Transforming Systems in Times of Adversity: Education and Resilience White Paper
“Resilience”—defined by USAID as the “ability of people, households, communities, countries, and systems to mitigate, adapt to, and recover from shocks and stresses in a manner that reduces chronic vulnerability and facilitates inclusive growth”—has gained increasing attention for its potential to shape a new paradigm of engagement in crisis and conflict contexts. This is out of recognition that shocks and stressors are increasing in frequency and intensity around the globe and often combine in complex and uncertain ways. They threaten the lives and livelihoods of people whom USAID and its partners seek to support and erode hard-fought development gains and past and present investments in education or other sectors.
For example, when education systems are unable to maintain equitable access to quality education for all in the midst of adversity, it can lead to prolonged education disruption, permanent dropout of learners from schooling, weakened learning outcomes, and long-term psychosocial concerns for learners. Such consequences can have profound impacts for countries and regions of the world seeking to recover and transform after a crisis, particularly when entire generations of children may have never gone to school or had their schooling interrupted prematurely.
This focus on resilience is also reflected in USAID education programs at present. The USAID Education Policy argues that “education in partner countries must have the capacity to embed effective approaches to improving learning and education outcomes, to innovate, and to withstand shocks and stresses” if the aim is to support sustained improvements in learning outcomes and equitable access for all learners. To accomplish this, it is vital that education systems are themselves resilient and able to mitigate the impacts of crisis and conflict in a way that does not undermine current and past investments in the sector. This requires having in place and drawing on a range of capacities, assets, resources, and networks at various levels of the education system in times of adversity.
Based on the findings and conclusions of the white paper, following are recommendations in two major areas for the U.S. Government.
At a policy level, recommendations include the following:
- Frame resilience within USAID education policies and operational guidance as a mediating set of conditions, abilities, assets, strategies, networks, and relationships—more simply known as “resilience capacities”—that help protect learning and well-being outcomes in the face of shocks and stressors.
- Give greater focus and attention to acknowledging the full range of capacities that education can support (absorptive, adaptive, and transformative), as well as the multiple levels of the education system at which resilience strengthening can operate (learners, households, schools, communities, and institutions).
- In USAID operational guidance, recognize that resilience capacities may not always moderate the sensitivity or exposure of shocks and stressors among all citizens equally.
- Avoid conflating resilience with self-reliance, with a clearer delineation and specification of how resilience-strengthening efforts may support the journey to self-reliance, but likewise, how the resilience of education (or other systems) on their own may not lead to country self-reliance.
Office of Education, Regional Bureaus, and USAID Missions
Within the USAID E3/Office of Education, Regional Bureau Education Teams, and USAID Missions, there is a critical need for education programming to be positioned and leveraged in contexts where resilience is identified as a key focus or priority for the country or region. Recommendations to accomplish this include the following:
- Ensure that education teams are active participants in cross-sector resilience working and leadership groups.
- Further strengthen the capacity and knowledge of key members of USAID on how to develop education programming within a resilience frame, drawing on the core messages and ideas of this white paper.
- Identify and document a series of case studies of education programs or activities from within USAID Missions or its partners in which resilience has been a priority.
- Give greater attention and emphasis to education’s function in supporting and strengthening social capital.
- Strengthen the utilization of tools such as the Rapid Education and Risk Analysis (RERA) and political economy analysis (PEA) to capture key dimensions of risk and resilience through the program cycle, and potentially supplement this information with more participatory approaches that capture subjective dimensions of resilience.
- Build the evidence base on education’s contributions to broader well-being and self-reliance outcomes in times of adversity.
- Develop strong monitoring and evaluation (M&E) guidance and systems to better measure the impacts of education interventions and activities from a resilience approach across multiple time horizons, and to support learning and adaptive management within the Agency.
- Ensure that program designs are coherent in resilience and education-sector outcomes at all levels of the education system (learners, schools, communities, and institutions). Ensure that a clear theory of change connects these outcomes.