Last week, two very different events placed educational development in the foreground of discussions in the Middle East.
In Oman, the Gulf Comparative Education Society (GCES) symposium was held at Sultan Qaboos University. Researchers, educational experts, and policymakers focused on bridging the policy & research divide in education in the GCC. Knowledge was shared on how to improve educational practices, schools and programs to promote student learning and achievement.
In Dubai, the Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF), co-organized by UNESCO, the UAE Government, the Varkey GEMS Foundation, and the Commonwealth Business Council was held at the Atlantis Hotel. Heads of state, business leaders, educational experts, and international organization officers discussed the potential of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) to address the growing needs of education globally.
Although the venues, presentations, and discussions focused on very different aspects of education, it might not be surprising that the common core elements were rooted in student learning and achievement for all.
At GCES, most presentations focused on the potential impact of various solutions. One presentation in particular was notable to EduEval because of its explicit focus on the use of evidence for decision making. The KHDA from Dubai presented their work in analyzing the data from inspection reports, international assessments (i.e., TIMSS 2011 & 2007), and enrollment trends to better formulate responsive strategies and policies for the Emirate. On a different scale EduEval presented its Year 1 results of an 8-country impact evaluation on the use of a Learner-Response Device (a technology that promotes Assessment for Learning) in science classes in the Middle East.
At GESF, most presentations focused on redefining PPPs in education. As one Head of State explained, when private education provides schooling, it is in the interest of the public; a concept that might not be as shocking in nations struggling to meet the MDG2 (universal primary education) as private operators offer solutions of schooling for $5/month. This model seems to be an absurdity to those who think of the private school model as further promoting inequities rather than a solution to the divide between the rich and poor.
Interestingly, the take-away from both conferences was the marked absence of regular and systematic evaluation within the education sector for successful models to become scalable and serve the needs of the children, parents, and society. Andrew Adonis summarized the bottom line eloquently when he stated that evaluation is needed for the proof of impact of the for-profit sector on what works better than the public approaches in education! A thought reflected by KHDA as they will continue their work with a greater focus on educational research in collaboration with various organizations.
But where is the private sector in proving the worth of their solutions WITH evidence of impact on student learning and achievement?
Although there is a movement in the Gulf countries to systematize monitoring and evaluation (e.g., General Education Evaluation Authority, Saudi Arabia), the message was clear last week:
More monitoring and evaluation is needed sooner rather than later.
The responsibility lies with both the public and private sector.