Three boys concentrate on their drawings at an Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) center in Burera, Rwanda. Their drawings depict a story from a book provided through Save the Children's support. These structured sessions of being read to – and drawing their interpretations of the story – are part of early literacy activities featured in Save the Children's Signature Education Program. Photo credit: Colin Crowley / Save the Children, March 2014.

Three boys concentrate on their drawings at an Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) center in Burera, Rwanda. Their drawings depict a story from a book provided through Save the Children's support. These structured sessions of being read to – and drawing their interpretations of the story – are part of early literacy activities featured in Save the Children's Signature Education Program.

Global Education Research

Evidence for Excellence

Save the Children has a team of ten dedicated applied researchers who build the capacity of the organization and its members globally to conduct research that helps the agency and our partners better understand what works for supporting all children’s learning and development.

We support Save the Children country teams implementing these evidence-based programs to ensure that they are well positioned to pass along data on impact and equity as their projects grow and evolve. Additionally, work performed by our researchers is vital to helping our partners and leaders in the countries we work with develop well-reasoned, effective policies to help all children benefit from education.

Since first measuring learning in Save the Children program sites over a decade ago, we’ve worked with teams across the globe to understand the status of learning, its drivers and how best to measure and evaluate programmatic effectiveness.


Sites Using Learning Evidence to Continuously Improve Programs

This map of the world depicts countries that are using learning evidence to continuously improve programs in red. Some of the countries in red (not all) are: the U.S., Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Niger, Sudan, Mali, South Africa and others. Image credit: Save the Children.

We pursue a holistic view of learning as multidimensional, occurring both inside institutions (preschools, schools and non-formal settings) as well as in homes and communities. Our investigations explore the interconnections between these environments and outcomes to understand how parents, caregivers, teachers, school leaders, policymakers – and the norms they hold – best enable learning.

We create an evidence base for common solutions to problems facing children as they are adapted and tested in new contexts. These include: 

We support Save the Children country teams to explore these as well as related and new topics in close to 60 applied research projects per year. 

This pie chart indicates the percentage of efforts for 2017 research. The largest slice of the pie is early childhood, followed by basic education, followed by youth, followed by education in emergencies, followed by school health and nutrition. Image credit: Save the Children, 2017.
This bar graph indicates the number of research topics in 2017, sorted by country/region. The first bar indicates that there will be 26 studies in Africa, the second indicates there will be 20 in Asia, the third indicates there will be 6 in the Middle East, and the last bar shows 4 studies done in the Americas. Image credit: Save the Children, 2017.


Thought Leadership on Child Development and Learning

Members of the Save the Children Education Research Team sit on the UNESCO Institute for Statistics’ Global Alliance for Monitoring Learning, UNICEF’s Inter-Agency Expert Groups for the revision of MICs’ Early Childhood Development Index as well as the creation of the MICS Learning Module, and Co-Chair an inter-agency working group on Social Emotional Learning. The following links offer a sense of key publications, presentations and blogs through which we utilize our country-focused work to move the field forward.

In Pursuit of Realistic Rigor

The Education Research team provides crosscutting support for interventions and projects headed by our colleagues in Global Education. We are exploring use of costing tools in Save the Children ECCD sites as well as a deeper understanding of implementation fidelity in multi-sectoral programs supporting the cognitive development for children aged 0-3. We are developing and testing measures of gender norms and empowerment as well as extending the collection of and reflection on less common equity indicators (e.g., disability, displacement, and orphaned children or those separated from their families) and investigating implementation fidelity. We are expanding our work in Education in Emergencies settings by developing and testing a holistic, adaptive learning assessment for children ages 4-to-12 years to inform interventions. Finally, we are supporting psychometrics on Menstrual Hygiene Management program indicators for participation, stress and self-efficacy and social support.

To achieve results the team has developed several key tools to build capacity and accurate measurement of learning and development impacts:

  • The International Development and Early Learning Assessment, IDELA, is an easy-to-use, rigorous, global tool that measures children’s early learning and development and provides Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) programs, donors and government partners with clear evidence on the status of children from 3.5 to 6 years. It has its own website and community of practice: https://idela-network.org/ run by the research team.
  • Our Literacy Boost and Numeracy Boost Assessments are each a collection of reading and math skills subtests that together facilitate an understanding of the distribution of skills in marginalized populations in which we work alongside data on the factors in the environment that influence learning. These inform our Literacy Boost and Numeracy Boost interventions.
  • The International Social and Emotional Learning Assessment, ISELA, provides a picture of children’s social support network, empathy, prosocial behavior, conflict behavior, approaches to learning, and understanding of the social emotional learning environment around them. It is used to assess the effect of social and emotional wellbeing programs on children between 6-14 years of age.
  • For more information on all of these assessments, contact learningassessment@savechildren.org.

In addition to the assessments, there are additional tools we use and develop to promote quality education and learning outcomes. These include classroom observations for use in preschool and primary school settings and caregiver interviews, which include information about family resources and home learning environments to enable analyses of program equity. We also partner with country teams as well as academic colleagues to conduct targeted qualitative studies exploring issues of learning equity and implementation quality.

2018 Applied Research Agenda

Our applied research agenda for 2018 is designed to maintain and enhance Save the Children’s position as a thought leader in Global Education for children. As such, we focus on has several elements that speak to UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education, to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcome.

Our research agenda for improving the impact and equity of our programs centers on the following areas of collaboration with technical colleagues and country teams. 

This graphic depicts four areas of programing on our applied research agenda for 2018: Early Childhood Development, Basic Education, Education in Emergencies and School Health and Nutrition. Image credit: Save the Children 2018.


In pursuit of our goal of being thought-leaders in Education Research the team develops research projects in partnership with universities. We are a strategic partner of New York University’s Global TIES for Children research center and partner with them on several International Development and Early Learning Assessment (IDELA) analyses of single and cross-country psychometrics. Colleagues at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education ran a Randomized Control Trial of Literacy Boost. In addition, we work with colleagues at the Harvard Center for the Developing Child and Graduate School of Education whose Caregiver Reported Early Childhood Development Instruments (CREDI) we use to document impact and investigate equity in our Building Brains programming for children ages zero to three years.

We also have a network of more than two dozen collaborating universities in the Save-University Partnership for Education Research (SUPER) whose faculty have, over the last dozen years, placed more than 120 graduate students in field sites or on remote studies to help Save the Children teams continuously improve their work. 

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