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Primary school enrolment rates exceed 90 percent in many developing countries—getting children into school has been one of the success stories of global development. But many of these children still are not learning. CGD seeks to better understand what causes this learning gap and, more importantly, what policies might help to end the global learning crisis.
Researchers Urge a Focus on Raising Learning Targets for All
Holly Shulman email@example.com
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.
One-quarter of the world’s school-age children live in East Asia and the Pacific. In the past 50 years, some economies in the region have successfully transformed themselves by investing in the knowledge, skills, and abilities of their workforce. Through policy foresight, they have produced graduates with new levels of knowledge and skills almost as fast as industries have increased their demand for them. Yet, tens of millions of students in the region are in school but not learning. In fact, as many as 60 percent of students remain in systems that are struggling to escape the global learning crisis or in systems where performance is likely poor.
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.