7 ingredients for a great education

On the first International Day of Education, let’s review the key role that education plays in promoting peace, development and growth, and examine the elements that make up a great education.

January 24, 2019 by GPE Secretariat
5 minutes read
Students solving a task. Pong Tamale Experimental Primary School, Ghana. Credit: GPE/Stephan Bachenheimer
Students solving a task. Pong Tamale Experimental Primary School, Ghana.
Credit: GPE/Stephan Bachenheimer

Education can change the world. By increasing access to quality education, the results can be transformational for an individual, a community and society at large. The value of investing in education is indisputable: it reduces inequality between women and men, improves economic development, promotes peace, and lifts people out of poverty.

Reducing poverty and education are inextricably linked: the more educated individuals are, the more chances they will have higher incomes and break the cycle of poverty. Statistics show that 420 million people would be lifted out of poverty with a secondary education. There is also research indicating that one additional school year can increase women’s earnings by up to 20%.

Here are 7 ingredients for a great education:

1. Start early

Early childhood care and education (ECCE) prepares children for learning and provides them with the skills to thrive later in life. What’s more, it’s a smart investment: US$1 invested in early education for the most disadvantaged children can generate up to US$17 in returns.

To date, GPE has invested US$180 million to support early learning in 30+ partner countries. Recognizing the benefits of ECCE, partner countries have launched initiatives aiming at improving early learning:

  • Cambodia, with support from a GPE grant, improved access to early childhood education through the construction of preschools and teacher training. Between 2016 and 2018, the enrollment of 5-year-olds in selected districts increased from 56% to 68%.
  • Nicaragua increased access to early childhood education by designing a unified curriculum that covers three levels of preschool education, by training teachers on the new curriculum, and by providing nearly 9,000 preschools with textbooks, school supplies and learning toys, with support from GPE. These efforts contributed to an increase in the number of children enrolled in preschool from 40% in 2013 to 50% in 2017.

2. Train teachers

We all know that teachers play a critical role in improving learning outcomes; but in one third of all countries, less than 75% of teachers are trained according to national standards. For GPE, supporting teachers and their professional development is a high priority: In 2017, 100% of grants to partner countries included support for teachers.

  • With GPE’s support, the government of Kenya has trained 117,000 teachers and provided them with early grade math teaching guides. Additionally, an online tool for teacher appraisals has raised teaching standards by tracking classroom performance, professional knowledge, and attendance.
  • GPE helped Zimbabwe strengthen teacher performance through the establishment of teacher professional standards, which identify what teachers should know and be able to do in the classroom. Also, GPE helped fund a teacher development information system database, to help the ministry get an accurate picture on the skill gaps in the teaching force.
Murape Primary School, Zimbabwe. Credit: GPE/Carine Durand
Murape Primary School, Zimbabwe.
GPE/Carine Durand

3. Make education inclusive

Reaching all children, in particular the most vulnerable and marginalized, is a priority for GPE, which has provided US$440 million since 2012 to support inclusive education.

  • GPE supported the government of Zanzibar to make its education system more inclusive by training hundreds of teachers on guidance and counseling, detecting special needs, and developing classroom skills for including children with disabilities. GPE also helped distribute glasses and hearing aids to vision- and hearing-impaired children; and more than 250,000 learning and teaching materials for inclusive education.

4. Leave no girl behind

Investing in girls’ education has a ripple effect that benefits their families, communities, and countries. GPE works with partners to put gender equality at the heart of national education systems:

  • To enroll more girls in school, the government of Afghanistan, recruited, trained, and deployed female teachers to community-based schools in some of the country’s poorest districts. Thanks to these efforts, the rate of girls enrolling in primary school rose from 44% in 2002 to 84% in 2017.
  • Balochistan’s province in Pakistan has improved school enrollment and retention, especially for girls. Between 2015 and 2018, student retention in GPE-supported schools increased from 70% to 89%, and the number of girls enrolled in grades 1-5 increased from 7,500 to 35,000.

5. Provide good data

Education data are key to know which children are not in school or not learning. More than ever, GPE is helping partner countries improve their data collection and analysis:

  • Sudan is strengthening its management and monitoring capacity through three systems: a teacher database; national learning assessments; and a rapid education management information system, which provides reliable information on primary and secondary education. These systems help Sudan better collect and analyze data for education planning and management.

6. Focus on learning

Despite the fact that more children than ever are in school, too many still don’t learn the basics: a waste of resources invested in education, and in human potential. GPE helps partner countries close the learning gap:

  • With GPE support, Ethiopia conducted education reforms to improve the quality of teaching and learning in over 40,000 schools. A new curriculum was developed and over 200,000 teachers upgraded their qualifications. As a result, 44% of teachers in grades 1-4 were trained in 2013, up from just 3% in 2006.
  • Guyana, with support from GPE, launched an early learning program that helped children in the most disadvantaged areas of the country develop the building blocks of lifelong learning. In 2018, almost 90% of children mastered reading and math skills compared to only 37% in 2016.
Young boys in class at the St. Anthony Primary School. Guyana.
Young boys in class at the St. Anthony Primary School. Guyana.
GPE/Carolina Valenzuela

7. Strengthen the education system

GPE helps partner countries strengthen their national education systems to dramatically increase the number of children who are in school and learning. System strengthening at the core of the GPE model, and it’s what will make a long-lasting difference in the lives of millions of children around the world.

  • GPE has supported Ghana with US$95.4 million in education grants over the past decade ensure that all children can go to school and get a quality education. The latest grant supported 75 of the most deprived districts and helped provide in-service training for teachers across all grades. It also provided small school grants to allow schools to be more flexible to buy necessary teaching and learning materials or make repairs. As a result, school attendance of students and teachers has improved significantly, enrollment rates shot up and transition rates from primary to lower-secondary school are increasing.

Since 2002, GPE has helped 77 million more children go to school. Of course, much more remains to be done.

On the International Day of Education, we commit to continuing our efforts to help partner countries ensure that no child is left behind.

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This a great recipe for 'cooking' a good education system, and little disagreement is perhaps possible on the ingredients. However, from my personal experience of living and working in a country (India) where the need for good quality education system is acute, and yet the political will and resource allocation seems to lag significantly behind, I believe that much of such recipes focus on strengthening the supply side of learning often not simultaneously emphasising two critical factors. One, the need to strengthen demand for good quality education that is more broad-based as opposed to being driven by top percentiles of population which leads to extremely skewed supply-side education systems, which in turn is detrimental to raising the national levels of educational attainments. Second, we should focus on making learning enjoyable, and not focussed exclusively at getting a job or a degree. Among other factors, the latter crucially depends on the quality and commitment of teachers who motivate students to learn. We need to build a national culture where becoming a teacher is a sought-after career aspiration among students, as opposed to being a residual category of employment mostly for non-achievers.

Good to see, but under item 1, welcome attention to ECCE should not mean starting to provide textbooks early in all cases. Better for policymakers to work with specialists to support good ECCE pedagogy rather than seeing textbooks as way of bestowing an aura of concern by government and agencies.

Amazing article!!! Thank you for changing the world for the better!

How does someone volunteer to teach or train teachers? I taught in the Peace Corps in Ghana and my wife worked at a teacher training center training teachers to teach English at the primary level. We both taught middle and high school in Zambia. I worked for USAID training teachers in an Egyptian school in Cairo to involve the students in the lessons. We would like to volunteer again. Teaching in the local language in Zambia makes so much sense!!!

One challenge in strengthening the education system is to incentivize female educators to offer programs that might fall outside of the formal curriculum. Do you have examples of such programs and of incentives that encouraged these "educational changemakers" to do more?

In reply to by Constance Kane

Thanks constance. Can you clarify what you mean by "programs that might fall outside of the formal curriculum"?

Educational equity reveals that all kinds of people should get the same type of education in the educational system. Equity4Education shared some helpful tips with you. Follow this link https://equity4education.org/

As a Guyanese, and an educator, I am really impressed with the work being done by GPE in Guyana. My husband (Jamaican) and I have are considering returning to live in Guyana. So, two questions:
(1) How can I be personally involved in the work that GPE is doing in Guyana?
(2) Is GPE doing a work in Jamaica?
I wait to hear from you. Thank you very much.

In reply to by Shelly Thorpe

Thank you for your comment.  GPE is not working with Jamaica at this time, based on the country's income level (GPE supports low-income countries).  In Guyana, GPE currently supports the ministry of education to implement its COVID-19 response, with UNICEF as GPE grant agent. You can have a look at the grant documents on the Guyana page (click on "Key documents" at the top) to get further information on the type of activities that are being implemented and where you may be able to find entry points: https://www.globalpartnership.org/where-we-work/guyana 

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