When I joined the Mexican ministry of education in 2008, one of the first challenges I had was to identify effective policies to reduce dropout rates in upper secondary (grades 10, 11 and 12). Eight years, two randomized control trials, numerous workshops, and several diagnostics later, I still don’t have a precise answer.
With Ciro Avitabile
If I could plot the number of bad decisions I’ve made throughout my life against my age there would certainly be a large hump between 15 and 18. Among the many bad decisions I made during adolescence—and believe me there were many- leaving school never even crossed my mind. To stay in high school, I not only had to be present but needed to put in a minimum effort not to fail more than a certain number of subjects which would jeopardize my right to enroll the following year.
Con la colaboración de Ciro Avitabile
Si pudiera graficar la cantidad de decisiones desacertadas que he tomado durante mi vida en función de la edad que tenía al momento de tomarlas, no cabe duda de que observaría una gran concentración de malas decisiones entre los 15 y los 18 años. Entre las numerosas decisiones desacertadas que tomé en la adolescencia —y, créanme, fueron muchas— jamás me pasó por la mente abandonar mis estudios. Para poder seguir en el bachillerato, no solo tenía que asistir a clases, sino que debía poner un esfuerzo mínimo para no reprobar más de una cierta cantidad de materias y arriesgar mi derecho a matricularme el año siguiente.
This week I was invited to speak at The Economist’s Higher Education Forum in New York to share my thoughts on how higher education can be expanded. I believe that we need a fair and sustainable cost-recovery model at the university level using future earnings to finance current education.
Over the past two decades, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of university students and graduates worldwide, which should have led to decrease in the rate of return to investment to higher education – if supply outpaced demand, of course. While there has been some decrease in overall rates of return, investment in education is still a highly profitable investment. Global demand for high levels skills such as working with new information and problem-solving has kept the returns to schooling high in even the poorest countries of the world. In fact, the returns to higher education are higher in lower-income countries – except in the Middle East and North Africa due to rigid labor market regulations.
In high-income countries, learning outcomes have improved as a result of an intervention that increases transparency and accountability through the use of test scores. In a previous blog, I mentioned examples of ‘high-stakes testing’ accountability systems, such as No Child Left Behind. A high-stakes test has important consequences for the test taker, school, or school authorities. It carried important benefits if the test is passed, such as a diploma, extra resources to the school, or a positive citation. Some of these interventions also follow the “naming and shaming” of school leaders, which is done in England.
There is also evidence that suggests that even just providing information on test scores will lead to improvement. This is the case in school choice systems such as in the Netherlands.
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.