OOSCI Operational Manual: Introduction
Background and purpose
At the global level, the international community has adopted ambitious Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets that include ensuring that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education (SDG 4.2), and that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education, by 2030 (SDG 4.1). Education is seen to play a fundamental role in reducing poverty and facilitating sustainable development.
As countries progress towards these goals, they become more difficult to attain. This is because of the increasing marginal cost of reaching and providing an education to harder to reach groups of children, adolescents and youth.
OOSCI aims to significantly and sustainably reduce the number of children, adolescents and youth who are out of school or at risk of dropping out in the future.
As illustrated in the theory of change below, out-of-school children studies play a pivotal role in helping countries close the remaining enrolment gap. Studies harness multiple inputs, such as national political engagement and expertise, data, technical assistance, advocacy and partner support, to bring about changes and improvements in knowledge and understanding of the issues, political and decision-maker attitudes towards them, and education sector practices.
Through all of the above, the main goal of an out-of-school children study is to contribute to substantial and sustainable reductions in the number of out-of-school children, adolescents and youth, by promoting the effective implementation and monitoring of more inclusive education policies.
Studies achieve this in several ways:
- An OOSCI study, when carefully conducted according to this guidance, will not only quantify the scale of the problem, but identify the characteristics of who it impacts, understand the barriers that they face and, above all, recommend cost-effective policy responses to lift those barriers. As such, it is a valuable evidence resource.
- The process through which a study is conducted aims to create awareness of underserved minority groups, build the capacities of national education stakeholders, generate consensus around the realities, issues and needs of children, adolescents and youth who are out-of-school and at risk of dropping out, and constitute an extensive review of data sources and data and evidence gaps.
- The study should be the opportunity to determine concrete action plans to reduce exclusion in education. This includes advocacy, pro-poor financing, alignment with and incorporation in sector planning documents such as ESPs, as well as by determining responsibilities and accountability for the implementation of strategic policy recommendations.
An OOSCI study may provide a unique and welcome opportunity to listen to the voices of children, adolescents and youth on their feelings towards school and education, their expectations and aspirations, or the reasons for their absence. Engaging them in problem and solution identification has been shown to have a positive influence on school rules, policies and procedures.
The OOSCI Operational Manual is both a how-to guide for individuals and teams conducting an OOSCI study, and a resource guide for the broader education community concerned with equity and inclusion.
For individuals and teams, it presents a clear and consistent approach to determining the best strategies to reduce exclusion in education, based on an understanding the profiles of children, adolescents and youth out of school and at risk of dropping out (the who are where), and the supply, demand, quality and governance barriers they face in accessing education.
For the education community, the manual constitutes a gateway to a compendium of valuable resources and practical tools, relating to data, exclusion profiles, barriers to education, policy frameworks and exclusion monitoring and early warning systems. These resources, referenced throughout, can easily be accessed through the thematic folders on the OOSCI website: www.allinschool.org.
The manual not only provides guidance for national studies, but can be used to:
- Foster stronger national capacities in the collection and management of education statistics, policy analysis, and strategy development;
- Develop cross-sectoral and multi-stakeholder partnerships with NGOs and international organizations in favour of reducing exclusion; and
- Promote the engagement of children, youth and adolescents in a dialogue on how best to remove barriers to their education
- Enhance the understanding of and unpack social and behavioural drivers behind why children are out of school
The audience for this manual includes:
- Government officials who want a better understanding of out-of-school children in their countries, whether or not they are partners in the initiative;
- Statisticians, Education Management Information System (EMIS) managers, and policy advisers in ministries of education;
- Members of teams preparing national or regional reports for the Out-of-School Children Initiative, including dedicated consultants;
- Staff members and experts in UN agencies engaged in education programmes with a particular focus on access, participation and attendance; and
- Academics, researchers and education professionals with an interest in improving the inclusion and equity of education systems.
Theory of change
With the adoption of SDG4 and the commitment to increasing pre-primary education participation, and primary and secondary education for all children, adolescents and youth, the OOSCI aims to implement strategies and policies that substantially and sustainably reduce exclusion in education. National, regional and global out-of-school children studies provide the evidence basis for policy recommendations, documenting the profiles of out-of-school children and children at risk of dropping out, and identifying factors of participation and drivers of exclusion, including for the most marginalized and vulnerable groups.
Achieving results for out-of-school children will depend on several inputs, including advocacy for inclusive education, government buy-in and leadership, country-level ownership, CSO/community engagement and expanded partnerships. It will also hinge on the engagement and discourse of political and government leaders in decision-making processes around equitable financing of education.
Figure 0.1 visualizes the revised theory of change for OOSCI. The arrows illustrate how the components of OOSCI and the study will lead to a sustainable reduction in the number of out-of-school children, in particular the most marginalized and vulnerable. Thick arrows show how various inputs link to outputs, and to intermediate outcomes. For example, the various inputs – government leadership, EMIS and household survey data, technical assistance from partners – contribute to OOSCI study as an output. The out-of-school children study is expected to lead to a series of intermediate outcomes, such as an improvement in knowledge and evidence on school exclusion and policy recommendations, and outcomes, such as targeted programmes to the most excluded groups. Thin arrows represent how various activities lead to others. For instance, it shows the relationship between the profiles, barriers and policy chapters of the OOSCI study.
Preparing and planning an out-of-school children study
The OOSCI Operational Manual covers key considerations to prepare and develop a high quality out-of-school children study; one that is developed through an inclusive and timely process and is ultimately effective in bringing about the changes necessary to reduce exclusion from and within education. These guidelines are based on an assessment of previous OOSCI experience.
OOSCI studies are fuelled by the commitment and leadership of national governments, especially education ministries. The engagement of high-level government officials and key decision makers is important to ensure both that the study is relevant and high quality, and that its findings will be considered in further policy-making processes. In principle, studies should be designed, guided and conducted by national authorities with support from development partners.
For information on the benefits of strong national leadership, recommendations to enhance national ownership, tips for facilitating the process, and how the results of the study can be used in the policy planning cycle and addressed in education sector budgets, please see Section 2.1 of the OOSCI Operational Manual.
Broad and inclusive stakeholder engagement with an out-of-school children study is equally important to ensure its relevance and ultimate impact. It is recommended that both a steering committee and a technical working group be formed. The composition of these groups will benefit from careful thought, for which a partner mapping exercise may prove useful. Finally, engaging with children, adolescents and youth is a process that requires prior planning, to ensure that it is results-oriented, productive and respects ethical and safeguarding considerations.
For guidance on partner and stakeholder mapping, forming a steering committee, and the role of the technical team, as well as the importance of engaging children and adolescents in the process, refer to Section 2.2 of the OOSCI Operational Manual.
The OOSCI Operational Manual also includes a list of proposed content for a national study and a sample timeline. This structure is intended as guidance and is designed to support an effective presentation of the study findings and recommendations. While the basic structure facilitates harmonization across studies, the content of each study should be responsive to the country context and the key messages the report aims to communicate. Furthermore, while the OOSCI Operational Manual presents the ideal structure and content of a study, it also recognizes the diversity of resources available in each country and allows for the study’s scope to be adapted.