Seven Years of RISE Conferences: A Retrospective

We take a look back at how the RISE Conferences have reflected the evolution of the RISE Programme as well as our changing times.


Image of Lillie Kilburn

Lillie Kilburn

RISE Directorate

Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

Through seven years of the RISE Programme, we have worked hard to bring together the latest research on improving education systems at our annual conferences. Now, as RISE is nearing the culmination of its work, it's an opportune time for us to look back and see how far we’ve come since our inception in 2015.

So where did we start at the first conference, and what has changed over the years?

The RISE Annual Conference 2015

June 2015 saw the very first RISE Conference, which also served as a launch event for RISE. At the opening of the conference, RISE Research Director Lant Pritchett concluded his remarks with this driving question, which he acknowledged he could not yet answer:

“How do you move from dysfunctional, locked-in systems . . . to put creativity, skills, competencies in them, and opportunity and hope in the minds and heart of every child?”

For the next seven years, RISE's annual conferences would explore just this problem.

The 2015 conference featured sessions on: an introduction to RISE and education systems research; non-state providers; school autonomy, competition, and management; comparing and evaluating systems; discussion on doing systems research; implementing reform; teachers; measurement; and reflections and the way forward for RISE.

Watch the 2015 conference recordings:

The RISE Annual Conference 2016

By the time of our second conference in 2016, four RISE country research teams were in place: those in India, PakistanTanzania, and Vietnam.

This conference hosted by our young programme featured sessions on teachers; governance; the politics of change; methods for education systems research; and two sessions in which the new RISE country research teams introduced their proposed and upcoming research. There was also an invited session where panellists debated strategies for meeting the education Sustainable Development Goals.

The RISE Annual Conference 2017

The 2017 RISE Annual Conference featured presentations of the diagnostic studies from the four initial RISE country teams that had debuted the previous year, as well as introductory presentations by the two newer RISE teams, those in Ethiopia and Indonesia. From this year until 2019, there would officially be six RISE country research teams.

The 2017 conference also included sessions on the politics of reform; a systems approach to education; system incoherence; alternative modalities of provision; methods and measurement; and pedagogy.

Watch the 2017 conference recordings:

The RISE Annual Conference 2018

In addition to an invited session on key elements for successful educational reform and a lunchtime panel session on global indicators for education, the RISE Annual Conference 2018 featured sessions on: “setting the scene;” curriculum; information and assessment relating to system coherence and incoherence; information and assessment relating to accountability; methods; motivating teachers; supporting teachers; and financing and the role of the private sector.

With new ideas and approaches such as learning trajectories in its toolbox, RISE was making progress toward answering Lant Pritchett’s driving question from 2015. A report on the 2018 conference by RISE Research Coordinator Clare Leaver drew out four key themes from the event, all of which still resonate today:

  1. “[D]espite significant improvements in enrolment and attainment, learning profiles remain appallingly flat. In short, there is a global learning crisis, with children leaving school lacking basic competencies.”
  2. “[I]t is learning, or competencies mastered, rather than simply years of schooling that matters.”
  3. “[A]mbitious learning goals need audacious new approaches; tinkering with interventions without a deep understanding of the system context and construct validity is unlikely to resolve the global learning crisis.”
  4. “In many countries, the learning crisis persists because the education system is incoherent around learning.”

Watch the 2018 conference recordings:

The RISE Annual Conference 2019

The 2019 RISE Conference found RISE moving into maturity as a programme, with research fully underway in six RISE countries and a growing team of core researchers synthesising the results. A presentation by Leonard Wantchekon also heralded the arrival of RISE’s seventh country research team, the Nigeria team, which would officially be launched in December of that year with Prof Wantchekon as its PI.

This conference featured sessions on: learning inequalities and social mobility; demand-side accountability; demand-side preferences; system innovation; measurement and methods; harnessing technology in the classroom; and good teachers and good teaching. The agenda also included a lunchtime panel on big efforts in education and an invited session on prioritising action in education reform.

Watch the 2019 conference recordings:

The RISE Online Presentation Series

The RISE Annual Conference 2020, scheduled for June, was not to be, thanks to COVID-19. However, the RISE Online Presentation Series took its place, consisting of four webinars spread through July and August on the themes of: learning inequalities and social mobility; curriculum and assessment; training and coaching teachers; and motivation and overcoming constraints in teaching.

A set of blogs following up from the series continued the conversation and delved deeper into some of the questions it had raised.

Watch the 2020 webinar recordings:

The RISE Annual Conference 2021

In 2021, the RISE Conference was back in hybrid form. Many attendees were virtual, but there was a physical conference in Oxford, UK, with several dozen other attendees convening at in-person conference hubs in Abuja, Nigeria and Washington, DC.

For the first time, the conference featured work from the newer Political Economy workstream: a presentation from Masooda Bano, Research Lead on the Political Economy of Implementation team.

The 2021 RISE Conference included sessions on: citizen-led and other assessments; parental involvement and the demand for education; politics; management; equity and choice; COVID learning loss; instructional coherence; and teachers and teacher effectiveness, as well as an invited panel session discussing ineffective approaches in global education.

Watch a playlist of sessions from the 2021 conference starting here:

The RISE Annual Conference 2022

The seventh RISE Annual Conference showed that our new conference paradigm was here to stay: it was again a hybrid event, with a central location in Oxford, UK and a hub in Abuja, Nigeria. This conference featured a full session on the effects of COVID-19, as well as a session devoted to political economy.

Other sessions focused on: teaching and teachers; learning; positive and negative deviance, and outliers; long-term trajectories of change; alternative modalities of provision; and accountability. There was also an invited panel session discussing lessons learned from work in global education.

Watch the 2022 conference recordings:


Looking to the future

Today, as RISE approaches the final six months of its lifespan, we believe that our work has helped us to find some answers to the question Lant Pritchett posed at our first conference years ago. RISE tools and methodologies are already being taught and used in numerous places across the world, and in the coming months we will also be sharing with you some big ideas emerging from RISE research.

We know that our collaborations and conversations during the RISE Conferences have been a crucial step along the way, and we want to thank every person who has taken part in them: the speakers who researched and presented, the attendees who listened and discussed, and of course the teachers, families, and students whose participation in our research made everything else possible.

RISE blog posts and podcasts reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation or our funders.