Sally McGregor was a newly trained physician when she moved to Jamaica in 1965 from England for what she called a one-year “adventure.” She ended up marrying and staying 35 years. It’s a good thing she did. The impact evaluation of a program she designed to improve the development of chronically malnourished toddlers in Jamaica is changing how the development world views – and tries to improve – the problems faced by disadvantaged children all over the world.
Vietnam’s education system is receiving a lot of international attention following the country’s strong performance in the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Vietnam’s 15 year-olds performed as well in mathematics, reading and science as their peers in much richer Germany and Austria, and better than the international average. In an earlier blog I reviewed possible explanations for this success.
New analysis of data for Vietnam from the World Bank’s Skills Toward Employment and Productivity (STEP) skills measurement surveys confirms the message from PISA.
Since the early 1960s (at the conference of Addis Ababa), and with the best intentions, the international community has been setting goals to solve educational problems in developing countries. Unfortunately, and for various reasons, these have not been met. Even the most recently agreed targets in the Millennium Development Goals, which should be achieved next year, will not be met. In fact, 54 countries will not have achieved universal primary education by the end of 2015.
Very soon, tens of millions of children around the world will start a new school year. It’s supposed to be the time for children to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in life. Are they getting that education in school? Not always. Nearly 25 percent of primary school-age children around the world can’t read, write or do basic mathematics. About one-quarter of these children have never had the chance to learn because they aren’t in school. Making sure that children learn – in other words, giving children the tools needed so they can reach their potential – is a global priority. Success requires understanding the most effective way to do this. That’s where evidence matters.
In the seven years between 2000 and 2007, the world undertook a massive push to increase enrollments for all children in primary school. This organized effort was successful in reducing the worldwide number of out-of-school children by 40%. Surely, for many, the hope (and even the expectation) at that time was for a fast-approaching elimination of this global dilemma.
So, what of our progress in the last seven years?
Did you have a favorite teacher at school? What made that teacher so special? Teachers are the single most important resource we have to ensure that children learn. But the reality is that many kids across the world don’t get a good quality education.
Today the U.K. government and UNICEF jointly hosted the first Girl Summit to mobilize efforts to end child, early, and forced marriage as well as female genital mutilation. According to a 2013 report by UNICEF, 30 million girls are at risk of suffering genital mutilation over the next decade. Recent reports by UNFPA and UNICEF suggest that more than one-third of girls are married before age 18.
The incidence of child marriage is dropping, but only slowly. In many countries, laws have been adopted to prevent marriage below 18 years of age, but they are often not well-enforced and more needs to be done. There is widespread consensus that child marriage violates the rights of girls, limits their school attainment, learning, and future earnings, and has negative impacts on their’ health and that of their children. Child marriage clearly contributes to poverty and limits economic growth. And yet the practice continues to be perceived mostly as a social issue, not an economic one.
In my view, if we are really interested in Learning For All, it is important to consider the role of the private sector in education. It is not private provision per se that we at the World Bank are interested in – the World Bank remains the world’s largest source of multilateral funds supporting public education in middle and low income countries around the world – but rather what we can learn from private education providers who are innovating and adding value. The World Bank's efforts in this space are organized around ways to explore and better understand private provision of various kinds in a deeper light.
Our schools are central to the mission of building knowledge societies. Yet, we don’t know enough about how teachers and schools are being influenced by the social forces around them. Organizing schools, creating systems of accountability, and focusing on results that matter for parents involve actions outside the school system.
Education reform is often thwarted by forces that affect policy design, finance and implementation. These political economy issues are often acknowledged, but rarely systematically addressed in research or policy dialogue.
The World Cup games being played in Brazil send a hopeful message that teams from Ghana, Nigeria, Ecuador and Honduras can qualify to play against much better funded teams from Europe and North America. Talent, hard work, ambition and years of building a team can make a winner of teams from poorer nations – at least, enough to feed the dreams of a boy in the favelas of Rio or the slums of Lagos.
The appearance of Vietnam last year in the PISA league tables with scores above the OECD average also sent a hopeful message that even those countries with less than half the average GDP per capita in the OECD countries can do well by its students. As with football or soccer, talent, hard work, ambition and effort at building a competent teacher force can improve student performance dramatically. If a country focuses on one education goal with the fervor that nations, teams and individuals devote to the World Cup, focusing their best talent and resources as needed, could it not achieve such an important goal by 2030?