Call for Proposals: Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education
April 1, 2013 | Article | Girls' Secondary Education in Developing Countries


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
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.

Download the full 2013 Call for Proposals to learn more about thematic areas of interest, types of projects eligible for support, application process, and more.

**Technology innovations must consider the context in which the work is proposed and should ensure that it corresponds to local realities. Projects that use technology as one of several tools to enhance learning or teaching are preferred to stand-alone endeavors.
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