When it comes to evaluating education systems, we have available basic high-level indicators such as a country’s GDP allocated to education, national learning levels, enrollment and completion rates, and data on teachers. But “What is going wrong?” and “Where is it going wrong?” are more difficult questions to answer.
Every year, the World Bank generates a wealth of useful information about education systems across the globe, from project-driven appraisal documents and results stories to country-specific data and news to impact evaluations and everything in between. Through the Smarter Education Systems tool, this information, which can often be overwhelming to navigate and curate, is becoming more easily accessible, digestible, and searchable. The Smarter Education Systems tool demonstrates how the World Bank helps countries ensure "Learning for All" through support to countries on both the financing (loans, grants, and more) and knowledge (research, publications, and more) fronts.
Less well understood, however, is how countries can deliver high-quality early learning services equitably and at scale. How do countries get from a small-scale, well monitored pilot—which is where a lot of our evidence comes from—to a national program, without diluting quality too much or leaving behind the most disadvantaged children? How can countries build a motivated, well-trained workforce that understands and can serve the distinctive developmental needs of children before the primary years? What are effective models to work with private providers?
The Early Learning Partnership (ELP) is embarking on a new research program to generate some answers to these questions. ELP is a multi-donor trust fund at the World Bank which provides analytic and operational support to World Bank teams and client countries who want to invest in early childhood. With support from the UK Department for International Development, we are launching the ELP Systems Research Program, with an initial focus on Ethiopia, Liberia, the Punjab province in Pakistan, and Tanzania.
The world is still recovering from the financial and food crises of 2008. A key response, especially in developing countries, was to scale up school feeding programs.
Citizen-led assessments (CLAs) emerged in India in 2005 as a way to raise awareness and advocacy around low learning levels, and to act as a force for bottom-up accountability and action that would improve education quality and learning. Thousands of volunteers traveled to rural districts and administered simple reading and math tests to the children in households they visited. The dismal results, published in the 2005 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), helped stimulate debate and prioritize learning in national policy.
Imagine a situation where: there are low graduation rates; violence spills into the schools; where most students are poorly educated; where there is growing inequality; students are passed from grade to grade even if they don’t learn; and there are unemployed graduates – yet skilled jobs go unfilled. Imagine a school system ruled by a government-run monopoly dominated by vested and political interests. There is no accountability – nobody is held responsible for results. There is little information or data available with which to manage the system.
Does this sound like a developing country you know? But no, this isn’t a description of fragile state, or a low-income country. It’s not a caricature of a developing country run by a corrupt leader, on the brink of social and economic decline.
It’s New York City in the early 2000s.
In recent years, a broad consensus has emerged on the fact that investing in young children is one of the best investments countries can make. And yet while investments in early childhood development (ECD) should be a priority, many countries fall short. Tomorrow, the World Bank will release two new publications to serve as resources for those aiming to invest in ECD, whether they are government agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), or private firms.
“The child who has gone to a preschool can study in primary school with more ease than a child who joins a primary school directly.” Unfortunately, “preschool fees range from 50,000 to 150,000 Shillings (US$ 20-60) per term of three months. Most parents cannot afford this, so many of them wait until their children are of age to start primary school.”
These quotes from Ugandan villages illustrate how parents value investments in young children, but often cannot afford them. The same is true for healthcare and nutrition. Early years are essential for children’s development. The reality is that investments in early childhood development (ECD) remain low in most countries, in part because of the complexity of the field. ECD policies and programs are managed by multiple public and private service providers, regulatory agencies, and ministries. It is of course not necessary for everyone to be experts on all matters related to ECD, but more awareness of the comprehensive nature of these investments would help in improving ECD programs and marshalling more resources towards them.
Guyana is on the U.N. list of Small Island Developing States, but don’t be fooled: It is not an island, nor is it particularly small. Its Amerindian name means “Land of Many Waters,” a more accurate description, and a source of some of the challenges the country faces in providing quality education to children living in the most remote areas.
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.