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Lant Pritchett is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and professor of the practice of international development at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where he taught from 2000 to 2004 and from 2007 onward. Before rejoining the Kennedy School in 2007, he was lead socio-economist in the social development group of the South Asia region of the World Bank. He occupied various other positions at the World Bank during his tenure there, beginning in 1988. Pritchett was a team member on a number of prominent World Bank publications including Economic Growth in the 1990s: Learning from a Decade of Reforms (2005); Making Services Work for Poor People (World Development Report 2004); Assessing Aid: What Works, What Doesn't and Why (with David Dollar, 1998); and Infrastructure for Development (World Development Report 1994). He has published two books with Center for Global Development, Let Their People Come (2006) and The Rebirth of Education (2013). Pritchett has published over a hundred articles and papers (with more than 25 co-authors) on a wide range of topics, including state capability, labor mobility, and education, among many others. Originally from Idaho, Pritchett is the father of three children and now lives in an empty nest with his wife of 31 years.
The Effective States and Inclusive Development Research Centre (ESID) is a network of researchers and policy partners in Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, the UK, the USA and other countries. ESID researchers – from a range of disciplines - are working together to investigate what kinds of politics help to secure inclusive development and how these can be promoted. ESID is a 6 year research programme funded by the UK’s Department for International Development and led from the University of Manchester in the UK. The key questions the centre is exploring include: What capacities enable states to help deliver inclusive development? What shapes elite commitment to delivering inclusive development? Under what conditions do developmental forms of state capacity and elite commitment emerge and become sustained? In particular, what is the role of power relations and ideas?
The World Bank has decided to make this problem – the divergence of the organization’s rhetoric on “extreme poverty” and their clients’ desire for support in their national development agendas – even worse. They have announced that their goal is to “eradicate extreme poverty” (while only “monitoring” the income of the poorest 40 percent in each country—but with no goal).
My guest on this week’s Global Prosperity Wonkcast is CGD senior fellow Lant Pritchett, whose new book, The Rebirth of Education: Schooling Ain’t Learning, was released last month and is now available on Kindle. The book addresses a fundamental problem in education: despite great progress to meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goal target for primary school completion, students the world over are leaving school having learned very little. “They need to be in school and learn,” Pritchett says. “If you create systems where the only measures of schooling are kids in seats, you’re going to get measures of time served rather than learning gained.”
The momentum seems to be building for a goal to “eradicate poverty by 2030.” Reducing poverty is a noble goal, one to which I fully subscribe. But the “eradicate poverty” campaign is actually only focused on “extreme” poverty which is an absurdly low and completely arbitrary definition of the poverty.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Schooling Ain’t Learning – And What to Do About It:
New Book Exposes Education Failures around the World
More information about the book
Book Launch-September 30
Buy the book
Washington, DC – A global push to get all kids enrolled in school has been largely successful—most countries will meet or nearly meet the Millennium Development Goal that each child “complete a full course of primary schooling” by 2015. But a new book by Lant Pritchett from the Center for Global Development documents a deeply disturbing reality: for millions of children in the developing world schooling is not producing “education” in any real sense.
Consider these examples from the book, The Rebirth of Education: Schooling Ain’t Learning:
· In India less than half of children surveyed in grade 5 could read a grade 2 level story, one in four could not read a simple sentence, and only slightly more than half could do subtraction.
· In Tanzania six-out-of-ten students who took the 2012 examination for secondary school completers failed.
· In Pakistan a child who enters fifth grade not knowing how to do simple division has only a one-in-six chance of learning in an entire year of schooling.
· Pritchett not only sounds the alarm. He goes on to diagnose these failures and propose a potentially transformative new approach to education.
The result of years of research, including time Pritchett spent studying schools in India, the book offers shocking new analysis and data about the current state of education in developing countries and a trenchant critique of the global focus on enrollment rather than learning.
“We often see education as one of the most powerful tools for escaping poverty,” says Nancy Birdsall, president of CGD. “In this important book, Lant Pritchett reveals the great divide between schooling and learning and reminds readers that our goal is not to get students into classrooms but rather to prepare young people to become productive members of the community.”
Pritchett begins his book with a story from India. In 2006, MIT researchers conducted a rigorous evaluation of schools in Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states, only to discover that many fifth-graders could not read a simple story, do basic division, or even recognize letters of the alphabet. At a village meeting Pritchett listened as the father of a boy who was unable to read rose to address the school principal:
“You have betrayed us. I have worked like a brute my whole life because, without school, I had no skills other than those of a donkey. But you told us that if I sent my son to school, his life would be different than mine. For five years I have kept him from the fields and sent him to your school. Only now I find out that he is thirteen years old and doesn’t know anything. His life won’t be different. He will labor like a brute, just like me.”
The principal responds: “It is not our fault. We do what we can with your children. But you are right, you are brutes and donkeys. The children of donkeys are also donkeys. We cannot be expected to teach your children. They come from your homes stupid and you cannot expect that they will be home from school anything other than stupid.”
India is not alone. Even in middle-income countries with high average years of schooling, between one-third and two-thirds of 15-year-old students do not meet even the most basic math, reading, and science learning goals. In Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia, and Mexico, over 50 percent of 15-year-old students with over five years of schooling do not meet math goals. When compared to their counterparts in rich countries, the educational divide is even clearer: 15-year-old students from Thailand, Mexico, Mauritius, and Chile fall below the 20th percentile of students in Denmark. Students from Qatar, Ghana, Saudi Arabia, and El Salvador fall below the 5th percentile when compared to their counterparts in Australia.
“This problem couldn’t be more important,” says Pritchett. “A child who finishes school at age 15 this year and plans to work until age 65 will be in the labor force until the year 2063. These children are emerging from primary schooling or even secondary schooling with so few skills that they are unprepared for today’s economy, much less for the economy of 2030 or 2063. Their lack of basic education is a burden they will bear for decades.”
Part of the problem is the emphasis on inputs instead of outputs. Desks and chairs, pencils and textbooks, students and teachers may look like a school but they don’t always add up to learning. Pritchett borrows a term from biology, “isomorphic mimicry,” to describe this phenomenon of looking like something else without acquiring the core functions, as when a non-poisonous butterfly evolves to look similar to a poisonous species to avoid being eaten by birds.
In describing education systems, Pritchett borrows from The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. In many countries, Pritchett says, the schooling system is controlled by a large government-owned, top-down bureaucracy – a “spider.” This spider dictates everything: which schools get built, which programs get funded, which teacher gets assigned to which school. Despite the bureaucracy’s extensive reach – the spider’s web – all decisions are made in one centralized location – the spider’s brain.
The Uttar Pradesh school principal’s rebuttal reflects one of the problems of the spider school system, Pritchett observes. In a top-down system, all the power rests with administrators. But educating children requires a system far more complex and flexible than a top-down bureaucracy, what Pritchett calls a “starfish system.”
A starfish, unlike a spider, is a radically decentralized organism – some species of starfish have no brain at all and a starfish’s parts are loosely connected and controlled by local actions. Pritchett praises starfish systems for being locally operated, performance-driven, and open.
The problem is that form follows function. Instead of focusing on what education should look like Pritchett urges a renewed focus on what schools are meant to do. This can only be achieved by encouraging school systems to measure learning outcomes – and allowing local schools the freedom to create schools that best meet learning goals.
He makes clear that there is no single solution that will solve the problem for all schools. Rather the “pivot to learning” he advocates will require school systems that are more like starfish and less like spiders: open, locally operated, performance-pressured, professional networked, and technically and financially supported.
The Rebirth of Education has received wide praise:
“With abundant data, experience, and clear thinking, Pritchett makes a compelling case for why more of the same won’t cut it anymore, how we need to think deeply about how change happens and who can drive it, and why we need to be suspicious of experts and blueprints,” says Rakesh Rajani, founder and head of Twaweza, a Tanzanian NGO.
"Lant Pritchett's path-breaking and courageous work exposes the scandal of education policy in development, which contents itself with achieving quantitative targets on student enrollment even when no real education is happening,” said William Easterly, Professor of Economics at New York University. “Nobody reading this book will ever think about education the same way again."
“Lant Pritchett’s recommendations will disappoint both orthodox economists and orthodox educators since they do not reinforce any of the standard recipes. But those willing to be convinced by Pritchett’s logic and the particular blend of caring and impishness that characterizes his writing will be justifiably alarmed, then enlightened, and finally filled with hope,” says Luis Crouch, chief technical officer, International Development Group. “I urge all my colleagues to read it immediately.”
The Rebirth of Education: Schooling Ain’t Learning will be released on Monday, September 30 at an event hosted by the Center for Global Development. More information about the book and the launch event can be found on the CGD website.
Notes for Editors:
Members of the media interested in attending the launch event should contact media relations associate Catherine An by calling 202-416-4040 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The book launch is slated for Monday, September 30 at 4 pm at the Center for Global Development.
About the Book:
The Rebirth of Education: Schooling Ain’t Learning may be ordered through Brookings Institution Press. ISBN: 978-1-933286-77-8.
The poor quality of education worldwide constitutes a learning crisis; donors and development agencies have been complicit in its creation, but they can and should be part of the solution, not by prescribing changes, but by fostering environments where change is possible.
Motivated by our experience in designing a particular social program, skill set signaling for new entrants to the labor market in Peru, we articulate the need for, and explore the empirical consequences of, alternative learning approaches to the design of development projects. We suggest that project, program, and policy design must depend on more robust learning strategies than the attempt to directly apply results from ”systematic reviews” or move prematurely to an RCT.
There are 20 pages covering the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. And while they are inevitably bubble-wrapped in diplo-speak and hat-tipping, there is a solid package of proposals nestled within. They cover domestic public finance, private finance, international public finance, trade, debt, technology, data and systemic issues. Amongst many other things, the Agenda calls for more tax and better tax (less regressive, more focused on pollution and tobacco). And it is long and specific on base erosion, tax evasion and competition and tax cooperation. It calls for financial inclusion and cheaper remittances. The draft discusses blended finance and a larger role for market-based instruments to support infrastructure rollout, as well as a new measure of “Total Official Support for Sustainable Development.” It calls for Multilateral Development Bank reform including new graduation criteria and scaling up. And it suggests a global compact to guarantee a universal package of basic social services and a second compact covering infrastructure. Finally, the draft has a good section on technology including the need for public finance and flexibility on intellectual property rights.
David Cameron co-chairs the UN Panel on the future of the development agenda, so his 'golden thread' view of development is likely to have a global impact. In the second of three blog posts looking at development policy through the lens of complexity thinking, Owen Barder asks whether the British government's golden thread is good development policy. He concludes that though it has much to commend it, it also has significant weaknesses.
The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, wants us to stop talking simply about the quantity of aid we give, and:
“start talking about what I call the ‘golden thread’, which is you only get real long-term development through aid if there is also a golden thread of stable government, lack of corruption, human rights, the rule of law, transparent information.”
This is not a new wheeze: Mr Cameron has been talking about the golden thread since before he became leader of the Conservative party. Given that he is a co-chair of the UN High Level Panel on the global development agenda after 2015, we can expect to see some of this thinking in that panel’s recommendations.
For at least a couple of decades NGOs and others in developing countries have been designing, evaluating, tinkering, and trying to improve projects and programs that deliver specific in-kind “interventions” to targeted individuals/households in ways that raised their incomes in a sustained way.
Most research starts from wanting to explain the causes of effects. A different approach to research is “x-centric” or “effects of causes,” which is to start from an X that is under some agent’s active control and ask: “What is the impulse response function of Y with respect to purposive variations in X?”
The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) seek to ensure that all children complete primary school by 2015. But school completion rates don't tell us how much--or how little--the kids actually learn. This new working paper co-authored by CGD non-resident fellow Lant Pritchett shows that even in countries that meet the primary school completion goal, most students fall short of minimum competency in reading, writing and arithmetic. The answer, the authors argue, is a Millennium Learning Goal that measures how much students actually know. Learn more