Every sector is reforming to meet the changing demands of the global economy. Except one. Education remains a predominantly public service. This is fine except that it means that this is also mainly publicly-provided, publicly-financed, and regulated. No public service agency is expected to do as much as we expect of education. How are education systems around the world faring?
Child marriage. It’s a phrase that was barely uttered or understood in the global development community even just 10 years ago. Yet over this past decade, some 140 million girls, most living in the developing world, have married before the age of 18, forcing them to drop out of school and become pregnant before their bodies and minds are ready. Child marriage may also lead to increased intimate partner violence, restricted mobility, limited access to families or friends, and limited ability to engage in their community’s and country’s development.
I just returned from Paris where I had the pleasure of participating in a defining moment for the global education community: the adoption of the Education 2030 Framework for Action.
This Framework will guide countries through the implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goal 4 (adopted at the United Nations in September), which says that all girls and boys should complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education by 2030.
Many schools lack basic facilities in Pakistan’s rural Sindh province. Students cram half-a-dozen to a bench, or sit on the floor. There’s no electricity or running water. Teachers often don’t show up. Children can’t always afford books, pencils and notebooks. The Government of Sindh has tried to help by revitalizing a program that gives annual grants to school management committees to use to improve education.
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.
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.
When my wife and I were looking for where to live in Washington DC, an important part of the decision was the quality of the local public school that our children would (eventually) attend. But how to judge quality? Talking to lots of people was the first step. Taking schools tours was another. But researching test scores was a key factor. We wanted a school with a good learning environment, a sense that parents had a positive feeling about the place—but also wanted to know that the school had a track record of good learning outcomes. Thankfully, the performance of public schools in Washington DC is accessible online and can be compared across schools. This information was an important input into our decision. And it remains an important way in which we monitor school performance. We pay close attention to our own children’s academic development, talk to their teachers regularly, and try to be attentive to the many subtle indicators of the quality of education that they are receiving. But the annually released test scores provide an externally validated stock-taking of one aspect of that quality.
We usually think of schooling as a positive learning experience. However, sometimes this is not always the case. As recent news reports in the Hindu and on NDTV from India remind us, unfortunately for some children in low-income countries, schooling can be a nasty, brutal and short experience. They may suffer physical abuse, humiliation and be forced to endure the worst possible learning environments, while returning for the same punishment day after day after day.