Introducing the Africa Fellows in Education Program
Africa faces both a learning crisis and an acute lack of cutting-edge policy research that can inform policies to address existing issues. For solutions to be effective, these have to be contextualized locally and led by researchers that are embedded.
The Africa Fellows in Education Program (AFEP), a collaborative program between the Global Education Analytics Institute (GEAI) and the Partnership for Economic Policy (PEP), addresses this local capacity gap and seeks to improve education decision-making across Sub-Saharan Africa.
The GEAI-PEP AFEP founded by Prof. Eric Hanushek (2021 Yidan Prize for Education Research Laureate) was developed with initial funding through the Yidan Prize for Education Research. This two-year research and policy development fellowship program, targets talented young Africans (35 years and below) based in Africa and incorporates in-country activities and training opportunities abroad.
"The quality of schools in Africa will determine its economic future. These fellows are working to make that a better future," said Prof. Eric Hanushek.
"The skills these Fellows are gaining and the work they will produce exemplifies PEP’s mission to promote Southern-driven development through high-quality and locally relevant evidence," said Prof. Jane Mariara, PEP Executive Director.
Research that counts
After a competitive process that attracted over 275 applicants from 33 African countries, four candidates from four countries were selected to form the inaugural cohort of Africa Fellows in Education and they started their journey in June, 2023.
Measuring the impact of non-cognitive skills on education performance in South Africa
Heleen Hofmeyr is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Economics Department at Stellenbosch University, South Africa.
Although there is much evidence of the crucial role socio-emotional skills play in supporting learning from high-income countries, there is a dearth of evidence on this issue from low-and-middle income countries at large, and from Africa, in particular. Heleen will fill this gap by researching the role interventions targeted at enhancing the socio-emotional skills of students can play in improving learning outcomes, especially in the early grades, which are foundational. Her research aligns with South Africa’s education policy agenda of ensuring that all children master foundational skills that set them up for future success.
Unpacking the impact of learning outcomes in The Gambia
Amadou Jallow is an Economics Lecturer and the Unit Head of the Economic Program at the University of The Gambia.
Through understanding the factors that lead to poor student performance at national and international exams, including examining the root causes of poor reading and numeracy skills at primary level and the reasons for under performance at the end of middle and high school, Amadou will evaluate the impact of government interventions, such as double-shift schooling system, on learning outcomes. He will also examine the influence of secondary school performance on student outcomes at the university level and whether admission standards need to be re-evaluated.
Examining the impact of linguistic inequality in primary school performance in Cameroon
Yselle Malah Kuete is a researcher and lecturer in Development Economics at the University of Yaoundé 2 in Cameroon.
To explore the issue of linguistic inequality and its impact on the academic performance of primary school students, especially in a multilingual context such as Cameroon, Yselle will analyze how linguistic inadequacy is a barrier and formulate recommendations to improve teaching methods in complex settings. Her research aligns with the Cameroon government's national education policies and AFEP's objectives of promoting quality education in Africa.
Exploring the roles and interactions between stakeholders in the education system in Tanzania to improve learning outcomes
Jaah Mkupete is a development economist and Lecturer affiliated with the University of Dar-es-Salaam, Mkwawa University College of Education, Tanzania.
Through focusing on the three main players in the education system – teachers, parents and governments (or schools) –Jaah will explore how the actions of each of these actors can help in improving learning outcomes in Tanzania. In particular, he will ask questions, such as does improving communication between parents and schools regarding children's attendance improve both school attendance and learning outcomes?; does the competitive teacher recruitment process improve teachers' quality and students' performance?; and does boosting students' aspirations improve their performance? The research directly aligns with Tanzania's policy agenda, particularly its commitment to achieve equitable quality education for all.
What makes the Africa Fellows in Education Program unique
A key motivation for the Fellows to apply for the Program was its focus on context specific research and policy solutions that emerge from it.
Amadou said: "It is important to always delve into the local factors that may have contributed to the success of a particular policy and question whether a certain policy can achieve similar successes in a different context".
The opportunity to learn from the larger African context and from the other Fellows in the Program was yet another incentive.
"As a postdoctoral fellow, I jumped at the opportunity to be part of a network of young African scholars who would improve my understanding of the education challenges facing other African countries," Heleen added.
As highlighted by Jaah, the AFEP’s ‘unwavering focus on human capital’ was a clear attraction.
"It's no secret that investing in people is the cornerstone of progress, and this program recognizes that. With a laser-like focus on nurturing human potential, it aims to unlock the talent and skills of individuals like me to drive change, not just within our borders but across the entire African continent," he said.
The Program offers the Fellows a unique opportunity to learn through interaction with leaders and policy experts in the field. For instance, within the first three months, the Fellows attended a specially tailored workshop on the ‘Economics of Education’ at the CESifo Institute and participated in the CESifo Area Conference on the same topic in Munich.
The Fellows also visited the UNESCO IIEP (International Institute for Educational planning) and the OECD’s (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Directorate for Education and Skills in Paris.
At the IIEP, the Fellows learnt about how to use learning assessment data for monitoring, the link between quality of education and learning levels of students, and the use of data for crisis-sensitive educational planning.
At the OECD, the Fellows learned about how the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) measures student learning, and about two surveys, including the Teaching and Leaning International Survey (TALIS) as well as the Teaching Knowledge Survey.
Further, two of the Fellows, Jaah and Yselle along with the AEFP Director Ramaele Moshoeshoe, attended a workshop on ‘Enhancing Africa-Led Research on Early Childhood Development and Foundational Learning’ organized by the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) and the Education Sub-Sahara Africa (ESSA) in Nairobi.
"The Fellows discussed priority research themes on early childhood development and foundational learning as influenced by national, regional and global agendas, how multidisciplinary research can be enhanced and how funders can strengthen research capacity in this area, among other topics at the REAL-ESSA workshop," said Moshoeshoe.
The road travelled – Fellows speak
For instance, I have established a connection with The Gambia's Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education and we are setting up a team to facilitate access to data to gain insights. Feedback from experts like Hanushek, Woessmann, Eliana La Ferrara reassured me about the significance of my work and has also illuminated potential avenues for expanding my research into related areas."
— Amadou Jallow
The bulk of evidence that is currently being published in top-ranked journals is based on evidence from high-income countries, and the applicability of these findings to African contexts remains unknown. Building an African evidence base of what works to improve learning outcomes for the continent is critical, especially as from 2026 onwards sub-Saharan Africa will have the highest number of children under 18 globally.
On the policy front, on returning from Europe, I immediately met with policy makers in the national education department in South Africa and plan to keep engaging with them as I continue with my research."
I also gained valuable insights from how countries like Germany and France approach international assessments such as PISA and this has informed my ideas on how to engage with policymakers in our region and contribute to effective policymaking."
— Yselle Malah Kuete
Another standout feature of the program is its mentorship component. Having access to experienced mentors who have walked a similar path is invaluable. Importantly, the program offers ample opportunities to network and connect with well-established professionals in the field. Building a robust network is not just about who you know, but the wealth of knowledge and experience that these connections bring. It's a chance to engage in meaningful discussions, collaborate on projects, and forge relationships that can last a lifetime.
As I take my first steps into this program, I'm filled with enthusiasm and anticipation. It's more than just an educational pursuit; it's a chance to be part of something greater, to contribute to the development of my country, and to be a positive force for change in Africa."
— Jaah Mkupete
Find out more about the Africa Fellows in Education Program (AFEP).
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