Global Education & Skills Forum

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12 - 13 March 2016

Atlantis The Palm,
Dubai, U.A.E.

How do we scale quality learning?

The world needs more quality education; much more. The challenge of how to scale good education to meet soaring demand is one which the public sector, NGOs and private sector are all grappling with.

Many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals will only come about if universal education becomes a reality and the fourth SDG is explicit; by 2030 it aims to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

The explosion in demand

It is clear that achieving this target means putting a much greater emphasis on scaling up quality education services, especially for the most marginalised communities.

To get a sense of the size of the challenge, look at the pace of growth in demand for secondary school education in Niger. It is typical of many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the developing world.

Rise in enrolment in lower secondary education in Niger

How do we scale quality education graph

Source: Education Policy and Data Center

We must do a far better job at extending education’s reach to those currently left out, such as girls from the poorest families and children living in fragile states and remote communities.

At the current rate of progress, for example, it will be another 100 years until all girls in Sub-Saharan Africa, including those living in the lowest-income households, can be expected to make it through junior secondary school.

Filling the gap

Creative solutions are needed to address the lack of well-trained teachers and make education available to a broader audience with often very limited resources.

This is necessarily going to involve the scaling up of promising models within local markets and the transfer of best practices across markets in ways that can be sustained over the long term.

But the ingredients of many successful small-scale projects such as passionate leaders and experienced project managers often fail to scale up very well.

And, unfortunately, the standard recipe used to extend education – building schools and making attendance free and compulsory – does not guarantee quality education.

Teaching and technology

To truly scale up quality education – sometimes referred to as an “access plus learning” agenda – we need to invest some time in thinking about how quality education services can reach everyone. We need to develop new approaches that reach the most marginalised and ensure that young people not only go to school but learn while there.

Teachers are, of course, the lifeblood of education. In traditional models, each teacher will teach between 25-150 children every school year. In more innovative models that number can be much higher.

Without sufficient quality teachers there is never going to be quality education, however it is delivered. And teachers need three things to teach affordably and effectively: tools, training and time.

But technology and online resources have allowed quality education to become more affordable and to operate at scale. To provide teachers with tools, training and time, digital curricular resources can be designed and delivered quickly, and are easily kept current. It is now possible to support thousands of teachers across vast distances at low cost with high effectiveness.

Technology has the potential to transform education in the developing world but it must be used well if the new models of delivery are to bring quality as well as scale.

Financial resources

Scaling up quality education requires us to look at the way schools are financed. Dependence on the traditional model of state funded and delivered education necessarily limits the pace at which services can be rolled out.

This is one of the many reasons that this is a political issue as much as an educational or technological one. There needs to be a will in government to explore innovative models of finance and delivery and to experiment to find out what works best.

A commitment to quality education for all is a laudable thing. A commitment to actually delivering it, even more so.


This will be a key topic at the Global Education and Skills Forum 2016, taking place in Dubai on 12th and 13th March 2016. For more take a look at the programme. Follow us on Twitter @GESForum and on Facebook.

classroom hands raised blur shutterstock image

Blog post by:

Harsha Sharma
Harsha Sharma
Digital Communications Manager, Varkey Foundation