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There is a learning crisis in developing countries: most children now attend school, but many are not learning basic skills. CGD leads a global initiative called Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) focusing on governance, accountability, information, financing, management, and the politics of reform. RISE is a partnership with Oxford Policy Management and the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University, with funding from the UK Department for International Development and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
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.
In the last international PISA assessment for math and science, Vietnam outperformed many developed countries, including the UK and the US. Yet Vietnam only has a small fraction of the GDP of these countries. Should other countries with similar income levels, such as Indonesia, be asking themselves: “Why not me?”
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.
Teachers in poor countries earn far more, in relative terms, than teachers in the OECD—and several recent studies suggest their pay isn’t linked to skills or performance. But we also have growing evidence that high-quality teachers generate huge economic returns. The question is how to ensure high pay attracts high quality.
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.