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Which African country is making the most progress in teaching kids to read by the time they reach third grade? Which language-of-instruction policies are most effective in early literacy teaching? Which country is getting the most children to complete primary school equipped with basic literacy, numeracy, and critical thinking skills? The answers? We don’t know because there is no way to know. Comparable data on learning outcomes over the past 10 years in sub-Saharan Africa simply does not exist.
Josef Ritzen, the Netherlands’ education minister for eight years before he joined the World Bank, once told me: “The view of a prime minister is that an education minister only brings problems. There’s nothing he or she can do to improve quality that has a political upside. So, most ministers try to do nothing.” Ritzen’s recent successors have learned this lesson the hard way with public outcry over heightened math admission requirements for teacher training colleges that have led to a teacher shortage and larger classes. So far, the government has stood firm, convinced that students cannot truly master math without excellent teaching. But the education reform shoe is pinching.