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Background

Education underpins the objectives of the Open Society Foundations: justice and the rule of law, human rights, public health, freedom of information and the media, and economic and social justice. As the largest item in most state budgets and the largest public sector employer, education is an important priority for public policy. Inequity, discrimination, and lack of access to education weaken open societies, preventing excluded communities from participating in the opportunities and responsibilities enjoyed by the majority.

The Education Support Program advances education justice through five interconnected themes:

Discrimination in Education

The Education Support Program advocates for children’s legal rights while striving to provide governments and educators with the access to professional development and expertise that make inclusion possible. show more We support locally developed models of inclusion with potential for replication. We strengthen civil society groups to ensure that young people, parents, and teachers have a voice in policy development and communities are not crowded out of the debate.

Our projects build solidarity within and among marginalized groups to advocate for their rights effectively. Equally important, we engage communities, parents, and children from the majority as partners in inclusion with rights and valid concerns to make sure that we achieve lasting change. In Swaziland, the Bantwana Schools Integrated Programme promotes school and community inclusion of AIDS orphans and those living with HIV. The Integrated Programme is a cost effective model that operates in 50 schools and reaches almost 20,000 children in the country’s poorest rural areas. The Open Society Foundations are working to disseminate the program’s outcomes and best practices across Southern Africa.

In Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, the Foundations followed OECD research on children with special education needs with seed funding for vibrant coalitions of parents of children with disabilities, including children with autism who are disadvantaged even among people with disabilities. The Open Society foundations in those countries, as national leaders for educational inclusion, will continue to strengthen education policy and advocate for the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Our foundations in South Eastern Europe used 2,200 principals in eight countries and 11,000 parents from ten countries to conduct research that provided evidence for advocacy on the inclusion of minorities and produced results in policy and practice. A regional partnership will promote teacher-led inclusion efforts in cooperation with Cambridge University and other European partners.

In Roma education, the Education Support Program emphasizes the importance of reliable data on inclusion, improved learning outcomes in desegregated settings, and grassroots community work. The program will continue to work to strengthen voices in government and civil society in support of inclusion and report on progress in improving Roma learning during the Decade of Roma Inclusion.

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Education in Conflict-and Crisis-Affected Countries

In conflict- and crisis-affected countries, all but the most privileged children are marginalized in education. The Education Support Program focuses its efforts nationally – particularly in  Liberia and Pakistan - and internationally through relevant global networks. show more In Liberia, the Education Support Program assists the Ministry of Education in leading national education reform. An initial contribution of $5 million was used to establish a multi donor partnership that enabled the Government to attend to finance its post conflict recovery program. A further $3 million in 2010-11 will provide support for skills training and technical assistance. The program’s support for civil society has led to the establishment of Critical Thinking Liberia, an organization of Liberian educators who work with teachers and teacher trainers across the country to promote active learning and critical thinking in Liberian classrooms.

In Pakistan, the Education Support Program is beginning to see the growth of a vibrant civil society education movement. Our grantees are central to education policy discussions and advocacy efforts. Our Critical Thinking Project is implemented by the country’s largest education NGO, the Citizens’ Foundation, which helps 90,000 poor students.

The Education Support Program is a member of two international groups that coordinate education in post-conflict and post-crisis settings: the Inter Agency Network for Education in Emergencies and the Inter Agency Standing Committee Education Cluster. These networks provide links to over 6000 member organisations globally that are working on education in conflict-affected contexts and we are actively working to link these to relevant regional and national foundations.

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Critical Thinking and Quality Education

The Critical Thinking Project focuses foremost on the essential transaction of teaching and learning and provides a practical method that empowers teachers to create learning environments which nurture inquiry and active participation in learning. show more The Education Support Program has been promoting critical thinking as a necessary component of a quality education since 1997. As a direct service delivery program that encourages teachers and education systems to place students at the center of the learning process, the project utilizes a "train the trainer" model and has reached over 50,000 teachers in 30 countries across five continents. The program has been working with teachers and organizations on the Thai-Burma border since 1999, and the methodology is being utilized to improve teaching and learning in monastery schools across Burma.

The development and encouragement of critical thinking is one feature of a quality education system. In addition to encouraging critical thinking, the Education Support Program improves education quality by helping schools and teachers deal with economic challenges, develop professionally, and improve accountability and standards. The program works closely with Education International, the global federation of teachers unions, and has conducted activities such as a joint study exploring the impact of the global economic crisis on teaching and learning in Slovakia, Poland, Romania, and Serbia. With help from the Education Support Program, the Council of Associations of School Teachers—the first association of its kind in Russia—will work with teachers’ trade unions on the professional development of teachers and on promoting civil society accountability in assuring quality tests and accreditation.

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The Political Economy of Education

The Education Support Program is focused on the global education aid architecture, the privatization of education and innovative financing for education. show more Privatization is a growing trend in education, yet its overall effects on quality and equity are little understood and heavily contested. Through the Privatization in Education Research Initiative, the Education Support Program is animating an accessible, knowledgeable public debate to better inform decisions by governments, teachers, and parents. The program has organized roundtables with leading global experts and regional consultations in Europe, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Eighteen research projects selected and guided by a steering committee, will be presented at regional conferences in 2012.

The Education Support Program is actively engaged in the reforms and development of the global aid architecture for education. The program supported the restructuring of the Global Partnership for Education (formerly the Education For All-Fast Track Initiative), which has mobilized $3 billion for education over the past decade. The program promotes innovative financing for education by supporting the development of instruments and exploration of ideas.

Program support has led to the ongoing development of an Education Venture Fund, the piloting of debt swaps for education, and an analysis of the potential of diaspora bonds for education, following the lead of India and Israel, which raised $35 billion through this mechanism. We are also looking at how a debt forgiveness arrangement between Canada and Pakistan might be applied to other countries facing financial and education challenges: In 2010, Canada, as part of a larger debt relief deal, agreed to forgo collecting $132 million from Pakistan as long as the government of Pakistan spends this money on teacher training and strengthening the Ministry of Education’s ability to improve education.

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Civil Activism in Education

The Education Support Program nurtures movements and activism that advance education justice. show more In South Africa, the “Equal Education” student movement is campaigning for school libraries. The movement has won wide public support and a government promise to set up 720 libraries in Gauteng province. In Tajikistan, the Open Society Foundations support a national association of parents of disabled children, formed by courageous young mothers who have fought the social stigma against disability and secured state assistance and education inclusion for their children.

The Integration and Diversity in Education in Europe project partly funded by an EU grant, supports community initiatives for education inclusion. In 2011, a second EU grant will explore ways for over 100 grassroots organizations to engage the EU to improve education for minorities and migrants. The program continues to collaborate with the Network of Education Policy Centers (22 education centers in 20 countries), recently completing a comparative country study to support the development of the National Testing Center in Tajikistan. The Education Development Program plans to develop links between Central European University and the Network of Education Policy Centers through a joint summer school, bringing together academics and senior educators and producing policy papers on issues requiring international debate.

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