Recently, the OECD released the results for PISA 2015, an international assessment that measures the skills of 15-year-old students in applying their knowledge of science, reading, and mathematics to real-life problems. There is a sense of urgency to ensure that students have solid skills amidst modest economic growth and long-term demographic decline in Europe and Central Asia (ECA).
Over the past few decades, cheap and low-skilled labor has provided many countries — including much of East Asia — with a competitive advantage. However, with economies increasingly turning to automation, cheap labor and low skills will no longer guarantee economic growth or even jobs.
When it comes to evaluating education systems, we have available basic high-level indicators such as a country’s GDP allocated to education, national learning levels, enrollment and completion rates, and data on teachers. But “What is going wrong?” and “Where is it going wrong?” are more difficult questions to answer.
When I visited Peru for the first time last month for a business development trip, I met with the heads of some leading private education institutions. At the end of my visit, I decided to book a cultural tour of Lima. During the tour, I asked our guide Marcos where he learned English as I found him very articulate, knowledgeable and with a good sense of humor. To my pleasant surprise and astonishment, he told me that he learned it by himself, mainly online. He then started practicing with visiting tourists until he became more comfortable leading tours himself.
Quality and innovative education policies emerge usually from a combination of factors such as good teachers, quality school management, and parental engagement, among others. In Brazil, a country with tremendous diversity and regional inequalities, good examples have emerged even when they are least expected. Ceará, a state in the northeast region of Brazil — where more than 500,000 children are living in rural areas and where poverty rates are high — is showing encouraging signs of success from innovative initiatives in education. The figures speak for themselves. Today, more than 70 of the 100 best schools in Brazil are in Ceará.
International evidence shows that investing in high-quality early childhood programs can have large economic returns, especially for children from socially disadvantaged groups. In response, developing countries are looking to increase public investments in the early years, especially in early education programs. As they do so, one of the challenges policymakers face is deciding what to fund. After all, there are a wide range of opportunities for early childhood education that already exist in local settings such as playgroups and kindergartens. As a result, different children can often have very different early childhood education experiences on their way to primary school.
The inefficiency and inequity caused by age differences in testing is not news. On the contrary, it is a well-documented fact. The proposed solution to this problem is to age-adjust test scores. But the truth is, we are nowhere near to implementing such a solution.
We just got back from Nepal to see how results-based financing has, or hasn’t, changed the way their education system functions. Over lunch, we asked our counterparts at the Ministry of Education: “What’s been different since the introduction of results-based financing?” Their response: “Oh, we just pay more attention to the indicators.” While this may sound peripheral, it speaks to the power of RBF.
Every sector is reforming to meet the changing demands of the global economy. Except one. Education remains a predominantly public service. This is fine except that it means that this is also mainly publicly-provided, publicly-financed, and regulated. No public service agency is expected to do as much as we expect of education. How are education systems around the world faring?