What does the institutional adoption of education innovation by a government look like in practice? After a decade of observing and years of implementing the Speed School Program with the technical guidance of Geneva Global, implementation by civil society organizations, and financial support from a group of international funders, the Government of Ethiopia recently established an official Speed School Unit within the Ministry of Education’s Accelerated Education Program Directorate.
Covering the first three years of primary school in just ten months, the Speed School program is an alternative primary education model that gives out-of-school children the fundamental literacy, numeracy, and overall learning skills they need to join or rejoin formal primary schooling and to succeed there. Geneva Global, a USA-based philanthropy advising firm, has operated Speed School in Ethiopia since 2011 and in Uganda since 2016, adopting the model from the Stromme Foundation in West Africa.
Starting from this June, the Federal Ministry of Education in Ethiopia has operated a new unit devoted entirely to the nationwide implementation of the Speed School program, aiming to reach the country’s over two million out-of-school primary-aged children.
“We need different approaches in order to reach all children in Ethiopia”, asserted Yoseph Abera, a senior ministry official and Head of the new Unit. “Speed School is an important one of them, offering highly effective means to create access to quality education even for the country’s most marginalized children.”
Speed School’s unique approach towards fostering an optimal learning context both in the classroom and the community, is especially valuable for marginalized students and families. These groups normally cannot afford school, sitting at the bottom of the country’s economic and social pyramid and comprising a demographic that the ministry has long sought actively to reach.
Solid Evidence Triggers the Desire for Large-Scale Implementation of the Program
The many positive results and reviews of the Speed School program found in diverse settings across Ethiopia’s four largest regions encouraged the Ministry to pursue full government adoption, culminating now with the creation of the dedicated Speed School Unit.
The process of government adoption started four years ago when two regions first funded 32 of their own Speed School classes. During the 2020/21 school year, five regional education bureaus and the City of Addis Ababa funded nearly half the total 749 Speed School classes, accounting for around 9,750 girls and boys. These regions are now incorporating the classes officially into their annual education plans and budgets while they take other practical steps to institutionalize the model across the many technical and operational education structures at the national, regional, and local levels including teacher education.
”The program will never reach the remaining two million-plus out-of-school primary-aged children under the company’s management alone.”
From Geneva Global’s perspective, the ministry’s move towards government adoption aligns with a very pragmatic goal. This is that the program will never reach the remaining two million-plus out-of-school primary-aged children under the company’s management alone. Even if Geneva Global were to receive limitless funding, the model’s full and sustained scaling requires the government’s taking it on as an official component of the national education strategy.
Speed School Works Because It Features both Community Involvement and the Learning Process
For many children, Speed School is a rare and precious second chance at formal education. Featuring a learner-centered, activity-based pedagogy, Speed School has yielded remarkable results among the more than 200,000 learners served since its 2011 introduction in Ethiopia. The program’s success has been validated by a set of international awards —for example, recognition by HundrEd in 2019, 2020, and 2021— and explained in an independent longitudinal study from 2017 by researchers at the University of Sussex and Hawassa University.
The Sussex and Hawassa study attributes this success to two key elements. Inside the classroom, Speed School instructors, called “facilitators,” use contextualized lessons and peer instruction to deliver a condensed version of the official curriculum to achieve rich holistic learning. Students acquire the basic academic skills they need to advance in school, but they also learn to use these skills practically while cultivating essential core competencies such as collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. In this way, Speed School gives students the academic, practical, and personal skills to find fulfillment in their future studies and once they commence their lives and livelihoods as adults.
The researchers also credit the organization of all students’ mothers or other guardians into Self-Help Groups as a foundational factor in the model’s effectiveness. Combining basic training in literacy and community development with support for income-generation activities and group savings schemes, the Self-Help Groups help mothers secure the funds they will need to cover the future costs of their children’s schooling. The groups also undertake direct actions to support classroom instruction and address external, community-based barriers to school participation and performance, especially for girls. Speed School is distinctly effective because of the equal and enthusiastic commitment of students, teachers, and parents to the learning process.
The New Governmental Speed School Unit Ensures High Quality
The new Speed School Unit employs three full-time senior experts and sits within the Alternative Education Directorate of the Ministry of Education. Atop the Unit’s responsibilities are to guide and support other directorates and units of the Ministry along with Ethiopia’s many regions in their scaled establishment and implementation of accelerated learning classes. More specifically, the Unit will coordinate and support the proliferation of high-quality Speed School classes by developing and disseminating for adoption:
- Condensed curriculum frameworks;
- Comprehensive Speed School standards;
- Teacher training guides, materials, and holistic strategies;
- A Self-Help Group strategy;
- Dedicated monitoring and evaluation indicators and strategies;
- A model for the continuous supervision and support of Speed School classes and Self-Help Groups.
The plan is that the Unit and its functions will soon be mirrored by new Speed School structures and agents situated within the regional, zonal, and district-level education structures.
The Unit operates with oversight and direction from both a Steering Committee and a Technical Committee. The Steering Committee meets quarterly to troubleshoot any policy and strategic issues, confirm standards and curricular directions, and harmonize collaboration within the ministry and with regional educational bureaus, civil society partners, and other key stakeholders.
The Technical Committee meets monthly to ensure that Speed School training and implementation aligns with the efforts and guidance of the Ministry directorates and the Steering Committee. These agents transform the Steering Committee’s instructions into plans and actions for directorates and units to take individually and together to advance Speed School’s high-quality nationwide implementation.
In the coming years, supported by the new Speed School institutional infrastructure, the Ministry of Education and the regional education bureaus plan to continue the program’s expansion, reaching new regions — beginning with Afar and Somali in 2021 —, mobilizing new education structures — notably, university education schools and colleges of teacher education —, and attracting new international partners — for example, UNICEF and Education Cannot Wait — to fund and support the national Speed School effort. The Ministry also anticipates building upon the current Speed School model to offer accelerated education options for out-of-school children at higher grade levels or who wish to receive just a basic education and then transition straight into employment.
The Unit’s creation is a concrete step towards the official commitment that Ethiopia’s government made in the 2030 Education Roadmap and current Five-Year Education Development Strategic Plan to proliferate Speed School countrywide. Ato Abera explained that the Speed School methodology is oriented precisely around these reforms and will be a valuable “steppingstone to advance the Ministry’s objectives.”
Geneva Global is fully devoted to accompanying the Ministry of Education, the regions, and all the responsible education structures to complete the official institutional adoption of Speed School. Surrounded by the many other key directorates and units and matched by dedicated Speed School authorities at the regional and decentralized levels of the education system, the prospects for success are high.