Once there was a brilliant young entrepreneur living in Africa. Let us call him Alfred. He wanted to make loads of money, but was also very committed to trying to improve the quality of girls’ learning and education. One evening, drinking probably too much Tusker, Alfred had a stroke of inspiration. What if he could persuade the government that giving girls high quality new running shoes would transform the quality of their learning experience, and thus their future job prospects. This was an absolute no brainer. The government would have to buy his trainers for every girl in the school system!
But how was he to start? Many international donors are eager to support such schemes that might contribute to achievements of SDGs4 (education) and 5 (gender). So, he set about getting to know the heads of country office of some of the leading European donors, and learnt that at the heart of getting funding was the need to have a theory of change (well, really not a comprehensive “theory”, but just a basic description of how running shoes would improve girls’ learning). This was easy: good quality running shoes would enable the girls to get fitter, and it is well known that a fit body creates a fit mind; then, if they ran to and from school each day they would have more time to do their homework; and with good shoes on their feet they would not suffer as many injuries or catch diseases that might impair their learning. Alfred had to think of an inspiring name for these shoes, so that everyone would want a pair. How about “Jepkosgei” after the great young Kenyan runner who had just won the New York Marathon? She was very happy to lend her name to this incredibly exciting initiative that could transform girls’ learning.
The stage was set. His friends among the donors recommended a great European university research team who would do the baseline survey as part of one of their research grants, and then they would do a follow-up evaluation at the end of the first term. The shoes would be randomly allocated to girls in classrooms in a small set of pilot schools, and the purpose was to show that giving girls smart new running shoes would indeed improve their results when compared with those in the classrooms that were not given the shoes. At the end of term, the researchers returned. Everyone was on best behaviour. What would they discover?
The results were extraordinary. In just one term, the girls had improved their scores by 20% in Mathematics and English. The researchers checked and re-checked their resuts, but there was absolutely no doubt. The President got to hear of Alfred’s great success, and eager to do well in the next elections he ordered all schools immediately to supply girls with Jepkosgei running shoes. Demand outstripped supply, but Alfred set up new factories to produce them, providing much needed employment and contributing to the country’s economic growth. Soon neighbouring countries got to hear about the impact of running shoes on girls’ learning, and they too sent in orders for tens of thousands of shoes. Alfred became a superstar. He won numerous awards at prestigious international events, and was fêted by the likes of Bill Gates and António Guterres. Alfred was an African hero transforming African girls’ learning. Why hadn’t anyone thought of this before. It was so simple.
Back at the school where this all began there was a wise old gecko. He had watched and listened as the changes took place. He knew why learning had changed. When the girls had first been given their runing shoes they were so proud! They were going to be like Joyciline Jepkosgei! People were paying attention to them. For the first time in their lives they had felt appreciated at school. They wanted to respond positively. But it wasn’t just this. Other children in the school knew that if the pilot was a success, they too would be given smart new running shoes. So, they did everything they could to help ensure that their peers with the shoes would learn especially well that term. They did extra chores for them so they could concentrate on their work. They provided advice and help when something wasn’t understood. They gave them quizzes and checked they knew the right answers. The teachers also wanted to ensure that these girls did really well as a result of the running shoes, and so they put extra effort into preparing their classes, and ensuring that the girls had the best opportunities to learn, despite the limited resources. Some even helped them with the answers in the tests when the researchers came to evaluate the scheme.
It was all a wonderful success. Alfred was happy and rich, the President was happy and re-elected, the donors were happy because they could show how they delivered on the SDGs. But the girls weren’t happy, and their exam results gradually declined over the next few years. Girls’ feet grow, and their lovely bright shoes were soon too small for them. There was no way to hand them on or recycle them, and in any case after a couple of years continual use by their younger sisters they were wearing out. The government couldn’t afford to buy new shoes for all the girls. Once everyone had them, those who had been in the pilot no longer felt special, and no-one helped each other to try to improve results. In any case, the government was now more interested in the 4th Industrial Revolution, and how they could use it to control their people and further advantage those who were already rich and powerful and living in the burgeoning constantly surveilled smart cities…
The gecko, though, continued to enjoy catching insects, and watching the children play. Occasionally, he wistfully wondered why no-one had asked him how to improve girls education and learning.