The purpose of any education system is to equip learners with the ability to live a fulfilling and productive life. Currently, East Asia is home to seven of the top ten education systems in the world. Despite impressive achievements, these above-average performing systems are not resting on their accomplishments—they continue to deepen the quality of education, tying learning to new and emerging needs. Central to the region’s curriculum reform is a focus on teaching and measuring 21st century skills.
In many ways, girls’ education is a success story in global development. Relatively simple changes in national policies – like making primary schooling free and compulsory – have led to dramatic increases in school enrollment around the world. In Uganda, for example, enrollment increased by over 60 percent following the elimination of primary school fees.
As more young people have enrolled in school, gaps in educational attainment between boys and girls have closed. According to UNESCO, by 2014, “gender parity (meaning an equal amount of men and women) was achieved globally, on average, in primary, lower secondary, and upper secondary education.”
Yet, more than 250 million children are not in school. Many more drop out before completing primary school. And many young people who attend school do not gain basic literacy skills. These challenges remain particularly acute for poor girls.
In a new paper, published in Population and Development Review, we explore recent progress in girls’ education in 43 low- and middle-income countries. To do so, we use Demographic and Health Survey data collected at two time points, the first between 1997 and 2007 (time 1), and the second between 2008 and 2016 (time 2).
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.
Ed's note: This guest blog is by Heather Biggar Tomlinson (Executive Director, Roshan Learning Center) and Syifa Andina (Chairperson, Foundation for Mother and Child Health)
There is a dynamic and growing energy in Indonesia focusing on parenting education, particularly for low-income families. However, little is known about parenting styles and related outcomes, much less the coverage and effectiveness of various parenting education approaches.
Recent studies in neuroscience and economics show that early childhood experiences have a profound impact on brain development and thus on outcomes throughout life. A growing number of impact evaluations from low- and middle-income countries underscore the importance of preschool for children’s development (to highlight a few: Cambodia, Mozambique, and Indonesia).
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Since the UN’s High Level Panel announced its vision for the post-2015 development agenda in May, much debate has centered on the absence of a goal for inequality among the panel’s list of 15 proposed goals. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, commenting on the goals in Jakarta last June, stressed that the principle of “no one left behind” was central to the panel’s vision, and that each of the U.N.’s goals focused on tackling inequality. The proposed education goals, in fact, include a commitment to ‘ensure every child, regardless of circumstance, completes primary education able to read, write and count well enough to meet minimum learning standards’.
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.
Bali was the scene for an exciting international event this week, as the World Bank launched the first phase of its flagship Systems Assessment and Benchmarking for Education Results (SABER) initiative in East Asia and the Pacific. Joined by education policymakers from 14 East Asian economies, we presented the first ever region-wide diagnosis of policies in place in East Asian countries and an assessment of how to improve their education systems.
The four-day conference took stock of progress in student achievement levels in the region and beyond, documenting the policies in place in several education policy domains including – information systems, assessment, teacher policies, autonomy and accountability, information and communication technology (ICTs), vocational tracking and tertiary education systems – and compared East Asian education systems. Indonesia’s Minister of Education, Mohammad Nuh, opened the ministerial forum and was joined by education experts from the World Bank, UNESCO, the OECD, the Asian Development Bank, and AusAID, as well as experts from Australia, China, Colombia (represented by former Education Minister Cecilia Maria Velez, pictured above), Japan, Korea and Poland, all of whom shared lessons of successful education reform from their own country experience.
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.