Do we really need another report about global education? If the report is Millions Learning: Scaling Up Quality Education in Developing Countries, the answer is yes!

Millions Learning starts with a single proposition: the 100-year gap in educational outcomes between developed and developing countries cannot be closed with a business-as-usual approach. Co-authors Jenny Perlman Robinson and Rebecca Winthrop recommend five actions to expand quality education to millions more children in developing countries. Three of them stand out:

  • Fund the middle phase
  • Measure and learn what works through better learning and scaling of data
  • Share new ideas through a network of Idea Hubs

I’m hopeful that donors and governments will heed this advice and find new ways to provide flexible funding so that learning innovators have time to refine, adapt and sort out who is responsible for what to deliver on the promise of improved learning for more children.

Pairing this flexible funding with new investments to produce timely data and information about what it takes to scale up learning innovations could also advance the “science of delivery.” And a network of Idea Hubs could offer real-time advice and connections with others tackling similar challenges – a concept that the team at Brookings Center for Universal Education calls “real-time scaling labs.”

Reading Millions Learning reminded me of a story from our own grantmaking.  In December 2013, I received a call from Mamadou Ly, executive director of the Senegalese NGO Associates in Research and Education for Development. ARED specializes in developing African-language instructional and reading materials that are culturally relevant, low-cost yet high quality and designed to meet community needs. The Hewlett Foundation funded the pilot phase of ARED’s instructional approach for teaching reading, math and social studies in grades 1-3 beginning in 2011, and in November 2013 approved a three-year renewal grant to provide ARED time to further test and solidify its approach and plan for expansion.

Ly reported that the minister of education had taken notice of ARED’s positive evaluation results and invited them to submit a plan for scaling up their model to 500 schools (a five-fold expansion). This was good news because ARED’s goal was to demonstrate that mother-tongue instruction was feasible, and would enable Senegalese children to stay in and succeed in school.

Yet, Ly had questions he wanted to tackle before he presented a plan for scaling up the approach to the minister of education: What other government institutions would need to be involved and what would it take to get them on board? Who would be responsible for training and supporting teachers? What would ARED need to do, and who would pay for the 500-school expansion? How would ARED work with many more communities to ensure the programs were designed for their needs?

At the end of the call, we agreed to help ARED find and fund a scaling-up advisor that could work with them and the ministry of education – someone who had experience navigating the technocratic and political enabling conditions for scaling up that could coach ARED through the process.

ARED is making good progress today, and Dubai Cares has joined us to fund their work. Government officials, National Parent-Teacher Association representatives and others who participated in planning workshops with ARED have become “learning champions.” And the minister for education recently endorsed ARED’s plan to scale up.

ARED still has some way to go to put mother-tongue instruction and reading materials into the hands of more of Senegal’s teachers and students. Success will depend on the ability of ARED and the ministry of education to consolidate their education alliance, mobilize longer-term funding, continuously track and learn from their progress in scaling up, and measure and communicate children’s learning outcomes. Perhaps they will be among the first clients of real-time scaling labs!

Which leaves me wondering how many other potential real-time scaling lab clients are out there? And how might their actions improve your work? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @Hewlett_Found or with me @pscheid6.