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).
Latin America & Caribbean
The stimuli that children are exposed to from the beginning of life to age 5 have the greatest impact on development, and they define the health, personality and intellectual capacity of each child. This is why it is crucial to invest early and well in child development. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) are investing more and more in early child development, but what do we know about these initiatives?
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.
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.
I recently spoke with Barbara Bruns, lead education economist to the LAC region, about an impact evaluation she is managing on teacher performance pay in Pernambuco, Brazil.
Across the world, teacher’s salaries are almost universally determined by educational background, training, or years of experience, rather than performance. Yet a growing body of research shows that these measures are poor proxies for a teacher’s actual effectiveness in the classroom. They show surprisingly little correlation with teachers’ ability to raise their students’ learning.
In the vast majority of education systems, there is a well-defined path to become a teacher. In most cases, this path begins early on in an individual’s career choices. At the time of graduation from high school or entrance into higher education, individuals enter initial teacher training programs. When the profession is attractive (based on not just salary but also working conditions and career opportunities), competition into these programs can be very intense, such as in Finland, Korea and Singapore. In these cases, systems can be selective in who they admit into teaching, and new teachers are among the brightest, best educated, hardest working, and most motivated workers in society.
But the profession is very attractive in only a few countries. In most other nations, the number of teacher applicants does not exceed the number of teacher positions by much, and when it does (as in India), selection processes to assign the teacher positions are seldom set up to choose the very best. As a result, in many countries around the world, the best and the brightest are entering professions other than teaching. This is troubling because a substantial body of research convincingly shows that teacher quality is the most important school-based predictor of student learning. Indeed, several consecutive years of outstanding teaching can even offset the learning gaps between advantaged (socio-economically, racially or ethnically, by gender) and disadvantaged students.
In an age of cynicism about politics, it is bittersweet this week to reflect on the life and legacy of Brazil’s former minister of education, Paulo Renato Souza. Paulo Renato died on June 25 of a massive stroke, at the far too young age of 65. It is a shock that all of us who knew and loved him will need a long time to overcome.
His imprint on Brazilian education cannot be exaggerated. As someone said this week: “The history of education in Brazil has two parts: before Paulo Renato and after Paulo Renato.” For those of us who knew Brazil before, Paulo Renato’s eight year tenure as Minister of Education under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso from 1994-2002 was an eye-opening introduction into the potential for a single individual at the right moment in history to create political room for maneuver where previously there was none. Topics that had been “on the table” only in World Bank reports – such as the deep inequalities in education finance in Brazil, or the complete lack of student learning assessment – suddenly were tackled with sweeping, full-frontal reforms.
The World Bank Group’s new Education Strategy 2020 champions learning for all and recognizes that global progress towards this goal will require the commitment of all actors – including governments, communities and private entities. The strategy acknowledges the vital role the private sector can play in helping expand and improve educational opportunity. Private sector participation in education is a growing part of education systems and has helped make significant educational advancements possible in many countries.
How can we leverage the valuable contributions of the private sector to help realize the goal of Learning for All?