Exploring Innovation in Refugee Education in Kenya through the Humanitarian Education Accelerator
The Humanitarian Education Accelerator (HEA) is an innovative, multi-donor fund that invests in research to help improve our collective understanding of how pilot projects can be transformed into scalable educational initiatives for refugees and displaced communities worldwide. The HEA is funded by the UK’s Department for International Development, UNHCR, and UNICEF.
Our Education Advisor, Stephanie McBride, sat down with our Monitoring and Evaluation Manager in Kenya, Timothy Kinoti, who has played a significant role in the implementation of WUSC’s three year project with HEA. Kinoti has worked with WUSC for four years, and is an European Investment Bank Research Fellow in Impact Assessment.
McBride: What is the problem that HEA is trying to address?
Kinoti: HEA is trying to build a rigorous evidence base on what works in education, and to help us scale-up interventions to address the scale of the problem. As the world’s displacement crises continues to grow, it is more critical than ever to understand and build the body of knowledge on how to effectively deliver education in emergency contexts at scale. With over 70 million displaced people around the world, we risk a “lost generation” of youth who have missed out on access to education.
M: What solution has WUSC been studying with HEA’s support?
K: For the past six years, WUSC has implemented a remedial education program that provides opportunities for weekend study for girls who are not performing well in school. Remedial classes aim to improve girls’ learning outcomes, increase school retention, and improve rates of transition to secondary education. Girls work with a trained tutor in an all-girls classroom environment that provides them with dedicated space and time to focus on their schoolwork.
We implement remedial in two slightly different ways, through two different programs: one funded by the U.S. Department of State, and the other by the Girls’ Education Challenge. The HEA program was studying the remedial program as delivered through our U.S. Department of State-funded initiative, which is smaller and has fewer complementary interventions to remedial.
WUSC has been working with HEA since 2017 to provide evidence on the impact of the remedial education program. The WUSC team in Kenya has also received coaching and mentorship through HEA to enhance our capacity for development program evaluation and scaling. The American Institutes for Research (AIR) was assigned as WUSC’s mentor, and we worked closely with their team to design and implement mixed-methods impact research in the Dadaab and Kakuma Refugee Camps in Kenya. In addition to this, WUSC has been receiving mentorship on how to use the evidence generated to scale the remedial model. The WUSC and AIR team used randomized control trials and regression discontinuity design to assess the impact of the remedial program, and have coupled that with rigorous qualitative methodologies to better understand individual components of the project.
M: What are the three top take-aways from this experience for WUSC that will inform our programming?
K: The whole WUSC team in Kenya has had a great experience learning through HEA and being exposed to new evaluation methodologies and opportunities to share the impact of our programming. Our top three takeaways are:
1. Our remedial education program’s potential to change lives: The HEA approach broke down our remedial model into its component parts, such as teacher training and the classroom environment to better understand the individual impact of each component and how they all work together. We learned that the remedial program has great potential to deliver statistically significant learning outcomes for girls in food-secure households. This means that we need to enhance the complementarity of our interventions – by pairing up cash transfers and remedial education, for example – to deepen our impact on girls’ lives.
2. Impact evaluations must be adapted to refugee contexts: In precarious contexts (such as the protracted refugee contexts in which WUSC operates), rigorous evaluation methodologies such as randomized control trials can be difficult to implement because of the difficulty in re-contacting participants, as well as the ethical considerations. Through our work with AIR through HEA, WUSC’s monitoring and evaluation team in Kenya has been equipped with a whole new suite of tools and skills to implement other rigorous quasi-experimental evaluation approaches, such as difference-in-difference analysis, that are easier to apply to challenging contexts.
3. Digital systems can greatly enhance data collection: Working with the HEA program has helped us to improve the quality of our existing digital data collection systems. The WUSC and AIR teams conducted monthly check-ins to support early detection of challenges related to the digital system and to trouble-shoot as a collaborative team. In addition, the adoption of digital attendance tracking has enabled us follow up promptly on girls who are at risk of dropping out.
M: How is WUSC adapting our remedial education program as a result of the HEA?
K: WUSC is excited to introduce a new series of improvements and adaptations to our remedial programming as a result of lessons learned through the HEA.
First, WUSC will be adapting our design of the remedial program to maximize our impact. Through the HEA evaluation, we have learned that remedial education has greater potential for impact on girls from food secure households. Therefore, we are applying this knowledge in our Girls’ Education Challenge-funded initiative by targeting the most marginalized through WUSC’s other complementary interventions, such as conditional cash transfers, which can help contribute to household needs including nutritious meals. This important nexus with WUSC’s cash transfer program allows us to “double-up” on interventions to deepen impact. The impact study has also shown the value of co-creating research with community members, and WUSC will continue to invest in community ownership in all our work.
Second, WUSC will be adapting the structure of the remedial teacher training. We learned through HEA that remedial teachers need more help to design content for their weekly sessions in a way that truly addresses the knowledge gaps of learners, so we have restructured our remedial teacher training modules to address this need. We have also introduced competency-based classroom observation tools to coach and support remedial teachers.
Finally, WUSC is excited to apply new evaluation skills in order to continuously evaluate our programming. The learning from HEA will enable WUSC to evaluate, re-design or refine programs, and deepen our impact. As WUSC expands our education work in other countries in East Africa, such as South Sudan and Uganda, we will take the HEA findings into consideration to design new project components and we will also take on board what we’ve learned around adaptive management. We have learned a lot from HEA, and are excited for the next phase of our work!