When it comes to measuring student learning outcomes, you often hear critics refrain “you can’t fatten a cow by weighing him all the time,” in an attempt to say that you cannot truly educate students by spending all the time getting ready for testing and recording test scores. Of course not. But as the management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.”
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?
In the award-winning documentary, Waiting for Superman, alternatives to the traditional public school system are explored and debated. Following this tradition, the civil society group Mexicanos Primero recently released the documentary ¡De Panzazo! (‘barely passing’), directed by journalist Carlos Loret de Mola and documentary filmmaker Juan Carlos Rulfo.
In a bid to provide quality education for all, several programs to increase accountability in schools have been piloted. So far the evidence is sparse. Recent evaluations suggest that even in rural settings, school autonomy and accountability can help improve learning outcomes. This is further supported by a series of evaluations of programs that attempt to alter the power balance between consumers (parents) and providers of schooling services. Recent studies show that autonomy and accountability can improve education outcomes.
At this week's United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meeting, the tenth such gathering of the world’s indigenous peoples, the UN launched a new initiative, the UN Indigenous Peoples’ Partnership, to promote the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples. The goal of the partnership is to strengthen the institutions and ability of indigenous peoples to fully participate in governance and policy processes at local and national levels.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted at the launch that “indigenous people suffered centuries of oppression, and continue to lose their lands, their languages and their resources at an alarming rate.” The UN highlights that indigenous children are less likely than other children to be in school and more likely to drop out of school. Indigenous girls are at even greater risk of being excluded from school. This resonates as well with the recent World Bank Global Monitoring Report, which devoted a chapter to the issue of indigenous and vulnerable peoples and the need to address their needs in order to reach the UN Millennium Development Goals.
In conjunction with the Ibero-American Summit this month, Pamela Cox, Vice President for Latin American and Caribbean, emphasizes the urgent need to focus on education quality in a recent op-ed that appeared in major news outlets across the region:
If education were simply a matter of attending classes, Latin America and the Caribbean would have already done its homework. Most regional countries have made enormous progress towards achieving universal access to basic education. There is also clear progress at the secondary and tertiary levels.
But more than access, the key goal of education is learning. Making sure that children and youngsters perform according to the requirements of the day is a necessary condition for the advancement of society. In that respect, the region still has some unfinished business.
Alternatives to the traditional public school system are actively being sought and radical approaches for expanding school accountability are being widely touted. For example, in the award-winning documentary, Waiting for Superman.
While radical approaches are needed – given the desperate state of most public education systems; just see the poor results of most middle income countries in international assessments such as PISA and TIMSS – there are more mundane approaches, already in practice, that could be made to offer so much more. Giving public schools adequate resources, the right to make appropriate decisions, and holding them accountable through the publication of school results – in short, school autonomy – has been used in countries around the world since the mid-1960s. The school autonomy approach – be it known as school-based management, whole school development, comprehensive school reform, or parental and community participation – has been tried, evaluated, and proven successful at achieving a range of education goals in many different contexts.
The month of February played host to the OECD – Inter-American Development Bank– World Bank’s international knowledge sharing on '1-to-1 computing' in Austria. This was the first event of its kind looking specifically at the idea that, if technology is to fundamentally help transform educational practices, this can only be done where each student has her/his own personal computing device.
1-to-1 computing is not only happening in OECD countries: every student in Uruguay has her/his own laptop. Peru and Rwanda have made massive commitments to purchase laptops for students, and pilots are underway in many additional developing countries.These interventions are based on the belief that by enabling every pupil to connect to the Internet, and to each other, to access valuable resources irrespective of place and time, countries can help to bridge the digital divide while at the same time transforming education and increasing learning through the use of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs).
Given the context of this event, I thought I would provide a timely survey of the existing research on their use in education. I also advise you to check out Michael Trucano’s one year old blog, Edutech which provides incisive analysis on a wide array of ICTs in Education topics.