Background

USAID’s Accelerated Quality Education for Liberian Children activity is a large-scale project that brings accelerated learning to out-of-school children ages 8–15. The project, implemented by EDC, began in March 2017, and was tasked to complete a Rapid Education and Risk Analysis (RERA) in its first 90 days. Now, half a year later, we at EDC are looking back on lessons learned and how the RERA has served our project’s implementation.

A RERA is a “good enough” situation analysis of the education sector, learners, and their communities as a dynamic system of relationships involving assets and multiple contextual risks. For implementing partners who are running projects like ours, RERA helps us ensure a program is conflict-sensitive, mitigating or avoiding the potential risks it could cause or exacerbate.

RERA

The RERA is the first of many rolling situation analyses.

Since the RERA was part of our project’s contract deliverables, we homed in on questions that not only looked at the broader risk context of Liberia, but also specifically informed our project’s activities. We decided our main research objects were the following:

  • highlight the main barriers that hinder access, retention, and success in school or accelerated learning programs for over-aged or out-of-school children in Liberia ages 8–15, as well as factors that contribute to resiliency;
  • make recommendations for specific interventions to address issues, mitigate risks, and/or increase resiliency within AQE project scope; and
  • recommend indicators to track and how to measure aspects that may impede or promote overall success of intervention.

Process

Using the first version of the RERA issued by ECCN (2015), we adapted our RERA to have two parts:

  • a desk review of available literature, and
  • a primary data collection effort, including key informant interviews and focus group discussions with community members, teachers, parents, and children.

A strong literature review forms a critical foundation for the RERA, grounding data collection efforts in available research so it doesn’t re-collect information we already know or spend too much time collecting unhelpful information.

Some of our questions, especially those around the current situation in Liberia in regards to conflict, socioeconomics, and health, were answered by our literature review, as we compiled available education and economic statistics, as well as historical and descriptive information on Liberia’s 1989–2003 conflict and Ebola crisis. For example, we found that in 2013, more than 90% of children were too old for their grade level.

Other questions arose due to what the literature review told us: mainly, how do communities perceive the sources of the education challenges outlined by this information, and how do they think Accelerated Learning Programs might be helpful or harmful in addressing them?

Using what we learned, we designed protocols for focus group discussions with parents, teachers, children. We also designed special key informant interview protocols for interviews with a few teachers at special schools for students with disabilities, as this was a particular focus of our project. For example, we followed up on the factual information we learned in the literature review by asking community members what they thought about the presence of overaged children in classrooms—and they told us about the risk of older children abusing younger children, the shame older children feel at being in low-level grades, and their beliefs about how Accelerated Learning Programs could solve these problems.

Since our project is also designed to strengthen education systems in Liberia, it was also critical that national and local government officials were involved in the RERA process. Staff from the central Ministry of Education, as well as County Education Officers, District Education Officers, and Parent-Teacher Association members were all involved at different levels. They supported us in scheduling, inviting participants, and arranging site visits. Most importantly, their involvement in setting up the focus groups gave the RERA a sense of legitimacy to the participants, and gave these local government actors a sense of ownership of the RERA.

The analysis of the literature and the results of the qualitative data analysis, together, formed the content of the final RERA report.

But this was only the beginning. Consistent with USAID’s Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) approach, the two sections of the RERA made up the beginning of a larger iterative data collection process:

  • The RERA’s literature review identified gaps to be addressed in its interview and focus groups;
  • The RERA’s interviews and focus groups identified areas to be further investigated in the site mapping process (where we’d be conducting surveys in potential ALP sites);
  • The site mapping process is being followed by rolling assessments, which will monitor any changes in contextual risks over time.

To finish the entire RERA—all the way to the final report writing—in only 90 days, we had to have all hands on deck, so to speak. Having a large team working collaboratively, in both our U.S. home office and Liberia field office, was crucial to its success, because otherwise it wouldn’t be possible to do so much work in such a short time. Four U.S.-based staff tackled the literature review, while in parallel, some of our M&E experts designed and refined the research questions and data collection protocols. Our field-based M&E team conducted data collection and did the initial transcribing and summarizing of qualitative data, after which point they sent it to two home office M&E staff who coded the text files in QDA Miner. We were drafting our final report during each step of this process. Being able to allow multiple people to edit the document on SharePoint was also a critical time-saver.

Looking Forward

Now, six months later, we are designing the rolling assessments that are essentially adapted, “light” RERAs, which will follow up on our initial RERA findings and see if things are changing over time.

Our rolling assessments’ focus groups will gather information on risks and changes in the context every six months, keeping our management processes nimble and able to quickly adapt to changes. This continuous stream of results will ensure our program approach and management decisions are all informed by timely, relevant data.

The new RERA Toolkit (2017), with its expanded collection of tools and research questions, will allow us to refine our data collection protocols.

Learn More

We also hope to see you at the CIES 2018 conference in Mexico City, at our panel presentation, “Reacting to the RERA: How Rapid Education Risk Analyses Informed Practical Implementation in Literacy Projects in Mali, Liberia, and Afghanistan.

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