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Maryam Akmal is a senior policy analyst with the global education team at the Center for Global Development. Her work focuses on the use of data and evidence to inform education policy. She has a particular interest in early grade learning and educational inequity. In a previous role, she did research and policy analysis for the RISE (Research on Improving Systems of Education) program. Prior to CGD, she worked with the Society for Advancement of Education in Pakistan on local education policy issues. Akmal holds a Master in Public Policy from Georgetown University and a BA in Economics from Oberlin College.
Researchers Urge a Focus on Raising Learning Targets for All
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Even if the education gap between rich and poor kids in the developing world was completely closed, many students still would not be proficient in basic math and reading, according to a new study from the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Programme.
The researchers examined data from households in India, Pakistan, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania and found that while there is a significant achievement gap between poor kids and rich kids, learning levels are so low across-the-board that even the best-off kids are far from mastering basic math and reading by age 12.
“Instead of bringing poor kids up to the still-not-adequate learning levels of rich kids, we need to raise learning standards across the board,” said Maryam Akmal, the lead author of the study and a researcher at the Center for Global Development. “In a system where basically no kids can read or write—no matter what their schooling—a focus on equality isn’t going to change outcomes. Everyone needs to be better across the board. We can't set a target for mediocrity and then put all our effort into making sure everyone meets it—that's selling kids in developing countries short. Real educational equity means making sure that every kid is able to read or do basic math.”
In Pakistan, for instance, the study found that barely two thirds of kids from the richest households—the wealthiest 20%—can read by age 12. And poor kids are even worse off.
“A big focus in the development world has been on closing the gap between poor kids and rich kids, but even the rich kids are far, far behind where they should be. Targeting vulnerable groups is absolutely important, but the primary focus has to be on raising learning levels across the board—or we're going to end up with a whole generation that can't read or do basic math.”
You can read the full study at https://www.cgdev.org/publication/learning-equity-requires-more-equality-learning-goals-and-achievement-gaps
Achieving some absolute standard of learning for all children is a key element of global equity in education. Using the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) data from India and Pakistan, and Uwezo data from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda that test all children of given ages, whether in school or not, on simple measures of learning in math, reading (local language), and English, we quantify the role of achieving equality between the richest 20% and the poorest 40% in terms of grade attainment and learning achievement toward accomplishing the global equity goal of universal numeracy and literacy for all children.
High-stakes national assessments in developing countries tend to have important consequences for test takers. These assessments can determine a child’s future opportunities by deciding whether a child progresses to a higher grade or achieves a certain certification to enter the workforce. Because these assessments are important for both children and teachers, they have a strong influence on what actually happens inside the classroom, and as a result, on the learning outcomes of children.
DFID’s new education strategy to tackle the learning crisis prioritizes a pivotal part of any well-functioning education system: good teaching. It is obvious that any attempt to reform education systems cannot work if it does not generate effective teaching practices, which requires skilled and motivated teachers in the classroom.
The release of the World Bank’s World Development Report (WDR) is a milestone in the struggle to prepare the youth of today for the challenges of the world they will face. The report focuses on both the need to “get education right” and how to reform education systems to meet the challenge of preparing today’s youth to be tomorrow’s citizens, parents, community members, workers, and leaders. As we outline below, the WDR and our RISE programme share many core themes.
Cheating scandals are all too common across both developing and developed countries. Scores on high-stakes exams can determine a child’s future through access to better education opportunities and career possibilities. This performance pressure can lead to intense studying, a market for tutoring and exam preparation, and, in the worst instances, widespread cheating that can involve students, parents, teachers and officials.
When Pratham used simple “report cards” to provide information about learning outcomes to villages in India, the intervention largely failed. There was no improvement in attendance of children or teachers, no improvement in learning outcomes; and parents, teachers, and village education committees did not become more engaged with the schools (Banerjee et al., 2010). However, when Pratham-trained youth volunteers offered basic reading classes outside of regular school, reading skills of children who attended improved substantially after one year. Why did information provision fail to improve learning outcomes?