Over the past decades, education investments in the developing world have led to unprecedented enrollment rates. Yet, even with these historic investments, children sit in classrooms every day without learning. More than a schooling crisis, we face a learning crisis. Despite progress in countries as diverse as Vietnam, Colombia and Peru, millions of children leave school without knowing how to read a paragraph or solve a simple two-digit subtraction.
En casi todo el mundo en desarrollo, la inversión en educación se ha traducido en un aumento acelerado de la cobertura educativa. Pero en la mayor parte de los casos, esta inversión no ha tenido todavía un impacto importante en los aprendizajes. Más que una crisis de escolaridad, hoy en día enfrentamos una crisis de aprendizajes. A pesar de las notorias mejoras en países como Vietnam, Colombia o Perú, millones de niños salen de la escuela cada día sin saber leer un párrafo o hacer una resta simple de dos dígitos.
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.
In his 2010 Annual Letter for his foundation, Bill Gates highlighted the need to focus on “helping teachers improve." While many continue to advocate for increased accountability and incentives for teachers, he mentions the need to provide teachers with more and better information on their performance. As he puts it:
“It is amazing how little feedback teachers get to help them improve, especially when you think about how much feedback their students get."
What Are We Doing?
Many of us who work on research and policy advice for developing countries are constantly reminding governments of the need to assess student performance, to improve mechanisms to reward effective teachers and remove those who are not so effective, and to provide information to parents and communities about school quality.