The RISE Podcast

In our podcast, members of the RISE community highlight stories behind their research and practice work—and explore some of the “big picture” ideas and opinions that inspire them.

About the podcast

Each episode of the RISE Podcast features a conversation with a researcher or practitioner in the RISE community in which we encourage them to “share their stories, not their standard deviations”.

Through these stories, we aim to shed light on the human perspective behind research and practice, with the hope of sparking conversation both for members of the education development community and for those with broader interests related to education or development.

You can subscribe to the RISE Podcast on a number of platforms including Spotify, Apple PodcastsTuneInGoogle Podcasts, Stitcher, or listen to the episodes below.


Episode 1: Dzingai Mutumbuka on Zimbabwe, foundational skills, and the challenges ministers face

In this first RISE Podcast episode, Marla Spivack (Research Manager of RISE and a Research Fellow with the Building State Capability Programme at Harvard University) speaks to Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka. During the episode, Dr. Mutumbuka shares a wealth of insights from his career as a leader in education. He talks about the importance of purpose and priorities in education, the challenges that ministers face, and the ways in which government and development partners can work better together to produce results for children.

Episode 2: Rachel Glennerster on cost effectiveness, and tackling systems issues at scale

The second episode of the RISE Podcast features Dr Rachel Glennerster, Chief Economist at the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in conversation with Laura Savage (Deputy Head of Education Research at the UK’s FCDO). During the episode, they discuss Rachel’s reflections on how good interventions can work in poor performing education systems, why we need to go beyond evidence of what works to think about cost effectiveness, and how to build incentives to tackle systems issues at scale. 

Episode 3: Shintia Revina on teaching and the teaching profession in Indonesia

In this episode of the RISE Podcast, Dr Shintia Revina, Deputy Team Lead of the RISE Indonesia country research team and a researcher at SMERU in Jakarta, speaks with Yue-Yi Hwa (RISE Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government). During the episode, they discuss insights and issues emerging from RISE Indonesia’s growing body of research about the teaching profession. Points of discussion include gaps between policy expectations and reality, constraints from entrenched political priorities and institutional structures, and the benefits and challenges of conducting research using reflective diary entries by novice teachers.

Episode 4: Ritva Reinikka on the role that financing plays in education systems

In this episode of the RISE Podcast, Carmen Belafi, RISE Research Associate at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government, speaks with Dr Ritva Reinikka. During the episode, they discuss the role that financing plays in education systems. Ritva shares her insights from having worked closely with the governments of Uganda and South Africa, and illustrates the crucial role that the Ministries of Finance have played in the transformation of education in both countries. She also talks about the importance of applying a system’s approach to education, including not just the actors squarely within the education sector—the Ministry of Education, administrators, school principals and teachers—but the broader political and societal context in which the education sector operates.

Episode 5: Adam Ashforth on how communities see the role of education in Malawi

In this episode of the RISE Podcast, Jason Silberstein, a RISE Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government, speaks to Professor Adam Ashforth. The conversation draws on Adam’s ethnographic research to explore what the education system looks like for the average person in Malawi. He shares accounts from the Malawi Journals Project, which shed light on what most families see as the core purpose of education. In doing so, we learn just how absent the state is in many schools and how this space is filled with local relationships of accountability. 

Episode 6: Joan DeJaeghere and Vu Dao on pedagogy, equity, and research collaborations in Vietnam

In this episode of the RISE Podcast, Yue-Yi Hwa, RISE Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government, speaks with Professor Joan DeJaeghere and Vu Dao, members of the RISE Vietnam team based at the University of Minnesota. The conversation focuses on Joan and Vu’s work on a large-scale qualitative video study of teaching and learning in Vietnamese classrooms. Topics explored include ongoing challenges in Vietnam’s education system despite its exceptional success; how teachers can unintentionally internalise prejudices against ethnic minority students (even if the teachers are ethnic minorities themselves); why it is worthwhile to spend countless hours analysing classroom videos and interviews; and how to build strong collaborations with in-country researchers.

Episode 7: Brian Levy on education and governance in South Africa

Episode 7 of the RISE Podcast features Professor Brian Levy speaking with Carmen Belafi, RISE Research Associate at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government. During the episode, they discuss Brian’s decades of work on governance, and how governance interacts with institutions and power. They talk about systematic ways to analyse different governance contexts, and how this can guide action. They also discuss Brian’s latest book, “The Politics and Governance of Basic Education: A Tale of Two South African Provinces,” and how issues around governance matter for aligning education systems for learning. Not least, Brian offers insights on the legacy that South Africa’s first democratic government inherited from the Apartheid regime, and he compares and contrasts the unique challenges that persist in the different South African provinces until today.

Episode 8: Asyia Kazmi on building solid foundations, and championing quality teaching

In the 8th episode of the RISE Podcast, RISE Research Director Lant Pritchett speaks to Asyia Kazmi, Global Education Policy Lead at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. During the episode, they walk through Asyia’s wide-ranging experiences spanning her 25-year career in education—as a teacher, mentor, advisor, and educationalist. They discuss the critical importance of getting kids literate and numerate, and as well as the need to build systems which champion quality teaching and which restore childrens’ confidence in their own ability to succeed.

Episode 9: Denis Mizne on transforming Brazil’s education system to deliver learning

The first RISE Podcast episode of 2022 features Denis Mizne, who is CEO of the Lemann Foundation and leads its efforts to transform Brazil’s education system so that schools deliver learning for all children. In conversation with RISE Research Fellow Jason Silberstein, he explains why foundational skills are a political winner; the Lemann Foundation’s work on Brazil’s Learning Standards; how to balance accountability with support for teachers; what we can learn from Sobral, Brazil’s famous success story; “status quoism”; Lord Voldemort; and much more.

Episode 10: Luis Crouch on purpose and complexity in education systems change

This episode of the RISE Podcast features Luis Crouch, a member of RISE Research Directorate, and the Senior Economist at RTI’s International Development Group. In conversation with RISE Research Fellow Yue-Yi Hwa, he shares perspectives from his 30-year-career across development and education. They discuss the relationship between education and national development goals socioeconomic development; the importance of purpose in education systems change; the interplay between national priorities and international agenda-setting in education; and the challenges of coordination and unintended consequences, including the effects that these can have in complex education systems.

Episode 11: Matt Crowley on Woburn, MA’s pivot to remote learning during the pandemic

This podcast episode is cross-posted from the Building State Capability at Harvard University Podcast Series and features Matt Crowley, Superintendent of the Public School District in Woburn, Massachusetts, interviewed by Salimah Samji, Director of the Building State Capability Programme. They discuss how this school system pivoted to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of collaboration and adaptability when leading through a crisis.

Episode 12: Yamini Aiyar on 'Rewriting the Grammar of the Delhi Education System'

In this episode, Marla Spivack speaks to Yamini Aiyar about her new book, ‘Rewriting the Grammar of the Education System: Delhi’s Education Reform (A Tale of Creative Resistance and Creative Disruption)’, which documents the introduction of education reforms in Delhi public schools. They discuss some of the challenges faced throughout this reform as well as lessons that emerged from documenting the reform experience. These include the importance of understanding that everyone is part of a larger system which is conditioning the behaviours and actions of people within it, and the necessity (and challenges) of building consensus for learning throughout systems.

Episode 13: Nangamso Mtsatse on helping kids to read for meaning and calculate with confidence in South Africa

In this episode produced jointly between RISE and Building State Capability (BSC) at Harvard University, BSC Director Salimah Samji speaks to Nangamso Mtsatse, CEO of Funda Wande, an NGO that works to catalyse improvements in foundational literacy and numeracy for children in South Africa. They talk about building local teams; creating a culture of measurement, reflection and learning; being intentional; and working within the constraints and opportunities of the system you are in for change.

Episode 14: Modupe Adefeso-Olateju on how public-private partners can come together to solve Nigeria’s learning crisis

In this episode, Onyebuchi Ajufo, an advocacy and communications specialist and former Director of Communications and Advocacy at Africa Practice, speaks to Modupe Adefeso-Olateju, Managing Director of Nigeria’s pioneering education partnership organisation, the Education Partnership (TEP) Centre, where she leads the LEARNigeria citizen-led assessment and advocacy programme. They talk about the inspiration for Mo’s work to improve foundational learning in Nigeria; the importance of data for understanding the extent of the crisis, and as a tool to inform policy; and the role of public-private partnerships for improving children’s outcomes. Mo also speaks about Human Capital Africa’s recent call to action for African policymakers to make foundational learning their top priority.

Episode 15: Sharath Jeevan OBE on the Need to Put People, Mindsets, and Motivation at the Centre of Education Systems

In this episode, Sharath Jeevan OBE, Founder and CEO of STiR Education and Executive Chairman of Intrinsic Labs, speaks to Yue-Yi Hwa, RISE Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government. They discuss why we need to go upside-down to focus on the people in education systems; how to change ministers’ mindsets; how to create space for teachers to innovate at the classroom level; and why education systems are “wicked hard”—that is, full of problems that are ill-defined and hard to solve.