Accelerated Education at CIES 2018

Representatives of the Accelerated Education Working Group (AEWG) and partners working in Accelerated Education (AE) globally introduced the AEWG Learning Agenda on a Panel at the March 2018 CIES Conference. Presenters described cases and research from Liberia, Kakuma, Kenya, and Ethiopia, examining the evidence of what works, what does not, and how the policy support for Alternative Education Programs (AEPs) can be strengthened to reach under-served, over-aged, out-of-school children and youth.

The AEWG and the Learning Agenda

Guide to the Accelerated Education Principles

Led by UNHCR with representatives from education partners working in AE, the Accelerated Education Working Group (AEWG) aims to strengthen the quality of AE programming through a more harmonized, standardized approach. The AEWG defines an Accelerated Education Program (AEP) as follows:

“…a flexible, age-appropriate program, run in an accelerated timeframe, which aims to provide access to education for disadvantaged, over-age, out-of-school children and youth. This may include those who missed out on or had their education interrupted due to poverty, marginalization, conflict, or crisis. The goal of Accelerated Education Programs is to provide learners with equivalent, certified competencies for basic education, using effective teaching and learning approaches that match their level of cognitive maturity.”

Around the world, Accelerated Education programs are being employed with more frequency to address the overwhelming numbers of out-of-school children and youth. However, while there is widespread agreement on the need for such programming among agencies and governments, there is insufficient validated documentation that provides guidance, standards, and indicators for efficient program planning, implementation, and monitoring. In practice, AE takes different forms in different countries, and even within countries. First convened in late 2014, the AEWG is filling this gap through the development and dissemination of 10 Principles for Effective Practice, ongoing research on their application, and, most recently, the development of a Learning Agenda.

The AEWG Learning Agenda, published in late 2017, aims to organize and generate evidence to inform strategic planning, project design, project implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and in-service training efforts of AE. The Learning Agenda is comprised of a set of research questions in priority development areas for which the AEWG intends to organize and disseminate existing knowledge and data, generate new evidence, and produce conclusions and recommendations through academic research, program evaluations, and multi-method tests of the assumptions and principles that have been developed to guide AE programming.

The Learning Agenda has two broad objectives:

  1. Assess the efficacy of AE programming using the Principles in terms of outcomes, access and equity, equity of learning outcomes that meet set standards, completion, and transition to multiple pathways, further formal or non-formal education (including vocational training), and supporting the creation of livelihood opportunities.
  2. Evaluate the contribution and cost-effectiveness of AEPs to national and global provision of equitable access to quality basic education, particularly for fragile, insecure, and under-financed environments.

Three Applications of the Learning Agenda


Girls studying

Representing AEWG on the CIES panel organized by Annie Smiley of FHI360, Ash Hartwell of ECCN and the University of Massachusetts introduced the AEWG Learning Agenda to a packed and enthusiastic audience. He then turned the floor over to three partners implementing and researching various AE issues related to the AEWG’s learning agenda.

Brenda Bell of Education Development Center described the process of AE policy development with the Liberia Ministry of Education (MoE). The USAID Liberia Advancing Youth Project (2011–17) conducted action research with the MoE to identify and test criteria by which the Ministry could assess the quality of AEP’s and certify program graduates. Officially launched by the Ministry in early 2017, the program quality standards are informing the process of aligning AE policies for programs serving older youth (over 15) and children (9–15). The Liberian Program Quality Standards predate and yet mirror the AEWG Guidance Principles. By examining Liberia’s use of common statements of quality to guide policy development and program improvement, the presentation made the case for widespread use of the Principles by governmental and nongovernmental providers of accelerated education, and argued for the application of action research using the AEP Principles.

Jihae ChaTeachers College, Columbia University, examined the accelerated education program in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya, and explored the extent to which the program met the goals of increasing educational access, quality of learning, and psychosocial well-being of overage refugee learners. In particular, the presentation explored the role of teachers in elevating student learning by asking, “How do AE teachers in Kakuma refugee camp perceive the impact of AEP in promoting overage learners’ academic motivation and learning?” Drawing from teacher interviews and classroom observations, this presentation demonstrated that the AEP increased access, completion, and transition by overage, out-of-school youth, as well as created an environment conducive to learning with lower student-teacher ratios and motivated learners. However, the study also revealed challenges associated with teacher training, support, and turnover; administrative barriers; and learner feelings of belonging.

Speed School Model

The Speed School Model
[Click to enlarge]

Jessica Lowden of Geneva Global, Inc., discussed Speed Schools, an AEP that the organization has been implementing for seven years across sub-Saharan Africa. The presentation examined the research conducted on the Speed Schools model in Ethiopia and how this can inform the broader discussion on AE.  Reflecting the AEWG 10 Principles, Speed Schools implement student-centered and activity-based learning, including methods such as music-based, nature-based, community-based, and family-based learning. Speed School activities lend themselves to fostering creativity in the classrooms where students and teachers are driving the creation of materials. In this way, classrooms are remarkably relevant to the context. Finally, the presentation showcased the external and internal evaluations of the program, which demonstrated that Speed School students had greater attendance, were more likely to remain in school, had better literacy and numeracy results, and had higher aspirations for further education than formal school students. This was an impressive body of evidence about a highly effective AEP program.

Upon completion of the three presentations, Dana Burde of New York University provided incisive syntheses and critiques of the individual papers, and concluded with three points:

  1. The definition of AE is critical. Research demonstrates that AE takes many forms, but having a clear definition of AE and its intended goals is necessary for ensuring that programs are aligned to the Principles and achieve their objectives.
  2. Similarly, how programs identify the parameters for selection of students is paramount. According to the AEWG, programs should work with local communities to identify and enroll target students, and which students are in need of AE depends on the context.
  3. Finally, Burde challenged the audience and the panelists to consider equity. AE is a pathway to achieving equitable access to education for all children and youth; however, AEPs must also consider how to address equitable access for girls, ethnic and religious minorities, and disabled children and youth within their programming.

Future Directions of the AEWG

speed group work

Pupils work together to solve math problems at Speed School class in Boricha, November 29, 2011.

Upon completion of field testing of the AE Principles in early 2017, the AEWG has revised the definition for AE as well as other non-formal programs, the AE Principles Guide, and the principles checklist. The AEWG has also developed an AE Issues Brief, as well as an initial orientation and an AEP field design training for AE implementers; these are being piloted in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Pakistan. These and other AEWG materials are also available on the ECCN website for AEWG.

ECCN is collaborating with AEWG through the ECCN Learning Agenda, which mirrors that of the AEWG, and will collaborate on orientation and training for those designing and implementing AEPs. In February 2018, the AEWG convened to take stock of the groups’ activities and articulate priorities for the coming years. The AEWG identified three key pillars and priorities to guide their work:

  1. Shaping quality AE provision through increased engagement and uptake of AE tools and guidance;
  2. Supporting engagement and uptake for effective AE provision within policy priorities, objectives, and actions of relevant national ministries and key donors; and
  3. Strengthening the evidence base around effective AE provision by identifying the components of the evidence base and working towards a “value for money” case for AEPs.

With these priorities in mind, the AEWG will develop a broad toolkit, including a Monitoring and Evaluation framework, to orient and guide field staff, as well as support the development of AE-specific teacher training modules; develop an investment and policy case for AEPs; and nurture existing and new research partnerships to build the evidence base for AEPs.

Members of the ECCN Community of Practice, as well as other organizations designing or implementing AEPs, are invited to use the AEWG materials (now available in French and Arabic), including the orientation and training modules, and engage with the AEWG Learning Agenda.

For  more information and all the latest resources, visit the comprehensive AEWG Landing Page on ECCN, find the AEWG resources on INEE,  or contact Martha Hewison.



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