That learning in many developing countries is in crisis has been well-established. The learning crisis was the focus of the World Bank’s World Development Report 2018, and UN global education goals highlight the need for improved learning. Yet, we are still learning much about the contours of the learning crisis, with important implications for how to address it.
A fundamental tension in the design of education systems is that, historically, they have served three very different roles. First, they have sought to impart knowledge and skills that improve employment and earnings prospects (the human capital role). Second, they have aimed to create shared norms of behaviour, values, and identity (the socialisation role). Third, they have aimed to assess and classify students by educational ability and achievement to select students for higher education and skill-intensive occupations (the sorting role).
Thanks to more than a decade of ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) findings, the main headlines from the surveys are widely known.1 Even those who are not education experts or researchers can tell you that after five years of schooling, only half of all children in India can read at Grade 2 level. And that the results for basic arithmetic are even more worrying.
Anyone who follows RISE closely (or just knows what the acronym stands for) will know that we are focused on “systems” of education. Our focus on systems might seem obvious to some, but to others it might be puzzling. The systems focus can sometimes feel abstract, even to those of us who work on the programme.
RISE Working Paper 18/026 - Indonesia Got Schooled: 15 Years of Rising Enrolment and Flat Learning Profiles
India is close to achieving universal enrolment for children of elementary school age. More and more children are coming to school and staying in school longer.
At what grade are children taught how to do division? Figure 1 below plots the fraction of children in India, Kenya, Pakistan, and Uganda who can divide a larger number by a one-digit number, with possible remainders (e.g., 659/4), at various grade levels. From this graph, you cannot really tell when division is taught.
“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.