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 OBE 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 OBE, 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.

Episode 16: Matt Andrews on getting real about unknowns in complex policy work

This episode is cross-posted from the Building State Capability (BSC) at Harvard University’s podcast series and features BSC Director Salimah Samji in conversation with Matt Andrews, who is BSC Faculty Director and the Edward S. Mason Senior Lecturer in International Development at the Harvard Kennedy School. Together, they discuss Matt’s paper “Getting Real about Unknowns in Complex Policy Work”, which uses a novel due diligence strategy to examine 25 essential policy questions, citing real-world examples from policy reforms focused on girls’ education in Mozambique from 1999 to 2020. In his paper, Matt offers policymakers a practical way to engage with public problems in the presence of unknowns—one which demonstrates the need for a more modest and realistic approach to doing complex work. 

Episode 17: Armando Ali on assessing learning in Mozambique and the power of citizen action

In this episode, RISE partnerships manager and co-producer of the RISE podcast Joe Bullough speaks to Armando Ali, CEO of the People’s Action for Learning (PAL) Network—a South-South network of organisations working to conduct citizen-led assessments of learning to empower citizens and spur political action to improve learning. Armando revisits memories of school in Nampula, Mozambique and reflects on (one generation later) what he learned from the first citizen-led assessment of children’s learning in Mozambique, and the “Wiixutta Nithweelaka” (“Learn by Play”) programme to help children catch up on missed foundational skills. They discuss why literacy and numeracy are important indicators of whether education systems are working to give children value in their education, and the power and potential of community action to drive learning outcomes worldwide, village to village.

Episode 18: Jishnu Das on School Choice, School Quality, and 'Zombie Schools' in Pakistan

In this episode, RISE Research Fellow Jason Silberstein speaks to Jishnu Das, Professor at Georgetown University and a Principal Investigator of the RISE Pakistan Country Research Team. They discuss Jishnu and his team’s ambitious research agenda, which is not simply studying the impact of a new education policy or intervention, but trying to build a fresh description of how the education system works. They talk about what makes a good school and how to measure it; why comparing public and private schools hides more than it helps; 'Zombie Schools' that are feeding on kids brains; and why every child that doesn’t learn is the fault of a badly engineered system and the ways we can change that.

Episode 19: Manos Antoninis on the First GEM Spotlight Series Report on Africa

In the latest episode of the RISE Podcast, the Director of UNESCO's Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, Manos Antoninis, talks to RISE Research Fellow Jason Silberstein about the first report in the Spotlight Series.  The Spotlight is a new initiative by the GEM Report and its partners to shine a spotlight on primary completion and the state of foundational learning in Africa. They discuss the report’s original research and clear recommendations for how to improve learning, with a focus on what the Spotlight has to say about politics, measurement, supporting teachers, and balancing investment in student-level inputs with systems-level reform.

Episode 20: Anustup Nayak on FLN in India and CSF’s Collaborative Work to Improve the Instructional Experience in the Classroom

In this episode, RISE Research Fellow Julius Atuhurra speaks to Anustup Nayak, Project Director for Classroom Instruction and Practice, at Central Square Foundation (CSF) in India. Anustup retraces his educational path in India, Africa and the US, and links to his career in foundational learning. He reflects on the FLN context in India and why he is hopeful about the future. Anustup gives an in-depth explanation of CSF’s work and their broad collaboration with state governments and other similar minded actors to improve the teaching and learning experience in the classroom. They also touch on Anustup’s involvement with some of the work strands at RISE and his ideas about future directions. Anustup reflects on India’s position as both the 'hotbed' for FLN problems and ‘go to’ place for solutions to the global learning crisis. 

Episode 21: Jennifer Opare-Kumi on ‘Teaching at the Right Level’ and Children’s Mental Health Outcomes in the Global South

This episode features RISE Research Fellow Yue-Yi Hwa in conversation with Jennifer Opare-Kumi, a final-year doctoral researcher at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford.  They cover a breadth of issues including the potential for targeted instructional programs to contribute towards improved child mental health outcomes, why mainstreaming children’s mental health during early learning might improve their educational and other life outcomes, and the need to adopt an expanded view of the ‘learning crisis’ currently affecting countries in the global south.  

Episode 22: Adedeji Adeniran Reflects on the Learning Crisis and Adopting a Systems Lens to Study and Address It

In this episode, RISE research fellow Julius Atuhurra speaks to Dr. Adedeji Adeniran, the Director of Research at the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA)–a Nigerian think tank. Adedeji explains CSEA’s education research journey that has evolved from an initial focus on education financing to studying more nuanced topics, including: education system diagnosis, data quality, community engagement, policy analysis tools, and curriculum effectiveness. He highlights the need to fully grasp what transpires inside the classroom and how that is influenced by interactions happening outside the classroom. He also explains RISE Nigeria’s primary focus on demand-side actors and discusses findings from their recent study on primary-level curriculum effectiveness in Nigeria.

Episode 23: The RISE Podcast: Education Research - From Systems Thinking to a Science of Implementation

This episode is a recording of a panel conversation that took place at the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government during the RISE Annual Conference in September 2023. For the purposes of clarity and length, this podcast is an edited version of the conversation. The panel featured Nompumelelo Mohohlwane from the Department of Basic Education in South Africa; Rachel Hinton from the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; and former RISE Research Director, Lant Pritchett. This conversation was moderated by Laura Savage from the International Education Funders Group. The panel looks back at the questions that existed at the start of RISE and whether enough has been learnt ten years later. They reflect on the difference between the motivating questions for RISE and the What Works Hub for Global Education. They go on to debate what commitment to learning really means and what cultural shifts are needed for it to materialise, and connected to this, what implementation science really means. The conversation ends with a reflection on the meaning of the thematic shift from systems to implementation.