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There has been considerable progress constructing schools worldwide over the past 50 years, a lot of progress hiring teachers, and global improvement in enrollment rates, recently encouraged by the rollout of payments for attendance around the world. Nonetheless, while education requires schools, it also needs students to be in class, motivated and able to learn. And they need teachers who are skilled and resourced enough to teach, and those teachers need an incentive to instruct. There is considerable evidence that these prerequisites are not met with alarming frequency across the developing world.

Tested methods to strengthen the link between schooling and learning include school choice, conditional cash transfers to students on the basis of attendance and scores, decentralization combined with published information on learning outcomes, and teacher pay based on attendance and performance. Nonetheless, learning outcomes (and especially development impact) are primarily affected by the broader social and economic environment in which students live. This suggests a need for realism regarding what can be accomplished by education ministries and a focus on that broader environment—for example health and media interventions that might have considerable returns in learning.

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