New Evidence Gap Map makes education research more accessible

By Education Finance Network

This December marks one year since the release of the 2021/2 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, which examines the role of non-state actors in education. The report acknowledges the significant contribution of non-state actors in providing education to more than 350 million children globally, as well as their role in ancillary services, such as private supplementary tuition, textbook supply, education technology, teacher training, and after school activities.

Declaring “There is no part of education in which non-state actors are not involved,” the report urges governments to see all institutions, students and teachers as part of a single system. A testimony to this statement is a new Evidence Gap Map (EGM), developed by the Education Finance Network, which illuminates the breadth and scale of the involvement of non-state actors in education in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

An interactive platform on the role and impact of non-state actors in education

Consolidating more than 170 papers published since 2015, the EGM presents research on 23 intervention areas where non-state actors are active, which are mapped into three overarching categories:

  • Financing mechanisms, such as social impact bonds and vouchers
  • Education delivery, such as social franchises or faith-based schools
  • Ancillary services, such as EdTech and teacher training

For each intervention, the map presents the outcomes measured by the studies, such as affordability, gender equity, or learning outcomes. The studies are presented in an interactive visual map so that users can easily identify which interventions and outcomes have been subject to the most research and which areas lack significant evidence. The EGM also allows users to filter the evidence by country, region, intervention type, outcomes, and level of rigor. This ensures that the map is easily tailored to specific research interests.

Until now, there was no singular platform bringing together evidence from academic and practitioner circles, making key findings readily available. In developing this tool, the Education Finance Network responded to a need expressed by non-state actors to identify, share and synthesize concrete evidence of impact, as this evidence is usually scattered across multiple platforms or behind paywalls of academic journals.

The EGM helps disentangle myths surrounding non-state education

The GEM Report questions several recurring myths about non-state actors’ contribution to education. One such question is whether non-state schools improve individual student results, including for students from a low-income background.

An analysis of the evidence in the EGM helps shed some light on this.

Many studies included in the EGM evaluate the aggregate impact of a variety of low-cost non-state school models on learning outcomes. There is moderate evidence from studies in India, Pakistan, Uganda and Kenya that low-cost private schools succeed in improved learning outcomes. However, other studies in Colombia, Peru, Uganda, India and Kenya found no impact of private schooling on learning outcomes, especially when controlling for socio-economic status.

Evidence on the affordability of these schools for low-income households is also contrasting and often highly dependent on context. While some studies conclude that low-cost private schools are out of reach of low-income families, other studies have shown that 16.5% of children in the poorest quintile in India attend private schools, and that low-cost private schools in Uganda successfully reach low-income and disadvantaged students. This raises additional considerations on the accessibility of both public and low-cost private schools: the latter may facilitate access to low-income and disadvantaged students in other ways, such as being more conveniently located in rural areas and low-income urban areas.

The points made above show that the relative impact of low-cost private schools on advancing equity in education achievement must be viewed in context. When paired with initiatives to ensure access and affordability to the lowest income brackets, the evidence indicates low-cost private schools may offer a solution to communities with high shares of out-of-school children. However, this must be accompanied with initiatives to also ensure instruction within these schools is of high caliber and benefits disadvantaged students.

The evidence presented in the EGM helps illustrate the nuances raised in the GEM Report about the myths surrounding non-state education. Echoing the GEM Report, the EGM highlights how evidence is contrasting and highly context-dependent, and that there is often not a clear-cut answer to questions such as “are private schools always better?”

How can the Evidence Gap Map be useful?

For research entities and evaluators, the EGM can be used to understand what research already exists to avoid duplicating recent studies and ensure that new research prioritizes current gaps in the literature. For example, the EGM revealed critical gaps in evidence on school quality outside of learning outcomes, particularly related to diversity and inclusion in language and curriculum, and ensuring curriculum is relevant to students’ background and contexts. There is also less research focused on Latin America when compared with sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia. In addition, the analysis found limited research on innovative financing, including on social/development impact bonds, results-based finance, and impact investing.

Practitioners and funders looking to engage in a new project or partnership can use the evidence presented in the EGM to gain insight into whether interventions in particular countries or regions have successfully achieved outcomes. Ensuring that evidence on past programs is widely available and shared will help direct resources into the most successful interventions and allow practitioners and funders to expand their impact.

Governments will benefit from insight into the effectiveness of particular interventions, which can support decision-making in education policy and budget allocation. One area of interest for governments where the EGM presents a large volume of evidence is the role of public-private partnerships (PPPs) in education. Studies included in the EGM assessed the cost-effectiveness of PPPs, their ability to improve learning outcomes, and whether PPPs can increase access for out-of-school children.

While the EGM shows that there is a vast body of evidence around the impact of non-state actors in education, it also identifies areas where more research is needed to understand the nuances of what works in each context. By making this visible, the Education Finance Network hopes that the EGM will encourage further research in areas where meaningful gaps have been identified.

The database of sources behind the EGM will continue to grow as new studies are published. The Education Finance Network will also leverage its expanding global membership to identify unpublished studies and other grey literature which can add valuable insights. The EGM will be updated quarterly, ensuring it remains an up-to-date and relevant resource for anyone interested in how non-state actors can help improve access to quality education for all.


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