Over the past decades, education investments in the developing world have led to unprecedented enrollment rates. Yet, even with these historic investments, children sit in classrooms every day without learning. More than a schooling crisis, we face a learning crisis. Despite progress in countries as diverse as Vietnam, Colombia and Peru, millions of children leave school without knowing how to read a paragraph or solve a simple two-digit subtraction.
Kenyan schools are not doing well. About a 120 of them were set alight in arson attacks last year alone which were largely blamed on fears arising from a government crackdown on cheating in national exams. Amid national schooling reforms, many pupils and parents continue to be unhappy about the changes. Where do the teachers figure within this period of heavy reform?
Both the best and worst performers in East Africa are in Kenya
Although school enrolment has gone up steadily, over a million children are still out of school. In terms of learning outcomes, Kenya performs relatively better than its neighbours, but results from internationally recognised competency test, Uwezo, shows that learning levels are poor, and have stagnated over time. For instance, in the 2014 Uwezo assessment, 39% of children aged 7-13 years passed a test that required them to demonstrate competence of Standard 2 level numeracy and literacy. This was not significantly different from the performance in previous years: 40% in 2011, 37% in 2012 and 41% in 2013. Looking at student learning levels, both the best and worst performing districts in East Africa are in Kenya. The extremities in quality within Kenyan education are huge. For instance, according to the same Uwezo data, “a child in the Central region is over seven times more likely to have attained a Standard 2 level of literacy and numeracy than a child in the North Eastern region”.
Fixing the education system in Kenya is an onerous task. The Government of Kenya has time and time again, reiterated its commitment to improving the state of education, and has outlined its vision in the National Education Sector Plan 2013- 2018. Alongside, a host of national and international development agencies in Kenya have over the years, financed numerous programmes, targeting various components of the education sector. These efforts have yielded a wealth of evidence. One should consider such evidence, while attempting to answer the question – how can we improve the quality of schooling in Kenya?
How does political context shape education reforms and their success? Lessons from the Development Progress project
Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 – ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ – is one of the most important and challenging tasks in international development. In order to fulfil it, we require a better understanding of why progress and the impact of interventions varies so widely by context. One striking gap in our knowledge here is a lack of analysis as to how education systems interact with political contexts that they operate in. This report addresses this gap by drawing on evidence from eight education-focused country case studies conducted by ODI’s Development Progress project and applying political settlements analysis to explore how political context can shape opportunities and barriers for achieving progress in education access and learning outcomes.
Combining satellite imagery and machine learning to predict poverty
Reliable data on economic livelihoods remain scarce in the developing world, hampering efforts to study these outcomes and to design policies that improve them. Here we demonstrate an accurate, inexpensive, and scalable method for estimating consumption expenditure and asset wealth from high-resolution satellite imagery. Using survey and satellite data from five African countries—Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, and Rwanda—we show how a convolutional neural network can be trained to identify image features that can explain up to 75% of the variation in local-level economic outcomes. Our method, which requires only publicly available data, could transform efforts to track and target poverty in developing countries. It also demonstrates how powerful machine learning techniques can be applied in a setting with limited training data, suggesting broad potential application across many scientific domains. Data imagery of the report is available on the project website.
Most parents in Africa will tell you that their children’s education is the most important investment they can make. Over the past decade, great progress has been made in terms of getting children into school, with countries such as Benin, Cameroon, Rwanda and Zambia recording primary net enrollment of over 90 percent. But across the continent, primary school completion and youth literacy rates remain unacceptably low.
In an age of cynicism about politics, it is bittersweet this week to reflect on the life and legacy of Brazil’s former minister of education, Paulo Renato Souza. Paulo Renato died on June 25 of a massive stroke, at the far too young age of 65. It is a shock that all of us who knew and loved him will need a long time to overcome.
His imprint on Brazilian education cannot be exaggerated. As someone said this week: “The history of education in Brazil has two parts: before Paulo Renato and after Paulo Renato.” For those of us who knew Brazil before, Paulo Renato’s eight year tenure as Minister of Education under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso from 1994-2002 was an eye-opening introduction into the potential for a single individual at the right moment in history to create political room for maneuver where previously there was none. Topics that had been “on the table” only in World Bank reports – such as the deep inequalities in education finance in Brazil, or the complete lack of student learning assessment – suddenly were tackled with sweeping, full-frontal reforms.
In his 2010 Annual Letter for his foundation, Bill Gates highlighted the need to focus on “helping teachers improve." While many continue to advocate for increased accountability and incentives for teachers, he mentions the need to provide teachers with more and better information on their performance. As he puts it:
“It is amazing how little feedback teachers get to help them improve, especially when you think about how much feedback their students get."
What Are We Doing?
Many of us who work on research and policy advice for developing countries are constantly reminding governments of the need to assess student performance, to improve mechanisms to reward effective teachers and remove those who are not so effective, and to provide information to parents and communities about school quality.