A couple of months ago, I visited Chandra Shekhar Azad College in Sehore, about an hour’s drive from Bhopal, the capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh, India. It was a short visit, but long enough to see that college students the world over have similar dreams and see higher education as a way to realize them.
In South Asia, a region where girls are now going to school in unprecedented numbers, Malala means many things to many people. To parents who send their daughters to school with difficulty, she validates a growing belief in power of girls’ education to liberate families from poverty. To schoolgirls in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Nepal, she is an icon of victory and hope. And to governments and development partners, she represents the millions of girls who arrive in school every morning trusting that education will prepare them well for life, and also those so poor or disadvantaged that they do not enroll even at the primary level.
By educating girls, we reduce poverty, improve maternal and child health, prevent HIV and AIDS, and raise living standards for everyone. Despite the overwhelming evidence of the benefits of girls’ education, however, 37 million school-age girls around the world are not in class.
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 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.
Today in New York, the U.N. Secretary General announces the launch of his Education First initiative to raise the political profile of education, strengthen the global movement to achieve quality education and generate additional funding through sustained advocacy efforts.
It’s an exciting step on the road to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and reconfirms the world’s commitment to education as a basic human right and fundamental building block for development.
My last two blogs, Lessons on School-Based Management from a Randomized Experiment and Empowering Parents to Improve Schooling: Powerful Evidence from Rural Mexico, have focused on empowering parents to help increase accountability in schools. However, too often, decentralization programs are designed without adequately conveying the messages about their purpose to the intended audiences; or, it is done in such a way that the program is rendered useless.
At the High-Level Forum on aid effectiveness (known as HLF4) a few weeks ago in Busan, South Korea, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel on education and aid. Unlike the HLF4 plenaries, our session didn’t involve Hillary Clinton or Tony Blair or Ban Ki-Moon, nor did we help to hammer out the Busan outcome documents. But what we saw in our panel on aid for education, and in the one-day pre-conference that informed it, was very encouraging: it showed how Korea’s lessons about student learning are influencing international education policy.
The event had been given the title “Dream with Education!” by our hosts in the Korean government. The exclamation point may seem over-exuberant, but in the Korean context, it’s not. Korea’s universal high-quality basic education and high rates of participation in higher education have helped it achieve development that would have exceeded any dreams fifty years ago, when rapid growth started. Between 1960 and 2001, Korea’s economy grew at an average of more than 7% per year. Equally important, Korea has achieved rapid progress in many other areas of life, from technological to social to political. While the country’s success has brought new challenges, as a recent Economist article pointed out, its ascent to this point has been remarkable.
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.
Earlier this month in Doha at the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, well known simply as BRAC, was chosen as the first winner of the WISE Prize for Education.