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New Interactive Evidence Gap Map on Non-State Actors in Education

By Natalie Davirro, Research and Knowledge Manager, Opportunity EduFinance for the Education Finance Network


Teacher and students wearing Covid-19 masks 

The Education Finance Network, which is managed by Palladium, Dalberg Advisors and Opportunity International EduFinance, recently launched the Non-State Actors in Education: Interactive Evidence Gap Map (EGM) to highlight available evidence and gaps in the sector and guide program design. The EGM serves practitioners and funders by identifying research priorities, pinpointing the most timely and relevant data, and facilitating evidence exchange to accelerate progress on development goals in education. 

Evidence Gap Map background

The Education Finance Network is a community of practice focused on the role of non-state actors in driving access, equity, and quality in education in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). In early 2022, the Network team conducted a series of focus group discussions and stakeholder consultations to understand the priorities, needs, and goals of current and potential members. A key priority that emerged from these consultations was the need to identify, share, and synthesize concrete evidence of impact, as this evidence is usually scattered across multiple platforms or behind paywalls of academic journals. Until now, there was no singular platform bringing together evidence from academic and practitioner circles, making key findings readily available.

The EGM consolidates more than 170 papers published since 2015 on the role and impact of non-state actors in education in LMICs, synthesizing the research in an easy-to-digest interactive visual map.

Based on extensive consultations with EFN members, key stakeholders, and experts in the sector, 23 types of non-state education interventions were identified as priority interest areas to guide the desk review. These were organized into three overarching categories:

●      financing mechanisms such as social impact bonds and vouchers,

●      education delivery such as social franchises or faith-based schools, and

●      ancillary services such as EdTech and teacher-training.

The EGM also presents the outcomes measured by each study, such as affordability, gender equity, or learning outcomes. The studies are presented in an interactive visual map so that users can easily identify which interventions and outcomes have been subject to the most research and which areas lack significant evidence. The interactive map also allows users to filter the available evidence by country, region, or the study’s level of rigor. This ensures that the map is easily tailored to specific research interests.    

 Visual display of the interactive evidence gap map. Dark blue and medium blue header rows and columns with gray boxes where rows and headers meet. Dots of varying sizes in different boxes to illustrate type of evidence gap (color) and number (size). 

The EGM is an online, living resource and will continue to grow, with regular updates added as new publications become available. While the initial scope of the EGM desktop research was limited to a focus on LMICs and excluded studies related to tertiary education, future iterations may have a broadened scope, depending on the needs and interests of the Network.


Key Findings: Concentration of Evidence

Following the desktop review, coding, and mapping process, a high-level map analysis was carried out to highlight key findings, including where evidence is concentrated, what gaps prevail, and whether existing evidence is sufficiently rigorous. This analysis considered the number of studies in each intervention and outcome category as well as the level of rigor of the various sources within each category.

A key finding of the EGM analysis was that evidence is highly concentrated in four key intervention and outcome areas:

  1. Learning Outcomes

  2. Public-Private Partnerships

  3. Low-Cost Private Schools and Affordability

  4. Ancillary Services

Learning Outcomes: The largest proportion of available evidence focuses on learning outcomes, measured by student test scores. A substantial body of rigorous evidence was found, drawing from academic studies using randomized control trials and quasi-experimental methods that assessed different types of education interventions. Alongside the academic literature, many third-party evaluations and gray literature also focused on learning outcomes to assess impact. 

Public-Private Partnerships: The EGM analysis also found that many studies focused on public-private partnerships (PPPs) in education. Studies assessed the cost-effectiveness of PPPs, their ability to improve learning outcomes, and whether PPPs can increase access for out-of-school children. 

Low-Cost Private Schools and Affordability: The EGM also identified studies on low-cost private schools that examined affordability for low-income families. These studies include multiple comprehensive systematic reviews and are geographically concentrated around India and East Africa, but also include some studies in Pakistan, Ghana, Nigeria, and Latin America, in addition to numerous global studies.

Ancillary Services: Lastly, the EGM revealed high volumes of evidence around non-state actor involvement in ancillary service delivery for education and the impact of ancillary services—such as teacher training and EdTech—on learning outcomes. Given the breadth of evidence in these areas, the EGM focuses specifically on systematic reviews of ancillary services.

Key Findings: Gaps in Evidence

In addition to highlighting key areas where evidence is most concentrated, the EGM also revealed several critical gaps, including:

●      Limited focus on Latin America in the available research, with most studies focusing on sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia (India and Pakistan).

●      Very little evidence on school quality outside of learning outcomes, particularly related to diversity, inclusion in language and curriculum, and ensuring curriculum is relevant to students’ background and contexts. This indicates a critical gap in the literature, as test scores represent only one indicator of school quality and may not capture the complete picture.

●      Limited research on innovative financing, including on social/development impact bonds, results-based finance, and impact investing.

Putting the EGM into Practice

Practitioners and funders looking to engage in a new project or partnership can use the evidence presented in the EGM to gain insight into whether interventions in particular countries or regions have successfully achieved outcomes. Ensuring that evidence on past programs is widely available and shared will help direct resources into the most successful interventions and expand their impact. 

For research entities and evaluators, the EGM can be used to understand what research already exists to avoid duplicating recent studies and ensure that new research prioritizes current gaps in the literature. As new research projects require an initial literature review, the EGM can facilitate this process by identifying existing research in one place for ease of access. 

Overall, the EGM aims to bring greater transparency to the sector, allowing other stakeholders, such as policymakers and investors, to coordinate and align programs to better leverage resources and avoid duplication of services. Sharing and synthesizing evidence— including from outside their usual stakeholder group—that is up to date with the most relevant literature will illustrate the impact and business case. This will help attract more capital for education lending and to encourage further research in areas where meaningful gaps have been identified. Ultimately, it will also help to ensure a better return on investment, increase learning, and improve the efficacy and efficiency of services.

Read a range of recent Research and Learning reports from Opportunity EduFinance here.


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