Interest in scaling promising innovations to effect systemic change in education around the world has grown over the last decade. Scaling has become fashionable because the modern landscape of educational improvement is littered with short-term projects that temporarily succeeded only to later dissipate, isolated pursuits that never crossed into broad adoption, or specialized policy programs that floundered. Moving beyond 20th-century technical-rational implementation and acknowledging the mixed history of global development in low-and middle-income countries, newer iterations of scaling have sought to collaboratively embed promising education ideas and technologies into whole systems. Increased recognition of the interconnectedness of culture, governments, global development architecture, and the learning sciences has reframed education scaling as a holistic process of mutual adaptation and collective transformation. Lasting impact has replaced size or scope as the goal. As a result, this past decade of scaling and research has offered hope and possibility—even as it has also underscored the sometimes maddening complexity of this work.
Reckoning with COVID-19
And yet, as challenging as scaling is under ordinary 21st-century circumstances, it has become downright arduous over the last two years due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The work of scaling education innovations (up, out, down, and into deep and lasting impact) has always required nimble attention to the unpredictability of implementation. Much has been written about the need for adaptive mindsets, planning for scale at the beginning, enlisting allies and champions, and embedding continuous improvement loops into the whole process (Al-Ubaydli, List, & Suskind, 2019; Gargani & McLean, 2019; Perlman Robinson, Curtiss, & Hannahan, 2020).
Yet COVID-19 has brought all that into the starkest of relief. Not only have the last 21 months been devastating across the planet, but to say that COVID-19 has placed unprecedented stress on the work of scaling education innovations is a laughable understatement. And yet the work must continue. Practitioners, policymakers, researchers, and donors have persevered, motivated by an urgent need to “build back better;” address learning loss and the emotional tumult suffered by countless children and adults; and continue improving education quality, access, and equity. Adaptability proved to be the rule. Scaling and scaling research went on, just differently.
Positive Deviant Study at Phonthong village, Pek district, Xiengkhouang province on January 7, 2021. Photo credit: © UNICEF LAOS/2021/SSANOUBANE.
This first annual brief reflects on scaling insights from different scaling teams across many low- and middle-income countries to jointly learn and share best practices related to scaling in education. Effective scaling is not just about designing and delivering promising innovations for use but also embedding them in thoughtful, mutifaceted ways to ensure that they grow, deepen, and have lasting impact. This brief discusses how several teams went about this work during the difficult last year.
What is ROSIE?
In 2020, the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at the Brookings Institution joined the Global Partnership for Education’s (GPE) Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX), a joint partnership between the Global Partnership for Education and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), to facilitate a cross-national, multiteam, design-based research and professional support initiative called …….