HEA research, as well as individual learnings by HEA grantees, has shown that effective partnerships — whether with other humanitarian actors, development actors, the private sector or government — are a crucial component of sustainably scaling humanitarian education innovations.
Chief amongst these partnerships are those with governments, particularly Ministries of Education (MoEs). Effective partnerships with MoEs offer the potential for a sustainable framework, through a national system, that enables children and youth to access accredited education; connecting humanitarian education interventions with the sustainable development solutions that are often required in protracted crises.
Respect for the role and expertise of the MoE, as well as a detailed understanding of their educational priorities, strategy and financial needs, in addition to wider national education systems, is therefore a vital piece of the scaling puzzle.
But how might humanitarian education practitioners approach and build this type of partnership?
Here, we take a closer look at HEA grantee, War Child Holland, who placed government partnerships at the centre of their Can’t Wait to Learn (CWTL) programme — a tablet based educational gaming application, co-created with children and MoEs, using national curricula.
Through building this type of collaborative partnership with an MoE, War Child has identified the following key components for success:
- Approach the relationship as a mutually-supportive partnership: MoEs offer a rich resource of knowledge and expertise. It is important to be guided by and work collaboratively with the MoE and its experts, supporting their work and aligning with their systems and priorities. “Humanitarian organisations need to approach the MoE as an expert partner and talk to them at the same level. You need to help them but also sometimes you need to learn from them too. Understanding that is an important first step.” Dr Ziad Twissi, Education Advisor, War Child Jordan
- Engage at every relevant level: In a given context, there may be multiple levels and departments within a MoE that will play a key role in programme implementation on the ground. Having an understanding of the system and which key stakeholders are involved within the local and national government structures is a key part of planning engagement. Engagement must then be continuous and coordinated at every level.
Present the MoE with a clear, results based plan: “Your planning with the MoE needs to be a results based plan, with actions and results, showing who has responsibility for each part and also proposing a clear timeline. I’ve seen plans that are more like a memo, with a vague timeline, without responsibilities and it’s simply not clear enough to work effectively. ” Dr Ziad Twissi, Education Advisor, War Child Jordan
- Build local experts into your team: Local experts, especially those who have an existing relationship with and understanding of the Ministry, it’s personnel and priorities can be worth their weight in gold as members of your team; opening doors, facilitating conversations and ensuring cultural and even language considerations are met. Institutionalising these relationships within the organisation is a key piece of the puzzle.
- Be prepared for delays and build in time: The complexity that comes with operating within a government structure means that engagement will not always result in quick action. Patience and flexibility is key, as is regular follow up to ensure that communication is open and effective.
War Child also identified the following challenge:
Resistance to something new - It is crucial to be able to explain, ideally through evidence, the benefits of your innovation, especially when it requires a new methodology and/or approach, or the use of technology that is unfamiliar in a given context. This needs to happen first and foremost at the MoE level, in order to get official buy-in and reach the school and community level. Similarly, teachers need to know how this new programme will help and support them in their role. Carrying out just one training is not enough. It is for this reason, War Child worked intensively with the MoE and Field Directorates in Jordan from the start, as well as supporting with coaches, who work with the teachers inside and outside the classroom to build their understanding and confidence using CWTL. War Child also worked with ‘Champions’ from the teaching staff to informally support other teaching staff with CWTL.
Building upon the learnings shared by War Child, the HEA has collected the following broader learnings and recommendations on partnerships with MoEs:
- Start early: Engaging with MoE staff at all levels prior to implementation can help to build a strong partnership, identify opportunities to provide key support and develop ownership. Taking time to get to know the MoE structure, strategy and priorities, as well as building relationships with key contacts in the MoE can make it easier to implement and scale humanitarian education innovations, whilst also supporting continuous capacity building of the MoE. A key lesson learned was that conversations on how the government will sustain programming and options for financing, are important factors for effective scale up. Consideration should be given to this future planning and government investment during the early stages of engagement.
- Invest time in understanding systems and priorities & align your approach with them: Understanding different Ministries’ priorities and strategies should guide innovations’ interactions with governments. Aligning your approach to these priorities and strategies is crucial if the innovation is to be taken up by the national government.
- Clearly communicate the innovation’s unique selling point: It is important for innovations to differentiate their programmes from others and when technology is involved, emphasise that the programme provides more than just the device itself. The content, training and methodology for using the innovation must be made clear in order for the government to recognise the value add of that particular innovation, particularly in terms of how it supports and contributes to national priorities.
- Rigorous evidence & multi-level engagement supports buy-in: When approaching potential government partners, it is important to have evidence of effectiveness to secure MoE buy-in and develop a strong relationship. Introducing innovations into national systems often requires mindset shifts, including adopting new teaching methodologies and styles. Depending on the innovation, a multi-level holistic approach to engagement is needed — engaging at the MoE, teacher training college and school levels — to be able to scale effectively. Again, providing clear evidence on the new methodology is crucial to ensuring the innovation gets the required understanding and approval from the MoE in order to move forward.
- Recognise it is a long-term relationship and promote MoE ownership: Government relationships require maintenance and may evolve over time, due to changing policies and priorities. It is important to make efforts to interact regularly with government counterparts and keep them updated on progress.
- Build flexibility into timeline to account for challenges and complexity: The need to secure multiple government approvals can be challenging and lead to implementation delays. Understanding and flexibility is therefore needed not only within a programme itself but also from donors, especially in terms of funding, when implementation timelines have to be shifted.
More detailed information on HEA learnings around government engagement will be available in the HEA’s government engagement policy brief, coming soon. To be the first to know when we publish policy briefs, evidence and learnings, please follow the HEA Learning Series and join the conversation.