A good quality basic education equips students with the foundational skills (reading, writing and numeracy) they need to function in today’s society and prepare them for lifelong learning. But in many parts of the world, schooling alone is not yielding the expected results, and countries are experimenting with innovative learning and teaching tools, including online platforms.
In Brazil, a Portuguese version of the Khan Academy’s free online education platform (see World Bank Group President Jim Kim’s post last week) is helping thousands of students master basic skills. This effort has been spearheaded by the Fundação Lemann (Lemann Foundation), an organization dedicated to improving the country's education quality.
¿Tuviste un maestro favorito en la escuela? ¿Qué hizo a ese maestro tan especial? Los docentes son el recurso más importante que tenemos que garantizar que los niños aprendan. Pero la realidad es que muchos niños en el mundo no reciben una educación de calidad.
Vous souvenez-vous d’avoir eu, élève, un(e) enseignant(e) préféré(e) ? Sauriez-vous dire pourquoi cette personne vous a marqué(e) plutôt qu’une autre ? Parmi toutes les ressources dont dispose l'élève pour avancer dans son apprentissage, l'enseignant est sans nul doute la plus déterminante. Or, on constate malheureusement que beaucoup d’élèves à travers le monde n’ont pas la chance d’accéder à une éducation de qualité.
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.
Recently, I was part of the Global Economic Symposium held in Rio de Janeiro. This year’s theme was Growth through Education and Innovation; I presented as part of a panel entitled Effective Investments in Education.
My presentation focussed on the fact that a growing and compelling body of research shows that teacher effectiveness varies widely - even across classrooms in the same grade in the same school. Getting assigned to a bad teacher has not only immediate, but also long term, consequences for student learning, college completion and long-term income.
I recently spoke with Barbara Bruns, lead education economist to the LAC region, about an impact evaluation she is managing on teacher performance pay in Pernambuco, Brazil.
Across the world, teacher’s salaries are almost universally determined by educational background, training, or years of experience, rather than performance. Yet a growing body of research shows that these measures are poor proxies for a teacher’s actual effectiveness in the classroom. They show surprisingly little correlation with teachers’ ability to raise their students’ learning.
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.
Last week, I traveled to New York City to attend the first International Summit on the Teaching Profession hosted by the US Department of Education, the OECD, and Education International, a global teachers union. Of the 16 countries represented, all were top-performers in the international PISA tests, or rapid improvers, such as Poland and Brazil. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the meeting to learn from what other countries are doing to improve teaching and learning, a sign that not only is this task complex and challenging, but that it is critical to countries at all levels of development.
So how do these top-performers and rapid-improvers manage their teaching forces to achieve high learning outcomes? The goal of the Summit was to have frank and open discussions about what works. Each country’s delegation included both government and teacher representatives, thus recognizing from the start the need for collaboration in the design and implementation of teacher policy reforms.
Against overwhelming odds, the efforts of countries and donors to pursue the Education for All (EFA) goals over the last decade have paid off. The number of out of school children has dropped by the tens of millions, enrollment rates have surged, first grade entry has jumped substantially, completion rates have shot up, gender disparities have diminished, and other types of equity have improved in many countries, including in very large countries like China, Brazil, Indonesia, and Ethiopia. Of course the six EFA goals and Millennium Development Goals 2 and 3 still remain to be achieved so we are anything but complacent. Nonetheless, we have seen substantial progress.
It is really important to recognize that in education we are talking about broad, system-wide outcomes – not just narrowly defined (albeit incredibly important) specific outcomes – for example in the health sector, improved outcomes on a few diseases. Scores of countries around the world have made great leaps forward on education results, despite poverty, despite the fact that many donors did not meet their funding targets, and despite the fact that EFA doesn't have a Bono, a Bill Gates, or an Angelina Jolie to promote its importance.