Despite tremendous progress in getting children into the classroom, we are experiencing a global learning crisis, where a large share of children complete primary school lacking even basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills. What explains this phenomenon? To answer this question, consider the following examples of classrooms that are unlikely to put students on a path to success.
One of us – Diana – grew up in Paraguay and never encountered a standardized test in all the years that she went to school. Nor does she know any fellow Paraguayans of her generation who have taken one. Her parents relocated often, so she attended many different schools and, consequently, she experienced a wide range in the quality of schools and teachers. While many of the schools repeatedly failed to achieve the ambitious goals of the national curriculum, some were able to better nurture students. The quality of teaching and the way in which schools are run determine what students learn. Unfortunately, the marked quality differences are generally not evident to students, families, or even teachers, school directors or supervisors because it is difficult to compare learning outcomes in a consistent manner.
Just three weeks after becoming Minister of Education in Peru, my team and I received the results from the 2012 round of PISA. Peru was ranked last. Not next to last, not bottom 10%. It was last.
Education, which never made headlines in the country, was on the front pages. For some people in the media, the fact that PISA was only administered to a subset of rich and middle-income countries around the world was not important, that was just a footnote. For them, Peruvian students were the worst in the world.
Countries in Africa are facing a conundrum according to a recent World Bank flagship report, “Facing Forward: Schooling for Learning in Africa.” Over the past 10 to 25 years, many have made tremendous progress in getting children into classrooms. Yet, while total enrollment has increased, in many of these same countries primary school completion rates have not.