Evidence and research are essential tools to tackle the most complex educational issues and improve the lives of children and communities.
From young children to adult learners, evidence is needed to understand the full breadth of why and how people learn, and what impact learning (or failing to learn) has on life inside and beyond the classroom. Yet, to unleash the power of research across the education sector in Africa, we must advance how we identify, support, engage with and cultivate locally led research.
More importantly, lasting impact at the system level happens when local research is supported. In locally led research, the researcher and the participant are interactively linked; the inquiry process is aligned with local policies and priorities; the findings are grounded in the social, political, economic and cultural contexts; and researchers are there for the long term and not just flying in and out. Altogether, these characteristics are the necessary conditions for effective research and a resilient research ecosystem.
However, the majority of research is neither carried out in Africa nor undertaken by Africans. According to the most recent available figures, research produced in Africa accounted for 3% of world research output — a trend that we expect is also reflected in education research. Additionally, the proportion of local education researchers who are un(der)funded is far higher than that of their counterparts in the Global North. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 80% of locally led education research in Africa is considered underfunded.
To understand the reasons behind this reality, we collaborated with Echidna Giving, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Porticus to host the “Forum for Education Research in/for/by Africa” in April 2022. The gathering brought together more than 90 researchers, professors, educators, advocates, organizers and others from across the continent. The participants led a collaborative effort to envision a future in which local education researchers are equipped and empowered to conduct quality education research and promote its uptake at all levels of the system.
Relevance of the research matters. We need to have a research agenda in our public institutions informed by issues on the ground. Sadly, researchers publish lots of research that doesn’t address local community issues.
We collated the forum's many insights into a report titled, "Transforming Education Through African-led Research and Solutions."
The report summarizes five key levers of change: accessing funds, pursuing research autonomy, strengthening capacity, improving research communication and increasing female researchers’ participation. Within each lever, the report includes the ideas, solutions and opportunities we heard from participants.
It is our hope that this report will explore the challenges facing local researchers, shed light on the impact of opportunities in front of us today and galvanize action from a wide array of players to contribute to these visions of success. More importantly, we also wanted to share actionable and practical principles of action to inspire more local and global funders in their journey toward supporting African knowledge and scholarship.
It is now time to support locally led education research — and this has never been more urgent. As the social, economic and learning toll of the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, evidence-informed and home-grown solutions are critical to helping local governments and other actors establish sustainable and effective programs that serve all children and communities.
We remain energized by the work ahead. We also know that we are part of a growing community of local and global funders who are working to shift more power to local researchers, challenge conventional norms long exhibited in the research funding space and ultimately demonstrate new standards at the heart of funders’ relationships with local researchers. Together, we can reimagine and support an ecosystem of research institutions that are equipped and empowered to conduct quality education research — in, for and by Africa.
While I think many participants began the sessions believing that the challenges facing education researchers in Africa were intractable, by the end, there were a lot of people seeing the opportunities to surmount those challenges.