“Do kids in developing countries need less reading and math skills than OECD Kids?” This question did not appear on the agenda at a three-day workshop recently organized by USAID. It was not even articulated. But the entire event—rather opaquely titled: “Linking Assessments to a Global Standard with Social Moderation”—was predicated on the assumption that some new global standards were needed because the definitions of basic reading and math skills used by the OECD are too unattainable for many/most developing countries. If that sounds horribly retrograde and paternalistic, it is.
Source: Luis Crouch, using data from EGRA learning assessments and other publications, and taking a stylized average across sets of countries.
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.
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. No other low-income country performs at the same level or better than developed countries on an international assessment.
What does it mean for a country to “pivot to learning”? What specific education policies change? How hard is it to implement these – both technically and politically? And above all, how long does it take for student learning actually to improve?
A key part of the RISE agenda is to focus on getting to systems of basic education that are coherent around learning. All of the RISE country program research is focused on the system changes, not the evaluation of “pilots” or “field experiments” (one education minister recently complained, “All pilots fly, but at the end of the day we just have pilots and papers.”).
The Indian NGO Pratham pioneered the use of simple, face-to-face, out-of-school assessments of basic learning at a massive scale—their typical annual report covers more than 500,000 children. The ASER reports have tracked the levels and trends in learning (tragically, there has actually been learning retrogression) of children aged 5 to 14 in rural India since 2004.
The RISE Programme sees equity in education as fundamental. Key stakeholders in the international education community are re-focusing on learning and the equality (or inequality) of its distribution. The Sustainable Development Goals, more so than the Millennium Development Goals, put explicit emphasis on equity. The UK’s Department for International Development, the main sponsor of RISE, has also had a long-term interest in equity.