A new database to raise the visibility and impact of African education research

Photo: Julius Atuhurra (Twaweza) presenting at the British Association of International and Comparative Education conference in Oxford, September 2017 – Photo Credit: Rafael Mitchell

Authors: Dr. Rafael Mitchell, Research Associate at the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, University of Cambridge, and Prof. Pauline Rose, Director of the REAL Centre, University of Cambridge

A strong evidence-base is needed to inform decision-making on educational policy and practice in sub-Saharan Africa in order to achieve national, regional and global goals, including the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16-25), the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

There are positive signs that the research evidence-base is growing. For example, our analysis using the Scopus database shows a 700% increase in annual peer-reviewed education research outputs from sub-Saharan Africa over the past twenty years. In terms of volume, the top twenty institutions in the past decade are listed in Table 1 (excluding those from South Africa, which far out-performs other sub-Saharan African countries).

Table 1: Peer-reviewed education research outputs by institution, 2007-2017

# of docs
# of docs
University of Botswana
Addis Ababa University
University of Ibadan
University of Ilorin
Makerere University
Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
University of Ghana
Delta State University Nigeria
Obafemi Awolowo University
University of Malawi
University of Nigeria
University of Zimbabwe
University of Nairobi
Kenyatta University
University of Lagos
Moi University
University of Dar Es Salaam
African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC)
University of Cape Coast Ghana
University of Benin

Source: Scopus database search of social science research (2007-2017) containing keywords ‘education’ or ‘school’ (September 2017)

Table 1 illustrates the variation in research outputs across institutions in different sub-Saharan African countries (more details here). It also shows the inclusion of non-university players such as the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC). Non-university organisations such as APHRC and Twaweza may be contributing to the increase in research productivity; however, further analysis is required to establish if this is the case.

Research outputs are spread across a wide array of journals, working papers and other publications, which poses a barrier to policymakers, researchers and practitioners accessing the evidence required for educational decision-making. As a result, important studies are regularly ‘overlooked and undervalued’, failing to attract the necessary attention to effect changes in learning and conditions in schools and other educational settings.

To address this issue and increase the visibility and impact of African education research, the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the University of Cambridge has partnered with Education Sub-Saharan Africa (ESSA) on a project titled: “Mapping Education Research in sub-Saharan Africa”. The aim is to catalogue, review and synthesise policy- and practice-relevant education research from Africa. The intention is that this will lead to an open access database of education research which can be used to find country-level, policy-relevant evidence on issues ranging from early childhood education to adult literacy, and identify key African researchers working in the field. Studies are catalogued by author, affiliation, keywords, and research methods. Over 800 studies have been included in the database since work began in June 2017.

In developing this database the REAL Centre is searching academic and ‘grey literature’ databases, including Scopus and BASE (Bielefeld Academic Search Engine). We are also consulting people working in the field to identify important studies which may not be included in the above-mentioned major databases.

To this end, we would like to invite all readers of this blog to help us ensure the database is as inclusive as possible by submitting details of education research conducted by African researchers through the following link.