Despite significant increases in educational access around the world, one out of eleven children of primary school age remain out of school. For adolescents, that proportion reaches one in six. Illustrating the depth of the problem, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the 21% out-of-school rate for primary school age children balloons to 58% for upper secondary school age children (the highest rate in any part the world). With global efforts to increase access stalling, UNESCO and the Global Monitoring Report conclude: “Targeted interventions are needed to reach the most marginalised children, such as the millions obliged to work, the girls forced to stay home and the families displaced by conflict… We can no longer only rely on ‘business as usual’ strategies based on more teachers, more classrooms and more textbooks”.
Accelerated learning programs, like Second Chance (formerly called Speed School), serve as one such targeted intervention. Second Chance aims to meet the needs of children from 8-14 years of age who have never been in primary school or who have dropped out of school for two years or more. The program covers the content of first, second and third grade in just 10 months and helps the students to catch up to their peers and transition into the public school system in third or fourth grade.
Second Chance works by identifying a region with a high number of primary school-age students who are not in school and then establishing Second Chance classroom of no more than 25 students and a teacher (or “facilitator”) in that region. Although this constitutes a relatively small “unit of implementation,” the results have added up. Launched in West Africa by the Legatum Foundation, the Strømme Foundation, and Geneva Global in 2007, what was then called Speed School reached over 100,000 out of school children in West Africa and Ethiopia by 2015. Building on that initial success, Legatum created the Luminos Fund to expand the program in Ethiopia and to other parts of Africa.
According to a 2018 study tracking Second Chance graduates in Ethiopia from 2011-2017, about 75% of the Second Chance graduates were still in school compared to 66% of a similar group of students who had attended government schools. Furthermore, the Second Chance graduates had higher aspirations to progress beyond primary education and were over 30% less likely to dropout than comparable students in government schools. With those results, in 2018 HundrED identified Second Chance as one of 100 inspiring global educational innovations and in 2017 the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) recognized Second Chance as one of six awardees for their creative approaches to crucial education challenges.
As Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund notes, Second Chance “has evolved, as any successful model has to.” That evolution includes the development of several key program elements across contexts:
- An active-learning pedagogical approach
- The hiring and training of unemployed youth from the local community in Second Chance’s active-learning pedagogy
- Partnerships with “Link” government schools to help ease the transition of Second Chance students into the public system
- “Self-help” groups for parents to encourage them to keep their children enrolled in school
These key elements can be considered “micro-innovations” because they are practices and structures that are new to the contexts in which Second Chance works – but their success depends on the ways in which Second Chance adapts and responds to the specific needs and circumstances in those contexts.
Active learning for basic skills
“The thing I find truly unique,” Baron explained, “is that when you work in really low-resourced environments, the assumption is that to do anything at scale in education it has to be stripped down and dry and narrow and ‘just the facts’… But Second Chance is a model of very creative, play-based learning, carried out with teachers with minimal qualifications. It’s a powerful example of being able to do something pedagogically complex in a low-resourced setting.”
That pedagogical approach was one of the key developments that facilitated Second Chance’s expansion. Developed by Jeyachandran Madurendrum after he became the country director for Geneva Global in Ethiopia in 2010, Second Chance’s approach marries a focus on key skills in literacy and numeracy with an emphasis on active learning. As the Facilitator’s Guide explains it, students work independently and in groups on learning activities that involve handling and using objects and materials from the local environment, sorting, grouping, and experimenting with them, making observations, recording findings, drawing conclusions, making generalizations, discussing what they’ve observed and learned with peers and facilitators. This active approach stands in striking contrast to conventional classrooms in surrounding areas, which are often overcrowded, with students in rows and the teacher in front delivering a lesson. As Nikita Khosla, Senior Director at Luminos observes, “If you walk into a Second Chance classroom in Ethiopia or Liberia, you will see about 25 children sitting in groups of 5. There will be work on the walls. It might be mud walls, but you will see chart paper stuck to them. You’ll see alphabets made out of clay. You’ll see children using lot of local materials for math, or going outside for nature-based learning.” In the process, Second Chance seeks to create a place where children want to come to school. Fostering that kind of environment is particularly important given the challenges many of their students face in getting to school and in keeping them motivated throughout an eight-hour school day (with almost twice as much instructional time as government schools).
Khosla makes clear that Second Chance’s emphasis on developing relationships with children is another crucial ingredient to the approach. “When we have principals and teachers [in government schools] asking us why the children in Second Chance are happy, we tell them, we don’t hit children, we talk to them, we ask them how they are, and this is very different from the teacher led classrooms in conventional schools, so even a slight deviation of that is welcomed by the students.” Both the active-learning pedagogy and the relationships with students aim to prepare Second Chance’s students to be independent learners and to help sustain them throughout their school careers.
This approach responds specifically to the opportunities and challenges in the local environment in two key ways. First, the program treats the facts that the students are older and out of school as assets. As the Facilitator’s Guide outlines, they see these students as able to learn at a faster pace and over a shorter time span than younger children and as more motivated and enthusiastic about learning.
Second, rather than developing and delivering a stand-alone curriculum, Second Chance facilitators use the active learning approach to teach the content of the national curriculum where they work. This approach also allows the facilitators to use the textbooks and other materials created to support the national curriculum – content with which local most facilitators and local partners are already familiar. This choice also eases the transition of Second Chance students into government schools that are using the same materials, and it reduces the costs of having to produce their own materials substantially.
Hiring and training unemployed youth
In another move that takes advantage of local circumstances, Second Chance looks for facilitators who are unemployed youth who know the local language and have at least a 10th grade education. Khosla reports that although this group has “zero experience teaching,” they bring other assets: “they have a real hunger for learning,” Khosla notes, “And we’ve seen they are very open, and they really absorb everything like a sponge.” On the downside, these facilitators are familiar with the content, but the active learning pedagogy is entirely new. To help them take in such a novel approach, 21 days of training are spread across the 10 months of the program. That training focuses on the activity-based pedagogy and equips facilitators to develop their own lessons that are linked to the national curriculum, draw on the Second Chance activities, and utilize local materials. In addition to the training, Second Chance tries to cultivate a “professional learning community” by bringing together facilitators periodically to share their learning and discuss their challenges.
From Khosla’s perspective, two aspects of this approach help to motivate facilitators. First, they can get a job at only slightly below the salary of government teachers and at a good rate given their qualifications. Second, they have an opportunity to develop positive relationships with the students. “The facilitators talk about how happy and excited the children are, and that motivates them to employ the approach,” explained Khosla.
Establishing “Link” school partnerships
Recognizing the challenges that Second Chance students face in staying in government schools once they graduate, Second Chance now establishes relationships with “Link schools.” Link schools are government schools that Second Chance graduates may go on to attend. Through the partnerships, Second Chance seeks to build some understanding of the Second Chance approach among the Link school staff and to encourage the staff to welcome the Second Chance graduates. “If a school already has a classroom of 70 children in grade 4,” Khosla explains, “and now Second Chance sends 15 more children, the principal and teachers really need to be on board with accepting the children. So this is just a way for us to develop some good will.” To build that good will, Second Chance provides the teachers and the principal in the Link schools one week of training to expose them to the active learning model. In some instances, principals may also allow Second Chance to operate inside a Link School by using an empty classroom. With this arrangement, the students are already in a government school building; they get into the habit of going to the school; and the parents get to know where the government school is as well. Seeing the Second Chance children engaged and happy at school has the added benefit that it can lead principals and teachers to try to learn more about the approach.
Creating parent “self-help” groups
Second Chance has also grown to recognize the importance of engaging with parents to address some of the cultural and economic barriers that prevent some children from getting access to schooling. Economic barriers include things like registration fees and, in Liberia, “hidden” costs like the need to buy textbooks and uniforms. Beyond the costs, the prospect of lost labor and a lack of clear benefits from sending their children to school can also undermine parental support. Given these challenges, to complement their work in schools, Second Chance establishes self-help groups for mothers. These groups generally meet once or twice a month to encourage mothers to come up with income-generating activities like raising chickens or selling cassava in the market. As an incentive, Second Chance provides a small “cash-injection”, matching the money that the mother’s raise.
Khosla noted that a 2016 evaluation of the program’s expansion in Ethiopia led to the realization that they were not paying enough attention to the self-help groups. In response, they established a new position with a small stipend for a volunteer from the local community who helps to make connections and support the work of the group. The 2018 evaluation tracking the performance of a group of Second Chance students and a comparison group from government schools for six years highlights the importance of addressing these kinds of economic and cultural issues outside of school. That study shows that costs remain the biggest reason former Second Chance students drop out of school; however, the difference between the drop-out rate of the “richest” and “poorest” Second Chance students narrowed much more than it did for government school students. Although it is impossible to make causal links between the self-help groups and Second Chance outcomes, that same study also found that household assets of Second Chance students improved by about 45%, and the average livestock increased by about 53%, while the household assets and livestock average of students from government schools stayed almost the same over the six years.
— Thomas Hatch