gaps requiring the attention of both field practitioners and researchers. The paper also underscored the importance of practitioners, policy makers, and researchers working together to fill gaps of evidence in refugee education worldwide.

Impact of E-Learning Technology and Activity-Based Learning on Learning Outcomes: Experimental Evidence from Community Schools in Rural Zambia

Dr. Hannah Ring, Principal Researcher; Victoria Rothbard, Research Associate; Thomas de Hoop, Principal Economics Researcher and Garima Siwach, Senior Economic Researcher  
Zambia is emblematic of many low- and middle-income countries that face multiple educational challenges even as they have made significant progress toward having children attend school. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals shifted the focus from education attainment to education quality “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” The eSchool 360 model implemented by Impact Network represents a promising approach to improving educational outcomes by incorporating three potentially high-impact components that could create important synergies: a standardized e-learning curriculum and pedagogy, ongoing teacher training and professional development, and community ownership. The authors of this study designed and were implementing a mixed-methods cluster-randomized controlled trial (cluster-RCT), discussed in the CIES panel, to determine the effects of Impact Network’s eSchool 360 model.

Design and Implementation of a Virtual Training Series on Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT)

Dr. Rebecca Stone, Principal Researcher
This initiative was designed to provide practical and feasible teaching options that would facilitate the transition from face-to-face to remote teaching forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. School closures have exposed the equity gaps that underlie education systems. Despite efforts to move from face-to-face to remote teaching, a general sense of inadequacy persists around this transition. Consequently, learning deficiencies in early grade literacy (EGL) may widen as a result of COVID-19 and the closure of schools. RedLEI, aware of the challenges faced by the region's universities, designed and implemented a training series on ERT aimed toward teachers at different education levels. The training series, conducted between May and June 2020, provided simple tools and practical guidelines to assist in the transition to online learning.

Two Years are Better: A Longitudinal Impact Study on the Effects of Offering an Additional Year of Pre-Primary Education in Bangladesh

Dr. Elizabeth Spier, Principal Researcher
AIR and Data International carried out a randomized control trial of the Early Years Preschool Program (EYPP) to determine whether adding a second year of preschool to Bangladesh’s existing one-year pre-primary class had a significant effect on children’s school readiness. A total of 1,856 children participated in the study from across 100 randomly selected schools. The study concluded that adding a second year of quality preschool had a lasting, positive effect on school readiness in the three key areas of literacy, numeracy, and social emotional development.

Randomized Control Evaluation of the Young Potential Development Program in Ecuador

Dr. Sarah Borelli, Senior Research Associate; Dr. Michaela Gulemetova, Senior Research Associate; and Melissa Paredes

Learn more about our work in Ecuador.

This paper presented the final results of an experimental study about the Young Potential Development (YPD) program, exploring the role of socio-emotional skills in helping to develop youth’s socio-emotional readiness to prepare them for higher education, productive work, and entrepreneurship. The YPD is an add-on curriculum which helps teachers to integrate these skills into classroom instruction. A total of 806 students, ages 15-17, from seven municipal schools, participated in the study. Half were taught by YPD-trained teachers and the other half by regular teachers.

The Importance of Fidelity of Implementation in Understanding Impacts: The Case of the Young Potential Development Program in Ecuador

Dr. Michaela Gulemetova, Senior Research Associate and Melissa Paredes
This presentation focused on the importance of examining program fidelity in contextualizing impact results of the Young Potential Development Program (YPD) education intervention that fosters socio-emotional skills among youth which often predicts life outcomes with as much power as cognitive skills do—or more. Yet, until recently, such skills have largely been overlooked in international development programming. Several recommendations for improving program implementation emerged from this study.

How to Improve Literacy and Food Security in an Ever-Evolving Context? Bring Everyone Together!

Dr. Michaela Gulemetova, Senior Research Associate and Elnaz Safara, Research Associate

This panel presented findings and lessons learned from evaluations of school feeding programs’ impacts on reading and nutritional outcomes of primary school children in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. The AVSI Foundation and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Ivory Coast implemented the “Support for the Integrated School Feeding Program,” and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Burkina Faso implemented the Beoog Biiga II “Tomorrow’s Child” program. The evaluations compared how the school feeding programs were executed by two different implementing partners, resulting in unique findings, lessons learned, and recommendations.

Promoting Education for All in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos): Increasing Access Through School Meals and Inclusion

Elnaz Safara, Research Associate

Laos is made up of 50 ethnic minority groups. Most of them live in rural areas and have historically been excluded from national support networks. While these minority groups can access education, Lao is not their native language and classroom instruction is only in Lao, thus excluding them by default. To address these challenges Catholic Relief Services (CRS) with partners is implementing the Learning and Engaging All in Primary School (LEAPS) II, a five-year program funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. This panel combined the practitioner perspective from implementers CRS and SCI, and the research perspective from IMPAQ International.