Innovation Growth Lab 2017 Annual Conference | By Teri Richter

Innovation Growth Lab 2017 Annual Conference | By Teri Richter

Pictures from: link https://storify.com/nesta_uk/igl2017
Photo Credit: https://storify.com/nesta_uk/igl2017

Working in a robot economy, evidence based innovation and overcoming policy barrier in entrepreneurship

On the 13th and 14th June 2017, the Annual Innovation Growth Lab conference was held in Barcelona Spain hosted by Nesta in partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the World Bank Group, COTEC Fundación para la Innovación, La Caixa Foundation and the Inter-American Development Bank. The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation was represented at the event which brought together around 250 individuals from policy makers, to practitioners and researchers from over 30 countries all passionate about working towards increasing innovation, supporting high growth entrepreneurship and accelerating business growth.

The key aim of the IGL2017 conference included:[1]

  • Learning about the next generation of innovation and entrepreneurship policies.
  • Engaging in wide-ranging discussions on crucial policy challenges including automation, inclusive economic growth, directing public innovation funding, and smart regulation to support innovation.
  • Improving organisation’s capability to design policies that deliver measurable impact, using different tools such as randomised controlled trials and big data.
  • Meeting a global community of peers to learn from and share experiences with.

The IGL conference created a platform for engaging discussions and creative ideas on how to encourage and develop innovation and entrepreneurial opportunities and growth, practical engagement between policy makers and practitioners and academics sharing their experiences and learnings of completed, as well as ongoing randomised controlled trials in the entrepreneurial development space. Each session provided useful take-aways:

Key take-aways from the IGL Main conference

The conference investigated the future of work in a robot economy, specifically suggesting ways in which policy experiments can aid in better understanding the potential impact of job loss compared to the value creation of these entrepreneurial innovations. A central theme to the future of work discussions centred around the need for a creative and growth orientated mindset, which will influence the skills and experience in the future economy. The most important mindset was proposed to be the mindset to learn. This notion links strongly to research being conducted at the Foundation around entrepreneurial mindset and the need to identify opportunities and act on these in a rapidly changing environment.

Key take-aways from the IGL Policy and Practice Learning Lab

The working sessions allowed for engagement between policy makers and programme implementers to share their experiences of challenges in innovation and growth and propose solutions to address barriers facing entrepreneurs. The emphasis on the need for implementing organisations to represent and become more heavily involved in advocacy and policy discussions was of key importance.

Key take-aways from the IGL Research Meeting

The research meeting emphasised not only the importance of experimentation and using experimental research designs such as randomised control trails, however also gave an opportunity to engage directly with researchers currently implementing these trials on entrepreneurial design interventions. These engagements allowed the opportunity to share research ideas as well as future collaborations and best practices.

Overall, the conference allowed for great discussions and sharing of ideas and learning, which emphasised that research is at the heart of entrepreneurial and policy development. Reporting solely on the amount of funding allocated and spent fails to understand the impact of interventions, delivery of results and generation of economic growth. Talking specifically about failure is useful to building the entrepreneurial development sector and can be more valuable than surface level successes. Innovation requires evidence.

To best assist entrepreneurs in their start up and growth, the sector needs to identify key policies that are barriers to entrepreneurs and advocate to remove these. It is important to note that simply developing and upskilling entrepreneurs is not sufficient to aid their growth and development.

Learnings for the Foundation

The strongest messages from the IGL conference that directly relate to entrepreneurial development organisations and apply to the Foundation centred around the need to strengthen empirical research and evaluation practices and sharing organisational and sector-wide learnings, as well as contributing to identifying and addressing policy barriers and gaps that impede entrepreneurial growth.

[1] http://www.nesta.org.uk/event/innovation-growth-lab-global-conference-2017

Teaching reading for meaning: The Funda Wande project | By Dr Nic Spaull

Teaching reading for meaning: The Funda Wande project | By Dr Nic Spaull

Overview: South Africa is virtually unique among upper-middle-income countries in that most of our children (58%) do not learn to read for meaning in the first three years of school[1]. Without this core skill, they fall further and further behind as they are promoted into higher grades. While there are many reasons for this reading crisis one of the most prominent is that Foundation Phase teachers do not know (and have never been taught) how to teach reading. The “Funda Wande: Teaching Reading for Meaning” project aims to help address this course by developing a high-quality, free, open-access and SAQA-approved course: the ‘Certificate in Teaching Early Grade Reading.” All course materials will be available in isiXhosa (the pilot language) and subtitled in English. There will also be an English First Additional language sub-course. It is largely video-based with on-site coaches visiting teachers in their classrooms once every two weeks.

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Photos from the first Funda Wande planning meeting in Port Elizabeth

In the 21st Century we live in a world that is inundated with written language, or ‘print’. We see it in our newspapers, on our contracts, on the screens of our cell phones and the pages of our school books. From the policies of government to the signs on our roads, it is the essential ingredient in modern life. Print is everywhere. And this is why reading is so important. Learning to crack the code of how we represent spoken language using symbols is a big part of why we go to school. We learn the differences between b and d, or between p and q. Moving from letters and syllables to words and sentences we can read about pirates, pigs and pixies or earth-quakes and igloos. Once we have cracked the code the possibilities are endless. This is the joy of being initiated into the literate world.

Aside from the practical importance of reading to make our way through the world, reading (and writing) is essential for participation in formal education since the ability to decode text, read with comprehension and learn from reading is the bedrock of most activities in institutions of learning. If reading is not mastered early on, progress in schooling is restricted. Unfortunately nationally representative surveys (prePIRLS) show that more than half (56%)[2] of South African children do not learn to read fluently and with comprehension in any language by the end of Grade 4. But, as with most averages in South Africa, it hides huge inequalities. If we compare the wealthiest 10% of these learners with the poorest 50% the differences are astounding. Among the richest learners 86% learn to read for meaning compared to less than 30% among the poorest half of learners. Why is this?

One of the main reasons behind this reading crisis is that our teachers have never been given meaningful learning opportunities to acquire this specialized knowledge, neither in their initial teacher training nor in subsequent in-service training. readingThey often do not know what the various components of reading are (phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, fluency and motivation) or how these fit together into a cohesive whole. Many teachers are also confused about how to implement different reading methodologies like group-guided reading or shared reading. Currently teachers focus on communalized activities like chorusing and offer very little differentiation or individualized instruction or assessment. There is also little formal teaching of vocabulary, spelling, writing or phonics and almost no understanding of how to develop the most important skill in reading: comprehension. Importantly, while the majority of our learners are learning to read in an African language (70%+), almost all universities only offer pre-service instruction on teaching reading in English.

To help fill this gap, we are designing a new course to help make sure that all Foundation Phase teachers in the country know how to teach reading in their home-language and in English as a First Additional Language. The “Funda Wande: Teaching Reading for Meaning” project was initiated at the start of 2017 at the request of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Endowment Trustees and is now funded by the Endowment together with two funding partners: The Volkswagen Community Trust and the Millennium Trust. The course is currently being developed for two languages: isiXhosa  and English First Additional Language. Using professionally filmed in-classroom videos, animations, info-graphics and other multi-media the course will teach the major components of reading and writing.

The 11 modules are: (1) How children learn to read, (2) Decoding in reading and writing, (3) Comprehension, (4) Vocabulary, (5) Children’s literature, (6) CAPS reading activities, (7) English as a First Additional Language, (8) Writing, (9) Reading assessment and remediation, (10) Inclusive education, and (11) Planning and progression. The course will be a credit-bearing Certificate accredited by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). The course and all materials developed in the course will be openly licensed (Creative Commons) and freely available for anyone to use. It will be offered as a Certificate in Teaching Early Grade Reading by at least one public university in South Africa. The course will be evaluated in 2019-2021. If the evaluation of the course shows that it significantly raises teachers’ content knowledge and improves their teaching practice, and importantly raises the reading outcomes of the learners they teach – the mandate is to adapt the course and offer it in all of South Africa’s official languages. Ensuring that all teachers know how to teach reading and writing is the first step in ensuring that all South African children learn to read for meaning and pleasure.

If you are an expert in teaching early grade reading in isiXhosa and would like to be involved in the project or to find out more information please email me nicspaull[at]gmail.com

[1] This statistic is taken from one of the nationally-representative datasets of reading achievement in South Africa (prePIRLS, 2011). See Spaull (2016) for a fuller discussion of the results from the PIRLS and prePIRLS studies.

[2] Spaull, N (2016). Learning to read and reading to learn. Research on Socioeconomic Policy (RESEP) Policy Brief. Stellenbosch.