An evidence-based approach for integrating skills into education systems

Secondary school offers the most natural and cost-effective way for youth to learn and practice the transferable, socioemotional, and entrepreneurial skills that they will need to thrive in the future, whether they seek employment or create their own businesses. Read how Educate! works with governments to improve youth skills to ensure them better life outcomes.

August 05, 2021 by Donnalee Donaldson, Educate!, Kamanda Kamiri, Educate!, and Meghan Mahoney, Educate!
4 minutes read
A young woman learns to sew in the vocational school of Kiryandongo refugee settlement. Uganda - December 2015. Credit: GPE/Henry Bongyereirwe
A young woman learns to sew in the vocational school of Kiryandongo refugee settlement. Uganda - December 2015.
GPE/Henry Bongyereirwe

With an average age of 19.5, Africa is the world’s youngest continent, and by 2050, it will have the largest workforce in the world. As many as 90% of those youth will be expected to work in the informal sector.

At Educate!, we believe that secondary school offers the most natural and cost-effective way for youth to learn and practice the transferable, socioemotional, and entrepreneurial skills, such as critical thinking and financial literacy, that they will need to thrive in this reality, whether they seek employment or create their own businesses.

Educate!’s core model, delivered directly to youth in over 850 schools in Uganda, has demonstrated that skills-based experiences in secondary classrooms can measurably impact the lives of young people in the long term.

In 2019, a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of the model quantified this effect, revealing that 3.5 years after graduation, young people show strong and lasting improvements in areas linked to better life outcomes, including transferable skills, educational attainment, gender equity and family planning.

In response to these results, we asked: "Can we partner with governments to recreate this impact through the education system?"

Upon invitation, Educate! partners with governments to improve youth life outcomes. Together, we co-create an experiential, skills-focused model that government schools and teachers deliver to youth, generally by targeting a single academic subject.

We do this work in three stages: (1) policy reform, (2) in-service government teacher training, and (3) the integration of sustainability structures.

The three stages of Education System Solutions
The three stages of Education System Solutions.

This approach was piloted in Rwanda in 2015, when, in partnership with Akazi Kanoze, Educate! provided technical advisory support to the Rwanda Education Board (REB) as it updated the national Entrepreneurship curriculum, a required course for secondary students.

In Stage 1, we worked together to integrate key components that have proven critical for effective skill building into the curriculum, including an active, hands-on “Skills Lab” pedagogy structure, student business clubs, and continuous, skills-based assessments.

To encourage the uptake of this policy change, we followed up with a two-year teacher training and support model during Stage 2.

In Stage 3, we are working with the government to strengthen the sustainability structures and incentives, such as assessment reform, which are necessary for this behavior change to last.

Evaluating the impact of a teacher training model post-policy reform

To contribute to the limited body of evidence about the effectiveness of system-level approaches, we worked with REB, Akazi Kanoze Access, and researchers from the World Bank, Oregon State University and Innovations for Poverty Action to launch an RCT of the pilot of the two-year in-service teacher training model. The study asked:

  1. Did the two-year in-service teacher training affect teacher pedagogy?
  2. Does that pedagogy change translate into a significant impact on youth life outcomes?

The results demonstrated, in our first attempt at a system-level solution, that the two-year training measurably impacts teacher behavior. Teachers who participate in the training are 19% more likely to use active instruction techniques, like debates and role-playing, and are more likely to adopt the student-centered “Skills Lab” lesson structure of Build, Practice, and Present as described in the policy update.

Teacher explaining astronomy at Kirambo Teacher Training Center in Burera district in rural Rwanda. February 2016. Credit: GPE/Alexandra Humme
Teacher explaining astronomy at Kirambo Teacher Training Center in Burera district in rural Rwanda. February 2016.
GPE/Alexandra Humme

This impact on teachers translates into improvements in some key outcomes for youth, particularly girls, just six months after secondary school. Girls see a 167% increase in university enrollment, and boys and girls together are twice as likely to enroll.

Assuming there is space in higher education for this additional enrollment and this impact can be maintained if rolled out nationally, these results suggest that up to 2,000 more Rwandan youth could have a similar opportunity to enroll in higher education each year.

Boys and girls also see an increase in skills, which research shows are key for success in school, work and life, such as grit and patience. For girls, we also see a 16% increase in business ownership and a 12% reduction in those not enrolled in school or working (commonly known as NEET or not in education, employment, or training).

Designing for the long term

While in this initial evaluation young people, especially girls, improved key skills correlated with long-term economic success and more youth were able to access higher education, more should be done to deepen and sustain impact.

Educate! and REB’s current efforts towards improving youth skills focus on identifying the strategies that best incentivize stakeholders, such as administrators and teachers, to sustain the reform, the third and final stage of this systems change approach.

One example of designing for the long term is REB’s inclusion of continuous, skills-based assessments within the nation-wide reform (Stage 1). Currently, educators are trained to use these assessments (Stage 2) as a more practical and effective form of assessment, but cannot ensure they are included in students’ national exam scores.

We are now working with REB to fully institutionalize this policy change (Stage 3) through a pilot that allows teachers to easily upload grades to a central system using basic phone technology.

Overall, these early evaluation results indicate that by partnering closely with governments, it is possible to increase the academic and entrepreneurial opportunities for young people through the education system, and we are eager to continue learning alongside governments how to sustainably improve youth life outcomes at scale.

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Quality teaching, Youth
Sub-Saharan Africa: Rwanda, Uganda

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