The hall was full all the way to the back and up to the balcony. The audience was lively, contributing loud asides in their seats, applauding often, cracking inside jokes, and even occasionally arguing directly with those on stage. You’d think I was at a political rally, but it was the 20th Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja last month; the theme of the three-day summit was ”transforming education through partnerships for global competitiveness.”
Are we effective in presenting education data to help tackle the real issues that developing countries are facing? The education community continues to be puzzled by two realities: (1) crucial data is often not available and (2) available data is often hard to digest.
In education, perhaps even more than in other social sectors, not every parent is looking for the same standardized service. All parents want their children to learn and benefit from a great education.
But for some parents, other dimensions matter as well. In many developing countries faith and values are important for families and local communities. It is therefore not surprising that the number of faith-inspired schools appears to be growing, with various types of schools within a tradition providing different services (for example, madrasas usually focus on religious education while Franco-Arab schools also teach secular topics).
Education has the power to transform lives and improve the development prospects of countries. There is no doubt that the best way to ensure more opportunity and less poverty is to educate children with the right skills for both workplaces as well as community life.
With contributions from:
-Haja N. Razafinjatovo, Former Minister of Finance and of Education,Madagascar
-Mamadou Ndoye, Former Minister of Education, Senegal
-Dzingai Mutumbuka, Former Minister of Education, Zimbabwe
-Birger Fredriksen, Former Sector Director for Human Development, World Bank, Africa Region
Several former African Ministers of Education attended Workforce Development: What Matters? at the World Bank. The event is part of the System Approach for Better Education Results, Workforce Development initiative (SABER WfD). Below are key takeaway messages from these former ministers regarding the initiative and the challenges of workforce development, particularly in Africa.
WfD is a recognized global challenge. Countries at all levels of development are struggling to address the dual challenge of producing the skills required to achieve sustained economic growth in a rapidly changing global economy, and generating employment both for young people joining the labor force and for workers in declining industries.
In my last blog I wrote about how empowering parents helps increase accountability in schools in rural Mexico. Although I said evidence was sparse, it is accumulating. In Africa, a number of rigorous impact evaluations are underway and starting to report findings.
I travel to many developing countries in the context of my work for The World Bank. I visit schools that receive financial support and technical assistance from the Bank to improve the learning experiences and outcomes of students. Each time, I ask teachers in these schools what they think would make the biggest difference in the learning outcomes of their students. The most common answer is “better parents.” I often wonder if this response is, in some conscious or unconscious way, an excuse to help teachers explain the poor outcomes of their students (especially those from the poorest households) and their low expectations of what their students can achieve. However, both common sense and solid research indicate that parents matter.
In the complex world of education policy, some experts comment that school-based deworming may be the closest we have come to finding a "magic bullet." In regions of the world with high worm burdens, such as Africa and South Asia, deworming children for mere pennies a year results in an incredible range of educational and social benefits, from higher school attendance rates to healthier children who are better able to learn in the classroom.
Globally, more than 1 in 4 people are infected by intestinal worms. In Sub-Saharan Africa high infection rates prevail, particularly among school children. Worms can cause anemia, stunting, lethargy and other problems that derail children's development. The positive impact of deworming on both health and educational outcomes is routinely cited as an example of aid effectiveness, including by Nicholas Kristof in the recent column “Getting Smart on Aid,” in the New York Times. Schools are also the best delivery mechanism for reaching children with safe, mass treatments.
While deworming has proven to be one of the most cost-effective interventions to get children into school, promising new research suggests that deworming children can also result in many long-term benefits, including higher wages, healthier individuals and stronger communities. The World Bank hosted a special panel on Rethinking Deworming this month, featuring guest speaker Michael Kremer, co-Founder of Deworm the World and Gates Professor of Economics at Harvard, who presented the new research findings of a study in Kenya.
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.