In 1989 Zimbabwe’s Minister for Education and Culture and the Director of UNESCO’s International Institute of Educational Planning the (IIEP) agreed that a major research and training project (the “Indicators of the Quality of Education Study”) should be undertaken in Zimbabwe during 1990 in order to (a) assess the quality of education provided by Zimbabwe’s primary schools, (b) involve the staff of the Ministry’s Planning Unit in integrated research and training activities, and (c) provide meaningful advice related to policy concerns expressed by senior Ministry decision-makers.
The project resulted in a research report (Ross and Postlethwaite, 1991) that was used to review a range of important education policy issues and to provide baseline information for comparison with later studies of the quality of education in Zimbabwe. The report was also used as the central theme of a series of IIEP follow-up training workshops for educational planners and researchers from Zimbabwe and several nearby countries.
During 1992 the educational researchers and planners that had participated in these workshops commenced a dialogue within their Ministries of Education and with IIEP staff on the training needs required in order to expand and strengthen the capacity of their Education Planning Units to monitor and evaluate the quality of their education systems. At the very outset of these discussions it was agreed that the most effective modality for this type of training was not a traditional “university-style” arrangement – in which theories and methods were explained in lectures and then illustrated with examples delivered during tutorial-style practical sessions. Instead, it was decided that a “learning-by-doing” approach should be adopted in which the most modern educational policy research methodologies would be applied in a cross-national fashion to “real educational policy problems” in order to provide hands-on experience in the generation of information that can be employed for making informed decisions aimed at improving the conditions of schooling and the quality of education.
This dialogue eventually resulted in the preparation of a proposal (Moyo et al., 1993) that would address these important research and training challenges via the establishment of an association of Ministries of Education known as SACMEQ (the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality).
SACMEQ’s first cross-national cooperative activity was to work with the IIEP on the preparation of a research-based policy report that was entitled “From Educational Research to Educational Policy: An Example from Zimbabwe” – which was authored by teams of educational planners and researchers from ten countries (Ross, 1995). This report received a very positive reaction from many African Ministers of Education, and in late 1995 the SACMEQ Consortium was officially launched and given continuing long-term support through the generous assistance of the Government of the Netherlands.