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Offer: MacArthur Foundation Call for Proposals: Partnership to Strengthen Innovation - Deadline: May 15, 2013


Secondary school education is measurably associated with positive effects on health, well-being, and productivity (Alvarez 2003). For girls, research shows that those with more years of education marry later (Ozier 2010), have smaller families (Schultz 2002), and survive childbirth at higher rates (McAlister and Baskett 2006). They experience reduced incidences of HIV/AIDS (Hargreaves et al. 2008), earn more (Psacharopoulos and Patrinos 2004), and live in societies with higher national rates of economic growth.

Given this, governments in developing countries are working to provide secondary education on a larger scale and build on the primary education gains connected to the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All initiatives.

However, while primary schools are widespread, with near equal numbers of boys and girls enrolled, secondary schools remain scarce, are mostly in central towns and urban areas, and enroll fewer girls than boys and too few poor and disadvantaged children. There are also large regional variations in the secondary education enrollment rate: while the global rate reached 70% in 2010, up from only 43% in 1970, enrollment is still below 40% in sub-Saharan Africa (UNESCO 2012). Evidence also shows that many children are leaving primary school without basic literacy and numeracy, and those who do make it to secondary school are often unprepared for the higher levels of learning required. Importantly, the world of work in developing countries is also changing from a focus on subsistence agriculture and small-scale industry to a more complex mix of formal and informal economic activities in local and globally-connected economies. Although secondary education is the level from which most youth will enter the labor force, it is still largely conceptualized as a route to tertiary education and has relatively high per student costs compared to primary education.

Questions about secondary education that need answers include how to increase demand, improve teacher skills, promote employment-relevant skills, and support alternative models of learning for learners in low-income settings. There is therefore an urgent need to support and build the evidence base for new models that deliver quality, relevant, and accessible secondary learning to often-neglected populations, including the poor, girls, those living with disabilities, those in areas affected by conflict, and other disadvantaged groups. This includes scaling-up approaches that have proven successful, testing innovative pilots, and increasing our knowledge of how to close the gaps that continue to constrain marginalized populations from accessing secondary education.

The aim of the Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education (PSIPSE) is to accelerate innovation in secondary education programming, research, and development in selected countries. It is led by a group of private donors and donor advisors, including ELMA Philanthropies Services, Human Dignity Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, MasterCard Foundation, and Wellspring Advisors, who have come together to encourage a new wave of innovation and learning in secondary education. This collaboration was born from the principles of the Global Compact on Learning, which underscores the importance of collaborative action to achieve quality learning outcomes, and supports goals of the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First initiative. Participating donors not only work with each other, but also actively aim to enrich the knowledge base of the wider secondary education field.

The PSIPSE began in early 2012, when a Call for Proposals was issued to solicit projects that could help inform the imminent expansion and transformation of secondary education. The 2012 Call yielded over 500 letters of inquiry and, ultimately, 19 projects were selected for over $8 million in support. The 2013 Call for Proposals builds on this momentum and channels attention to critical gaps research has identified in the delivery of more widespread and quality secondary education. Donors have allocated $10 million for the 2013 Call subject to the quality of proposals received.

Strategic Focus

The PSIPSE’s focus is both upper and lower secondary education. Where schooling at the upper level is further divided between traditional general secondary education and vocational education, PSIPSE is focused on increasing the relevance of general secondary education learning. PSIPSE supports programs and projects targeted to the formal education system and informal programs that help students transition to or re-enter the formal system. PSIPSE is interested in four thematic areas: demand, improving teacher effectiveness, promoting employment-relevant skills, and alternative educational models for learning (see ‘Thematic Areas of Interest’ section below).

All proposed projects should incorporate fresh thinking and raise new possibilities that address challenges in the secondary education agenda. The PSIPSE invites potential partners to push the boundaries of creativity; consider cost-efficient, innovative solutions; and re-think the content, instructional methods, delivery systems, and partnerships common in secondary education. Projects should be context-relevant and evidence-driven, and should yield insights that can expand the policy horizons of government planners, other large scale implementers, and technical experts. The PSIPSE hopes projects can also inform future educational investment by various donors.

Proposals submitted may be for pilots, for research, or for scale-up (see ‘Types of Projects’ section below). Regardless of their nature, the PSIPSE encourages projects with replication and scale-up potential. Across the four themes, the PSIPSE looks for projects that (i) target marginalized populations, such as girls; (ii) use technology in innovative, cross-cutting ways**; or (iii) do both. The PSIPSE is also concerned with the delivery of secondary education to conflict-affected populations in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and in Uganda.

The geographic focus for this Call for Proposals is East Africa, Nigeria, and India (see ‘Geography’ section in full call for proposals below). The Call is open to organizations (but not to individuals), including private sector entities proposing projects with charitable purposes, and working on specific education challenges in these places. The PSIPSE is particularly interested in collaborations between non-profit or public stakeholders and private sector entities.

Target Populations
1) Applicants are encouraged to submit proposals for projects that benefit the following marginalized populations:
> Learners living in low-resource or poverty-affected areas
> Girls and young women
> Learners with physical, intellectual and/or developmental disabilities
2) Geography - Applicants may propose work in the following geographic areas:
East Africa*
Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo
*: Note, projects targeting conflict-affected populations are welcomed only in the Eastern DRC (North Kivu, South Kivu, Province Orientale, Maniema) and in Uganda (Northern Uganda, West Nile Sub-region, and Western Uganda).
Funding in Uganda is not restricted, however, to conflict-affected populations, nor to any particular parts of the country.
Nigeria (particularly the states of Kano, Sokoto, Jigawa, Lagos, Rivers, and Cross Rivers)
India (particularly the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh and the cities of Chennai, Delhi, and Mumbai)

These regions and countries have been selected based on secondary education needs, as well as strategic and geographic priorities of donor and donor advisor partners. Projects that take a regional focus may also apply.

Types of Projects

Donor partners invite organizations to submit projects in one of the following three categories (all projects must be within the core Thematic Areas of Interest listed in the next Section):

Pilot: Projects that test new models or approaches to identified problems, integrate proven strategies/approaches into a more holistic model, and/or build collaboration among partners with proven models and approaches will be considered in scope. Pilot projects can be funded up to US$500,000 over 2-3 years. Priority will be given to projects that:

Define the innovation being explored within the pilot and its relevance nationally, regionally, or globally while being grounded in local context.

Include a strong focus on impact assessment and rigorous evaluation so that the usefulness of funded pilot projects is well understood and effective projects are positioned for replication and/or future scale up.

Identify specific pathways, actors, and steps necessary for achieving desired outcomes and for scaling up successful educational interventions in a future project phase.

Research: Projects that address critical questions that have the capacity to advance innovation and practice in secondary education or examine solutions to commonly identified barriers to secondary education will be considered in scope. Research projects can be funded up to US$500,000 over 1-3 years. Priority will be given to research projects that:

Build upon the existing evidence base on secondary education.

Meaningfully engage local research partners, young people, and other stakeholders.

Employ a rigorous research methodology.

Are solutions-oriented and are likely to influence policy and be policy-relevant.

Demonstrate linkages with policymakers and illustrate pathways for influencing education policy

Have a clear dissemination plan for sharing research results.

Scale-up: Projects that expand, adapt and sustain successful programs and reach large numbers of children and youth will be considered. These projects will have already been piloted and proven effective and be ready to be taken to the next level either nationally or regionally. Scaleup projects can be funded up to $5 million over up to 5 years. Priority will be given to projects with:

Demonstrated evidence that the proposed project is effective.

Demand for the project by one or more key education stakeholders (i.e. government, teachers, communities, parents, or youth).

Support for the project by key champions or networks.

Simplicity in program design and approach.

Proven cost-effectiveness of the proposed project in relation to comparable programs and/or within government per capita expenditure on education, including cost per participant of the individuals reached.

Clear distribution network for scaling the project (i.e. schools, teacher training institutions, or third party providers).

Sustainability strategy that identifies financing for the project over the long term (i.e. government, private sector, users, or a combination).

Organizational resources and capacity to support a scale-up initiative, with a strategic plan in place.

Deadline 15 May 2013.

Full call available at


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