(Policy Paper)

Focus to Flourish: Five Actions to Accelerate Progress in Learning


Image of Lant Pritchett

Lant Pritchett

RISE Directorate

Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

Image of Kirsty Newman

Kirsty Newman


Image of Jason Silberstein

Jason Silberstein

RISE Directorate

Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford


There is a severe global learning crisis. While nearly all children start school, far too many do not learn even the most foundational skills of reading, writing, and basic mathematics during the years they spend there. The urgent need to address this crisis requires no elaborate reasoning. If one starts with love for a child, a human universal, it is easy to see that in the modern world a child’s dignity, self-worth, and freedom to define their own destiny require an adequate education. An adequate education is what will then enable that child to lead a full adult life as a parent, community member, citizen, and worker in a 21st century economy. To enable every child to leave school with the foundational skills they need will require fundamental changes to education systems. Since 2015, the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Programme, with which we are affiliated, has been conducting research exploring how to make these changes through country research teams in seven countries (Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Vietnam) and crosscutting teams on the political economy of education reform. Drawing on the cumulative body of research on learning outcomes and systems of education in the developing world, both from the RISE Programme and other sources, we argue for five key actions to drive system transformation:

  • Commit to universal, early foundational learning.
  • Measure learning regularly, reliably, and relevantly.
  • Align systems around learning commitments.
  • Support teaching.
  • Adapt what you adopt as you implement.

A message cutting across all five actions is “focus to flourish”. Education systems have been tremendously successful at achieving specific educational goals, such as expanding schooling, because that is what they committed to, that is what they measured, that is what they were aligned for, and that is what they supported. In order to achieve system transformation for learning, systems must focus on learning and then act accordingly. Only after a system prioritises learning from among myriad competing educational goals can it dedicate the tremendous energies necessary to pursue our five actions and succeed at improving learning. The research points to these five acts as a means to chart a path out of the learning crisis and toward a future that offers foundational skills to all children.

The first section that follows provides background on the depth and nature of the learning crisis. The remainder of the document explains our five actions in turn, synthesising the research that informs each action, contrasting that action with the prevailing status quo, and describing what the action would entail in practice.

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Pritchett, L., Newman, K., and Silberstein, J. 2022. Focus to Flourish: Five Actions to Accelerate Progress in Learning. Research on Improving Systems of Education. https://doi.org/10.35489/BSG-RISE-Misc_2022/07