I recently came across a report card from my secondary school days in Ireland. It was an interesting read. My progress in areas as diverse as mathematics, singing, Irish language, and physical education was reported on in the form of marks, grades, and narrative feedback. Some teachers provided little information on my learning. Others went into detail. I was impressed by the number of areas in which my progress had been assessed (less so by my lack of singing ability, which, evidently, had been spotted early on!).
Flash forward to 2013, and there is a conversation raging in the development community about how to measure and report on learning globally. A huge concern is the fact that too often children leave school without acquiring the basic knowledge and skills they need to lead productive lives. To make matters worse, there is a global data gap on learning that is impeding efforts to better understand this crisis and how to achieve learning for all.
Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, is gaining a lot of attention for the accessible way she demonstrates how high achieving countries got that way. While she provides useful insights into the usual suspects: Finland, Korea and Poland (a not so usual suspect), there are lessons waiting to be learned from other places, the least likely suspects, in other words, middle and lower income countries. While this analysis is useful, what policy makers in developing countries ask me is, “Why should we participate in international assessments?” They are concerned with being ranked at the bottom and having nothing to show for their efforts.
Wow. I’ve been fortunate to be involved in many impactful events during my years at the World Bank, but one of the most memorable will always be the conversation between 16 year-old girls’ education advocate Malala Yousafzai and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim during our Annual Meetings last Friday, in honor of the International Day of the Girl Child.
What comes first to your mind when you think about girls’ education? There may be a good chance that you remember a particular girl you met who could not go to primary school. Or perhaps you will visualize one of those great pictures of smiling and studious girls attending primary school in a developing country thanks to a particular project or intervention.
Both pictures are correct, but they account for only a small part of the story.
One year ago, Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year-old student from Swat Valley, Pakistan, was targeted by the Taliban and shot as she was returning from school on a bus. She miraculously survived and today continues her inspirational campaign for girls’ education worldwide through the Malala Fund.
Today, Transparency International releases The Global Corruption Report: Education, and its message is clear: When there is corruption in education, the poor and disadvantaged suffer most. Education is critical if we are to meet the goal of ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity by 2030. Corruption undermines the equally critical goal of ensuring that all children and youth go to school and learn.
While corruption hampers all development efforts, it is a debilitating presence in the education sector. In my contribution to the report, I highlight the damage from corruption in one of the most important aspects of education, teacher absenteeism.
In Pakistan, one-third of primary school age children are not in school, and girls fare worse than boys – 37% of girls of primary school age are not in school, compared with 27% of boys*. Children living in remote parts of the country often have even fewer opportunities to get an education.
In Sindh province, on Pakistan’s southeastern border, government officials and World Bank experts crafted an innovative education program twinning public subsidies with private entrepreneurs to bring schools to poor villages where none existed. The goal of the program, which is ongoing, is to help all children have the chance to get not only an education, but a good one.
The stimuli that children are exposed to from the beginning of life to age 5 have the greatest impact on development, and they define the health, personality and intellectual capacity of each child. This is why it is crucial to invest early and well in child development. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) are investing more and more in early child development, but what do we know about these initiatives?
Recently, the Indonesian Minister of Education and Culture announced the start of a program to extend the length of compulsory education from 9 to 12 years. Behind this announcement lies a desire to maximize the benefits of the country’s demographic dividend.
It has been seven months since I joined The World Bank as a Lead Education Specialist coordinating their work on tertiary education. During this short period, I have met with people from across the globe, read a variety of reports, and participated in technical review meetings and missions with government officials and institutional leaders. In summary, I have been learning as fast as I can, about how this fascinating but complex organization operates, and about its unique contribution (not exempt from controversy) to development in the world.
These past few months have taken me across the world, from Latin America, to the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia, and Europe, on a journey that has provided me the unique and privileged opportunity to reflect on the challenges and opportunities that tertiary education is facing in the world. It is precisely such reasoning that led us, at the World Bank to organize a year-long lecture and panel series entitled “Tertiary Education at a Crossroads” during which we hope to engage in collective reflection on issues and trends in tertiary education, and confront them with an ambitious agenda towards eliminating extreme poverty in the world, by enabling shared prosperity in a sustainable planet.