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Systems strengthening to improve education outcomes in Asia

Systems strengthening goes beyond improving downstream education outcomes; it means working upstream to build governments' capacity to lead successful education reforms.

Since 2016, through the All Children Reading-Asia (ACR-Asia) task order funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), RTI has supported USAID and Missions, partners and governments in the Asia Region to improve reading outcomes for students in grades 1-5 with a focus on increasing impact, scale and sustainability. One of the activities under ACR-Asia was to conduct a review of systems strengthening activities funded by USAID to better understand how effective they have been in strengthening the implementation capacity of education systems in their respective countries. 

What is Systems Strengthening?

Systems strengthening can mean many different things. For the purpose of our review, we focused on the following elements for systems strengthening:

Determining the Impact of Systems Strengthening on Education Reform

With partner Delivery Associates, the systems strengthening review was conducted in two phases. First, the team conducted a desk review, a multicounty survey, and key informant interviews across select USAID projects with significant systems strengthening activities. Second, a deep-dive qualitative study was conducted on systems strengthening activities in Cambodia, Nepal, and the Philippines to determine the key factors for success and lessons for future education system strengthening. 

Looking at 20 USAID-funded activities in 11 countries across Asia, we found widespread impact on some elements of education systems’ capacity—for example, helping systems to design evidence-based reading reform strategies, gather better student outcome data, and strengthen teacher development. We also identified four key principles to maximize impact. 

Our review also found that activities were less likely to have succeeded in supporting systems to set learning outcome goals for students, analyze the “delivery chain” of actors to implement desired reforms, or use data to review progress and solve problems.

In the Learn More section below, download the Full Report from the review to explore further. For an overview of the report, download the Summary Report. And to explore how systems strengthening activities led to transformative, lasting impact on education outcomes, download the deep-dive case studies for Cambodia, Nepal, and the Philippines