Framing note for the ERAA

1. Policy dialogue through education research and policy analysis

Since its inception in 1988, the Association for Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), formerly known as Donors to African Education (DAE), has invested heavily in research and analytical work in order to support its main mission--the promotion of policy dialogue, change and transformative reforms in African education. This also entails capacity building among its key stakeholders: African ministers of education, senior policy makers, bilateral and multilateral funding and technical agencies, international and national non-governmental institutions, civil society organizations and education practitioners at large. 

To be effective and credible, ADEA’s approach to policy dialogue and capacity development has been evidence-based, and thus its work has been strongly influenced by scholarly inquiry designed to inform policy-decisions impacting education. For this reason, and in line with this approach, ADEA serves as an arena for dialogue, and for testing–and subsequently promoting–conceptual frameworks, methods, tools and innovative practices. Over the years, ADEA has used empirical research to explore new ideas and to experiment with innovations that otherwise might not be introduced at the national level due to either a lack of awareness of their potential or the political risks involved. The ADEA Biennales, and most recently the Triennale held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, epitomize this approach

ADEA also plays an important role by promoting the syntheses of knowledge and insights generated in Africa and elsewhere that can be useful to the development of education on the African continent. The 2012 Triennale in Ouagadougou, for instance, organized two days of learning and sharing of experiences from the African Diaspora and South Korea. This strategy stems from ADEA’s praxis approach which aims at promoting learning through individual and group analysis of  actions taken in the field; putting lessons learned into perspective using a comparative analytical approach that examines the experiences of countries against one another and worldwide;and subsequently returning to the original actions in order to  improve and develop them. 

2. Capacity development as learning process

Capacity development for policymaking, implementation and evaluation therefore, is no longer a matter of traditional training or mere transfer of skills, and still less of technical assistance. Rather, it is a process of generating knowledge and insights, dissemination and utilization of results emanating from such a process to support Africa-based learning and practice. Hence, this is a process aimed at tackling the challenges of education reforms, innovations and overall development. In essence the process responds to the diversity of African situations and needs. Strategic partnerships and sharing (local and international) are thus critical to bringing into play worldwide expertise, knowledge and

experiences to inform reforms, practices and transformation of African education. Capacity building in this sense is achieved through a constructive learning process that enhances local autonomy while drawing upon a wide range of experiences and practices.  

In sum, then, ADEA advocates and works for active learning as an approach to problem solving, a social learning process based on collegiality and the pooling of ideas and knowledge, and a learning process that comes to fruition in the establishment of an analytical culture among stakeholders and in the process of social transformation of education.

3. The critical role of Africa-led research

The discourse outlined above suggests that the quality of learning and the ability to utilize this learning for effective decision-making is directly linked to the quality of research training, diversity and intensity of engagement, and output by researchers based on the African continent. This quality relates to various critical dimensions, including the grounding of educational research in the African educational environment; the analytical competencies of the researchers; researchers’ ability to think beyond foreign theories and constructs as they relate to education and to develop an authentically African understanding of education; researchers’ ability to leverage an authentic understanding of education in Africa and allow that understanding to shape the trajectory of research designed to inform policy; their sensitivity to deeper trends in the socio-cultural and economic contexts of the continent; and, not least, the ability of the researchers and their supporters to disseminate their findings into the public domain and to communicate effectively with policy-makers and practitioners. 

While it is unavoidable that research will reflect many voices and perspectives, it is essential that these continue to be part of the education debates and thus, directly or indirectly, influence the learning and capacities of policy-makers and key stakeholders.   

4. The current environment and constraints of education research

A critical research issue in Africa, however, remains the poor quality of the institutional environment for undertaking educational research. This environment is currently shaped by the interaction of a number of factors that impinge on the development of higher education and its interaction with policy making. In particular, the decline of the universities in the 1980s and 1990s, and the recent rapid expansion of higher education has led to an overall decline of research capacity and the quality and quantity of research output. 

A major consequence of this has been an even greater dependency of ministries of education in Africa on donor funding and thus a greater influence of the latter on the research enterprise. Special donor funding for research has often led to the establishment of private research institutions outside the universities, which then become responsible for producing policy-relevant research. This research, based on terms set by agencies and conducted outside the regular national frameworks for quality assurance, has had its

outcomes often channeled into government ministries. Frequently this type of consultancy mode of engagement of national researchers further constrains the latter’s autonomy, and their ability to produce quality and relevant research to address national challenges. 

In regard to the rapid expansion of higher education in Africa, the available research capacity has been spread rather thinly across the institutions, where staff has to give priority to teaching and administrative functions. Hence the researchers that require continuing to carry out independent research have to balance their research commitment with teaching and consultancy. Along with the decline of university-funded research, other expressions of a vibrant research community such as intellectual debates, seminars, conferences, and journals have also suffered greatly, due to scarcities of time and opportunities for collaboration and networking. Lack of local funding is also a major drawback.  

Quality research therefore tends to be limited to a few dedicated practitioners, often working alongside external researchers with interest in African scholarship. Moreover, when research is commissioned in this mode, it is not unusual for African researchers to be expected to accept a subordinate role in the research process despite the fact that they are often the experts on the local content and context.

ADEA’s involvement in commissioning research conducted by Africa-based researchers has illuminated the need to engage in building the capacity of existing African researchers to conduct research that is of higher quality. This situation exists because of many factors, such as limited resources for undertaking research, difficulties associated with language and mode of communication of research findings, reliance on theories and constructs that are incompatible with the complexities and dynamics of African education, and constraints of sharing research with the wider public. It can also be noted that few ministries of education have a well-developed research culture that impacts the direction of decision-making. Moreover, too often when research is needed there is an over-reliance on Western researchers who utilize theories, constructs and practices that are incompatible with the African context, that may result in an imposition of educational ideas and practices which are not particularly well-suited to the African educational context.

Over the years ADEA has done much to stimulate ministries of education, research organizations, universities and NGOs to get more involved in various types of educational research, or make more and better usage of the work that has been done. Biennales and the recent Triennale have offered excellent opportunities to solicit ‘state-of-the-art’ research papers, investigate what have been identified as key policy issues, practices and experiences in implementing policy on the ground. In addition, institutions and individual experts have been invited to synthesize their insights in their area of work. This work has begun to demonstrate the strengths of what research can contribute, as well as the capacity constraints faced by ministries, research institutions and researchers. It is clear that much work needs to be done to improve human capabilities in doing research

and the capacity of ministries and institutions to facilitate both the production and the utilization of research, especially of the type that is directly relevant to education policy and practice.  

5. Strategies for stimulating education research in Africa

As noted above, education research in Africa faces overwhelming challenges. First, there is need for building capacity to meet the rising demand resulting from expansion of the education system, and the increasing demand for quality research to inform the processes of change and innovation. Secondly, it is essential that local resources from the national budget are allocated for research, thus reducing dependency on donor funding. In addition, more effort can be made at national level to align donor funding to national priorities and existing research agendas, so as to reduce fragmentation of efforts and limited capacity. Thirdly, there is an overwhelming need for a systematic process or programmes aimed at building new capacity to replace aging researchers, and to meet the rising demand for research on expanding education systems.

Fourthly, the dominant consultancy mode needs to be supplemented by a more autonomous mode of basic research that challenges researchers to engage in critical reflection and transformative action, and thus help develop intellectual communities that would be at the cutting edge of education research in Africa. Finally, the existing pockets of quality researchers who are engaged in influencing policy need to be recognized and rewarded.

The challenges posed by the prevailing structural constraints seem to suggest that interventions and incentives aimed at African education researchers would need multiple foci: 1) assessing the level of preparation of Africa-based scholars to conduct research; 2) designing professional development modules that are easily accessible to Africa-based researchers to increase their knowledge and capacity to conduct quality and policy relevant research; and, 3) providing incentives (monetary and otherwise) that would afford African researchers the opportunity to conduct research in an environment conducive to pursuing quality and relevant research. 

In such a context, the establishment of an education research award scheme, while not solving all of the problems, could provide a major stimulus to individuals, their units, departments and institutes, wherever they are located, to make that extra effort to produce quality research in the face of many personal and structural constraints. This could demonstrate that the independent and scholarly spirit eager to get to the bottom of issues and challenges has not disappeared, but is rather in great need to be valued, supported and utilized for the benefit of educational reforms and sustainable development in Africa.

6. Strategies for implementation of ERAA 

To promote the Education Research in Africa Award (ERAA), ADEA is collaborating with the African Development Institute (ADI) of the African Development Bank (AfDB). The mandate of ADI is training and capacity development to support the effectiveness of Bank-funded operations and has since 2010 been the focal point of the AfDB Group in facing the challenges of capacity building and in strengthening the Bank’s role as a knowledge institution. Hence research and education are essential elements in capacity building and knowledge sharing of the Bank.

The award will be managed and implemented by ADEA and ADI with initial support of Education without Borders (EWB) and the Seoul National University (SNU) of Korea. EWB and SNU will also provide opportunities for further training for the researchers who win the various categories of the Award. The support will come in the form of scholarships and post-doctoral research opportunities.

Future support of the Award will be solicited elsewhere to ensure continuity sustainability of ERAA. 

ADEA and ADI will ensure a large buy-in of the rationale for the Education Research Award in Africa. Indeed, the success of the Award will hinge on the support ADEA and ADI will be able to muster from key actors such as the African research networks and institutes, ministries of education and their technical and financial partners (bilateral and multilateral development agencies), foundations, civil society organizations and other interested parties (e.g. media groups). 

Detailed description and criteria for selection of awardees in the various categories of the Award, and strategies and processes of implementation are articulated in the statutes and other operational documents.

7. Expected outcomes of ERAA

The award can help to recognize and highlight innovative and quality research that is engaged with policy making and informs education practice. The institutions or researchers recognized can be utilized as models that can inspire others in their respective circumstances.

The award could also help in revitalization of research institutions and capacity building initiatives in education research. This point towards the need to come up with awards that recognize individual researchers, mentors/supervisors and institutions. 

The award will thus become a mechanism for the recognition of emerging young, enterprising and innovative researchers, accomplished and influential education researchers, dedicated mentors of young researchers and scholars, and institutions

which are making extra ordinary efforts to produce quality and relevant education research in constrained circumstances. 

Provided with channels of communication and dissemination to wider audiences in Africa, the research recognized by this award could lead to further influence on policy and research environment.

The award would be a beacon of hope for those researchers who want to contribute to reform, innovation and development of African education. The challenge is to make it the most sought-out award. In this way it will inspire the creation of the next generation of African education researchers.