Plenary 7: Youth in the 21st Century
The session discussed the importance of the youth population and the challenges of educating, training, and employing youth. Rachel Blum from USAID opened the session with remarks about the upcoming youth strategy and the opportunities this demographic presents for USAID activities. Ash Hartwell, from the University of Massachusetts, moderated the session, noting that a session on youth and employment was necessary because of the success of Education for All. He also stressed that this was a “game changing” moment in terms of the role, design, and support of education systems. Samantha Constant of the Wolfensohn Family Foundation discussed current youth demographics. She noted that a new paradigm is needed that includes improving university admissions policies, mentoring, engaging the private sector, and giving voice to youth. Branka Minic from Manpower Group discussed how the employment of youth brings economic growth and stability, and how a lack of job skills and experience often lead to their marginalization. Minic proposed that new and specific education and vocational training should address the needs of employers. Stephen Vetter from the Partners of the Americas noted that students lack life skills, including communication skills and learning readiness. He spoke of the importance of reforming the education system as an integral part of meeting the youth and employment challenge. Vetter suggested creating networks and systems of knowledge sharing by partnering with community foundations, NGOs, faith based organizations, business leaders, and others to best serve youths. The panelists also discussed the importance of having schools and programs that allow for greater mentoring and connectivity.
EARLY AFTERNOON SESSIONS
Improving Literacy Instruction: Lessons from Latin America
This session focused on lessons learned over a decade through the Centers for Excellence in Teacher Training (CETT)—a regional USAID program supporting innovation in teacher training in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The discussed focused on a series of White Papers, which address key topics such as fostering a paradigm shift around literacy, the challenge of measuring learning, working as a region, and sustainability. The CETT program was created to improve the pedagogical skills of teachers in the first, second, and third grades in economically disadvantaged communities of LAC. Some of the key outcomes of the program were: (a) CETT trained 35,095 teachers and administrators in interactive methods of literacy instruction and reached over 799,000 students in twenty-one countries; (b) Teachers made significant changes in their performance in the classroom adopting new teaching techniques; and (c) Improvement of CETT students’ reading test scores over the course of the school year. The panel highlighted that CETT achieved its objectives through strong partnership with the program’s local implementers. Some of the key lessons learned were: (a) All stakeholders noted an immense change in their perception of the importance of teaching reading and writing in early grades; (b) Teachers, principals, and parents had a new understanding of the importance of their role in helping students learn to read and write; and (c) CETT staff, trainers, and teachers noted the importance of principals’ support in effecting change; (d) Institutional sustainability was established through implementing institutions which became experts in teacher training and literacy; and (e) The CETTs had an important influence in how key stakeholders understand the importance of early grade reading, promoting the “culture of literacy.”
Assistive Technology and Education
This roundtable discussion focused on access to education for children with disabilities, and the use of tools (both high-technology and low-technology) to include children with disabilities in the classroom. David Morrissey of the International Council on Disability began by mentioning the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights for People with Disabilities and the large number of countries that have signed and ratified this convention. Not all countries have civil rights legislation which include persons with disabilities. Morrissey also mentioned a Disability Rights Library that is being created with best practices and lessons learned from a variety of projects and organizations around the world. Steven Rothstein of the Perkins School for the Blind shared his organization’s mission; all children can learn, regardless of a disability. Rothstein shared examples of “low-tech” materials that can help children improve physical strength (handles made from Play-Doh or utensils to help children improve their grip), as well as examples of “high-tech” solutions with voice activation to allow children to access the internet. He also stressed the value of profiling success stories in local media and working with champions of disability within the government. Morrissey emphasized the importance of pressuring national and international governments to expand accessibility. He also discussed the need to engage parents and religious communities to help de-stigmatizing disability. Discussion in this session centered around scaling up programs related to disability, engaging parents, government ministries, grassroots organizations, and schools. It also focused on ways in which USAID can support these efforts and share information, lessons learned, and best practices.
Higher Education and Work Force Development: Transition to Entrepreneurship and Employment
This session addressed Goal 2 of the Education Strategy emphasizing small and medium enterprise (SME) and vocational education centers (VEC). Moderator, Gary Bittner of USAID’s Office of Education, discussed indicators and measures supporting Goal 2, lessons learned, government engagement, and sustainability of each program. Robert McKinley from the University of Texas at San Antonio gave an overview on small business development centers (SBDCs) and small and medium enterprises. SBDCs offer services in business training, management and technical assistance consulting, applied business research, and small and medium enterprise policy advocacy. SBDCs promote economic stability and growth for communities and regions. SBDC case studies were highlighted from Mexico, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic. Howard Williams from American Institutes of Research discussed the vocational education project (VEP) in Georgia. The project aimed to increase the supply of graduates in tourism and the construction trade from seven vocational education centers (VECs), secure employment for VEP graduates, and improve the sustainability of the VECs through public-private partnerships. Although the VECs are fully supported by the government, they will become fully autonomous in the future. VEP accomplishments include: internships with prospective employers, new curricula for vocational education, new admission requirements, and student orientation and career consulting. Additionally, the VEP produced seven construction trade manuals and one tourism trade manual.
Experiences in Positive Youth Development
Rachel Surkin of IREX presented on the Youth Development Competencies Program (YDCP) her organization implemented in Russia. To contextualize the project, she introduced the “Ladder of Participation,” which depicts the level of youth involvement in programs designed for their benefit. Surkin also explained the five competencies and six basic needs in Positive Youth Development (PYD), the foundation for YDCP, that youth development programs should aim to meet. Supported by USAID, YDCP attracts leaders from existing youth organizations in an effort to gather, disseminate, and implement best practices in youth programs throughout the country. These organizations work to increase youth civic involvement. YDCP attained substantial results: 98% of program participants reported involvement in community service, versus 50% in the comparison group. Furthermore, youth were two to four times more likely to interact with local or regional government officials. Overall, Surkin noted that youth development programs should “approach youth as a resource to be developed, not a problem to be solved”.
Capacity Development: Exchange Visitor and Participant Training Policy and Procedures
This session provided participants with an overview of USAID policy and best-practice procedures regarding exchange visitors and participant training. James Nindel of USAID discussed the modifications that will be made to the Automated Directive System (ADS) policies that include changes related to dependent travel and observers. He explained the ADS 252- Visa Compliance for Exchange Visitors and ADS 253 - Training for Development regulations. In addition, he discussed USAID's J-I Visa Process. USAID representative Linda Walker discussed the Health and Accidental Coverage (HAC) policy and gave information on allowance rates. Walker emphasized the importance of medical exams to ensure that participants are healthy and beneficial to the program. Ethel Brooks of USAID showcased problems which arise from non-compliance. The presenters also discussed how to document the arrival and departure of exchange visitors.
LATE AFTERNOON SESSIONS
Plenary 8: Evaluation for the Education Sector: Applying the New Evaluation Policy
This session outlined the Agency’s strategy for applying the new Evaluation Strategy. Cynthia Clapp-Wincek, head of USAID’s Office of Learning, Evaluation and Research, began the session with an overview of the new guidance focusing on project design development. New Country Development Cooperative Strategy (CDCS) guidelines will include a package for an ‘Integrated Program Cycle.’ This Integrated Program Cycle will outline the development of new project designs to include evaluation components. New project designs require a strong research and evidence base, must encompass country priorities, must reflect principles of aid effectiveness with other donors, and strengthen partner country strategies. The guidelines for the project design will provide the basis for evaluation. The new Evaluation Policy was developed as an accountability measure and to disclose findings; systematically generate knowledge and project performance outcomes; show impact; and promote learning from past experiences to influence future implementation. The Agency will provide extensive training through face-to-face meetings, service centers, websites, visiting TDY teams, webinars, and on-line communities of practice to ensure support of Mission staff in the revision of the project design process.
Plenary: 9 Closing Plenary: The Way Forward for the Education Sector
The Director of the Office of Education, Richard W. Whelden, closed the inspiring and informative week with a call to action for all members of the education sector to work productively and collaboratively to achieve shared goals. He reminded the audience of some of the main issues presented through the focus on the eight thematic areas of the workshop: (a) early grade reading, (b) information and communication technology (ICT), (c) crisis and conflict settings, (d) workforce development, (e) youth (f) higher education, (g) access to finance, and (h) capacity building. Wheldon stated that education is the foundation for growth and progress for individuals around the world. In order progress forward, USAID must work with partners to seek out lessons learned and implement best practices. Whelden encouraged the audience to stay motivated and empowered in all activities to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of 2015.