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For instance, our team found that in some contexts, learners are not counted as “out of school” because they have never attended school to begin with, despite them being of school-aged.

Pathways to Accessible and Recognised Education: Initial Research Findings

Sep 10, 2021

If you could not (re) enter into formal schooling, what opportunities might you have to complete your education and ensure it is both recognised and certificated?  The Accelerated Education Working Group (AEWG) sees Accelerated Education Programmes (AEP) as a key vehicle for enabling over-aged, out of school learners to do just that: earn a certificated, equivalent course of primary, basic or lower secondary education in an accelerated timeframe.   

Yet with over 258 million children and youth out of school pre-COVID, AEPs only serve a small proportion of the global out of school children and youth (OOSCY) population. Our research project, ACCESS: Accelerated  Change for Children’s and Youths’ Education through Systems Strengthening, is determined to understand the present scope for such programmes to serve more of this sizeable population and determine what is needed for this to happen. 

In June and July of this year, the six members of our research team based in Colombia, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Uganda, set out to understand who accounts for the out of school children and youth population in each country, why they are out of school, and what current pathways they have back into education of any kind (including AEPs).    

What we learned

The makeup of OOSCY 

First the good news. Prior to the onset of COVID-19, data from UIS suggests that the number of OOSCY at a primary school level has been dropping dramatically in recent years. For example, in Colombia, over 140,000 were out-of-school in 2015 but this number had dropped to approximately 36,000 in 2019. Jordan reported 50,000 less OOSCY of primary school age between 2016 and 2019.  

At the same time though, it is well documented that learners in contexts of displacement, conflict or natural disaster have a much higher propensity to be out of school, and to face considerable challenges in re-entry or access back into formal education. In all five of our countries of focus there are sizeable numbers of learners who face such circumstances.   

For instance, our team found that in some contexts, learners are not counted as “out of school” because they have never attended school to begin with, despite them being of school-aged.  Other learners are unaccounted for in OOSCY figures because they are considered too old to re-enter into formal education. In either of these cases though, non-formal education programmes, including AEPs, might offer them a path back into schooling.  On the other hand, in other situations, learners are counted as out of school even though they are in some form of non-formal or informal education—and are learning—just not in a programme recognised or accredited by national educational authorities.    

These differences in how OOSCY are both accounted for and recognised has a bearing on the availability, prevalence of, and affordances to accelerated education programmes and other non-formal education opportunities. What does it mean when a group who could truly benefit from AEPs are not recognised as being out of school; and conversely what are the implications when students are enrolled in AEPs and are still counted as out of school by national authorities?   

Educational Funding Priorities  

While examining AEPs present in each country of research, our team identified that how and by whom these programmes are funded plays a key role in shaping the availability of AEP opportunity for specific groups of OOSCY. In several of the countries, we are finding that international donors are targeting their support towards educational provision for children and adolescents from refugee backgrounds. While these actions are often motivated by a recognition of the additional burden and strain these populations place on national education systems, this approach has led to governments purposefully over/underreporting certain groups of OOSCY to attract funding. It also leads to implementing partners (INGOs and civil society actors) targeting certain groups of OOSCY to the exclusion of others—working against the do no harm approach at the core of the INEE Minimum Standards—particularly when national authorities are not sufficiently supporting the needs of these other groups equivalently.    

National ownership of AEPs  

The degree to which AEPs are aligned to, integrated within, and support and managed by national governments greatly varies at present across our five countries. In some instances, we identified strong government oversight and management of AEP provision. Such approaches are well aligned with UNHCR’s push for the inclusion of programmes like AEPs within national education systems. This does, however, not come without challenges for learners. Our team identified that often strong government ownership and management of provision leads to uneven (and unequitable) access, and one-size-fits-all approaches p that are not sufficiently relevant or adaptable to the diverse needs of OOSCY through AEPs.    

In other contexts, our team found a level of ambivalence on the part of national education stakeholders to fully embrace AEPs within the fold of possible opportunities available to OOSCY. Stakeholders sometimes saw AEPs as competition to formal education, as it allows learners to complete their schooling and sit national exams in a compressed timeframe. Additionally, there is also a common perception that AEPs are more costly to operate and manage, in part because they offer incentives such as free uniforms, school supplies and other forms of material/non-material support which formal education programmes cannot. These concerns have been noted as a long-standing challenge to the effective inclusion of AEPs within national education systems.     

What next?

As we continue our research into AEPs and their potential integration into national education systems, we will explore in more depth for which groups of OOSCY in each country might AEPs might be a relevant solution, and the degree to which these learners  have meaningful access to such programmes. To do so, we will use the 4A’s framework (Tomasevski, 2003) and the concepts of availability, acceptability, adaptability, and accessibility. In exploring these 4A’s we’ll also continue to ask why. Why is the situation the way it is at present?  How is this influenced and shaped by wider institutional, legislative, and funding frameworks which govern the provision of education to OOSCY, as well as the interests and agenda of various stakeholders working within the education sector?   

If you work in the education sector of our countries of research and would like to contribute to our research, please contact our research manager, Kayla Boisvert: 

We will continue to publish our findings and you may follow CAPRS on Twitter for our latest updates.