Africa’s Learning Crisis


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Hardly a week goes by without someone pointing out that, despite being enrolled in school, many of Africa’s primary school-age children don’t seem to be learning very much. 

Today’s salvo is from the Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education, whose Africa Learning Barometer estimates that 61 million children (half of the primary school-age population) “will reach their adolescent years without being able to read, write or perform basic numeracy tasks.”  

Last week, my colleagues Elizabeth King and Ritva Reinikka called on Africa’s education system to “put learning first for all students.”  We have documented disappointing learning outcomes in Tanzania on this blog.  Despite being a middle-income country and having substantially increased public spending on education, South Africa’s performance in standardized tests is below the average for African countries.


What’s going on here?  Numerous studies document the proximate causes:  teacher absenteeism (18 percent in Senegal, 23 percent in Tanzania, 27 percent in Uganda); neglect (when present, teachers are in class teaching about a quarter of the time); ignorance (only 11 percent of teachers in Tanzania had a working knowledge of language). 


However, the underlying cause may be politics, and the international community may have to share part of the blame. 


The fact is that public sector teachers (and where they exist, teachers unions) welcome campaigns for universal primary enrolment.  They imply more jobs for teachers, and enrolment is relatively easy to achieve.  But when there is a campaign to improve learning outcomes, there is often a protest—from the same teachers unions.  Merilee Grindle has documented these protests most vividly in Latin America.  The reasons are two-fold.  First, learning outcomes are much harder to achieve.  Secondly, if the campaign calls for learning outcomes regardless of where the children are enrolled, there may be a shift towards private schools—and fewer public-school teaching jobs.  


As usual, the international community continues to call for both quantity and quality in education.  And in order to learn, a child must be enrolled in school. But as long as enrolment and learning outcomes are in the campaign, the focus will be on the former—because it is easier and politically popular.  


Unless countries commit exclusively to a universal learning goal—every child will know how to read, write and perform simple arithmetic by age 12, say—Africa’s learning crisis may never get resolved.


Shanta Devarajan

Teaching Professor of the Practice Chair, International Development Concentration, Georgetown University

September 20, 2012

Jose: Thanks for your comment. When I said the international community bears part of the responsibility, I was referring to the Millennium Development Goals, which was about enrolment (and completion), not about learning outcomes. By focusing on enrolment and primary completion, these goals may have taken attention away from efforts to improve learning outcomes, for the reasons mentioned in the blog.

Abeer rashdan
September 17, 2012

In Egypt we have the same problems for many complex fators;
1- very low teachers' wages.
2- very high student devsity in class up to 70 student per class in puplic schools.
3- low return to education .
4- the spread of private lessons at homes.
5- No effictive supervision on schools.
6- No assessment for the quality of the outcomes.
7- Both the teacher and the student feel it's worth the effort to learn.

Finally ;when both the teacher and student feel dignity and human , i think thier vision and attitude will change dramatically

September 20, 2012

Steven: Thanks for your frank comment. While I respect your right to interpret my blog post the way you did, let me clarify a few points. First, I was not "blaming" teachers. On the contrary, as we also showed in the 2004 WDR, public school teachers are stuck in a system of weak or distorted incentives that is reflected in absenteeism, among other things. The challenge is to break out of the system, so that teachers are incentivized to teach and politicians cannot interfere with poor people's education. Incidentally, moving from this low-level equilibrium to a higher one is not easy. We are clearly not advocating "simplistic solutions."

Secondly, the cause of teacher absenteeism does not seem to be just "lower teacher salaries" but the way teachers are paid (which is independent of whether they are present or not). In rural areas in many poor countries, there are low-cost private schools that pay teachers even less than the public schools do, but teacher absentee rates are lower. The experience with contract teachers (who also get paid less but whose contract depends on performance) also indicates that it is not the level of teachers' salaries but the nature of the contract that matters.

Third, the low level of teachers' knowledge of language in Tanzania (and elsewhere) is a sign that some of these teaching jobs are given as political favors to people who lack the qualifications. I doubt it is a function of cuts in teacher training programs--there is very little evidence that teacher training programs improve student learning outcomes. [The reason is that teachers have little incentive to learn from these programs, since their salaries are independent of their performance).

Finally, I would like to turn your comment about World Bank salaries and performance into a question that a colleague once asked me when I was presenting the work on teacher absenteeism: "Everything you say about salaries' being independent of whether people show up for work is also true for World Bank staff. Why don't we see more absenteeim here?" I think the answer has to do with both income and norms. Of course, Bank staff are paid enough that they don't have to seek second jobs. But it's also the case that shirking is frowned upon by your peers, let alone your managers. In the case of public school teachers in low-income settings, perhaps because the salaries are low, absenteeism is not considered a deviation from the norm. Since everybody else does it, I do it. The big question is: How can we move from the low-level equilibrium where absenteeism is the norm, to one where it is the exception? I think you will agree that just raising teachers' salaries is not enough. What else can be done? These are difficult questions, and I hope we can pool our efforts at solutions.



September 17, 2012

Abeer, thanks for your comment and the information about Egypt. The one point I would make is that it's not necessarily the level of teachers' wages that is important, but how they are paid. If teachers are paid their salary whether or not they show up for work, it's easier for them to be absent. If on the other hand, they won't get paid if they fail to show up, the incentive to be absent is very different. In many countries, there are low-cost private schools, even in rural areas, where teachers get paid less than in public schools, but absenteeism is less.

Sally Murray
April 28, 2013

I would really like to see a study into how these private teachers do manage to get by on the lower wages. I'd also like to see better investigation of whether there are countries where teachers' salaries really might be a barrier: lots of countries with particularly low teachers wages (e.g. Malawi) just haven't been studied to test the generalisability of this claim, it seems, and I worry about a blanket assumption being made that teachers' wages are just fine and give no cause for absence.

Steven Klees
September 20, 2012

In an insulting, biased, and ignorant blog, Shanta Devarajan, World Bank Chief Economist for Africa, blames teachers for Africa's educational problems. He points to teacher "absenteeism, neglect, and ignorance" as the culprits of low levels of student learning. Moreover, Mr. Devarajan argues that teachers, in the form of unions, actively campaign against reforms that would boost student learning. Why? Because, he says, the reforms would cause them to lose jobs to private schools. What nonsense!

Given this tirade, it should come as no surprise that education is not one of Mr. Devajaran's specialties, but that does not stop him from wielding his considerable power to attack teachers. Nor has it stopped him in the past. Mr. Devajaran was the architect of the influential 2004 World Bank World Development Report that portrayed teachers as drunk and rioting in the streets. Unfortunately, these views are not those of a single individual but reflect a broad World Bank consensus. One of their most recent book covers portrays a teacher asleep in the classroom.

There is, of course, the issue of casting the first stone. How many World Bank staff take three-martini lunches? How many come back to work drunk? How many don't come back at all? Is anyone studying that? Mr. Devajaran holds teachers responsible for low levels of learning. The World Bank has been the premier global architect for development for decades. Look at the awful state of the world in terms of poverty, inequality, and development. Should we hold World Bank staff responsible? Certainly many of us would argue that they neglect, are ignorant of, and/or actively resist reforms that could help change that state of affairs.

Mr. Devajaran's charges are simply biased, with the accusations actually often the result of actions of development agencies like the World Bank itself. Yes, in some places teacher absenteeism is a problem. But the studies done have been biased, often run or sponsored by the World Bank and reporting much more absenteeism than exists. Moreover, much of teacher absenteeism can be directly traced to World Bank policies that for decades have pushed for lower teacher salaries, making taking a second job necessary. Teacher "ignorance," to the extent to which it exists, can be traced to decades of World Bank policies that cut in-service and pre-service training for teachers and more recent policies that substitute untrained teachers for trained ones.

Blaming teachers is untrue and unproductive, taking attention away from the relevant, serious problems inside and outside the education system. Yes, there are low levels of learning (not only in Africa; take high schools in the U.S., for example). Within schools, learning materials are scarce, oversight is minimal, facilities are in disrepair, and class sizes are extremely high. The World Bank actually argues, based on one flawed study, that classes with 60 pupils are fine (for whom? not for children of World Bank staff, I am sure). Many of the reasons for low levels of learning are due to out-of-school factors -- health and nutrition problems are severe (50% of children under 5 in Eastern and Southern Africa experience malnutrition), home resources are often minimal, and poverty generally poses multiple disadvantages.

Why does the World Bank hate teachers and teacher unions? Partly, because they are looking for simplistic solutions. Partly, because they are always looking for cheap solutions like large classes and untrained teachers. Partly, because they do not want to deal with their utter failure to improve out-of-school factors. But it is more than that and goes beyond education. They do not just hate teachers, they hate all government workers. This is tied to their antipathy to government in general as embodied in their pro-market zeal (which policies have been disastrous for three-plus decades). And, more generally, the World Bank is not too fond of any workers, even private sector workers, who are, of course, necessary even from the point of view of the World Bank, However, these workers are seen as recalcitrant, with management needed to shape and control them. Any form of organized labor, like unions, is seen as threatening to the pro-market order. Teacher unions are not dismissed because they are self-interested and anti-education as claimed but are dismissed because they embody a different vision of education and challenge the hegemony of agencies like the World Bank.

September 20, 2012

I support Dr. Klees statement and would like to add that the people at the World Bank really do not care to see any learning taking place. What they have done in these developing countries is inexcusable. You may blame the teachers but if you don't support the students with supplemental materials how do you expect them to learn. Give me a fraction of the money they spend paying themselves for doing these useless studies and I will build libraries and information centers in villages across Africa. These information and community centers would put knowledge in the hands of the students and their parents and schools would have extra resources to give students a quality education. Farmers would have information to transform their yields and World Bank employees would have no money to commission studies that don't to much to improve the human condition in the neediest areas of the world. I guess that's why we don't see much movement in poverty reduction.

Bob Prouty
September 20, 2012

You posit that African schools have poor results because teachers' unions support enrollment efforts but oppose efforts to improve learning. As evidence, you cite Merilee Grindle's work about teacher unions in Latin America. But her book says no such thing (and even if it did, I know of no credible scholar who would suggest that teacher unions in Latin America are functional equivalents to teacher unions in Africa, or that Latin America faces a choice between enrollment and learning in any way similar to that in Africa). Grindle says (p.119, 120)that the education reforms in the countries she describes failed because teacher unions weren't involved in the design of the reforms, and because the education reformers 'systematically ignored' the teacher unions. cite no evidence to support the hypothesis that teacher unions in Africa oppose reforms to increase learning. You cite no evidence to support your hypothesis of a conflict between access and learning. And then you go on to state the breathtakingly regressive notion that Africa should forget the enrolment goals and focus 'exclusively' on learning. Which of course would mean that the kids currently excluded from access would be written off entirely until the more privileged kids already in school attain high learning standards.
What disturbs me even more about this lazy line of reasoning, is that it flies in the face of the experience of those of us who have been working for decades on education reform in Africa. Improvements in access and learning can, and generally do, go hand in hand. And I'd like to see the evidence that teachers' unions are opposed to efforts to improve learning. The Global Partnership for Education, where I work, supports more than half of the low-income countries in Africa with programs to improve learning outcomes. Teacher unions are enthusiastic partners for these programs, and they are beginning to turn the tables. Politics, ignorance, neglect? No mention of poverty, war? ...Really, it's time to put these tired old tropes about teacher unions to rest. And I hope those who are working in the education sector at the World Bank will make it abundantly clear that you are not speaking for them.

September 24, 2012

Bob: Thanks for the comment, which permits me to clarify a few issues that I hope will take the discussion forward. 
First, on teachers and teachers unions, I was referring to their protests and objections to attempts at increasing accountability, most of which were aimed at the ultimate goal of improving learning outcomes. In addition to the examples in Merilee Grindle’s book, I would mention RECURSO in Peru where 2nd graders were sent home with a 60-word paragraph that their parents could test whether they could read in a minute. The program was a way for parents to know whether their children were learning (and, implicitly, whether the teacher was doing a good job). Teachers objected to the program on grounds that there was more to education than reading. Examples in low-income settings are equally common, as Tara Beteille’s work (and Geeta Kingdon and Mohammed Muzamil’s earlier work) on India shows.
Turning to Africa, the country with the strongest teachers union is South Africa, where there is at least anecdotal evidence that SADTU has resisted attempts at making teachers more accountable. And South Africa has seen one of the largest increases in public spending on education with almost no improvement in learning outcomes. Finally, a recent randomized control trial to introduce contract teachers in Kenya is telling. They introduced the program in two ways: one administered by an NGO, the other by the government. In the NGO-run program, there was a statistically significant improvement in learning outcomes; in the government administered program, there was none. The authors attribute the difference to the protest waged by the Kenyan National Union of Teachers that led to the government’s altering the program’s design, which affected implementation.
I mention these cases where teachers and teachers unions resisted attempts at increasing accountability to point out that teachers and politicians (and in some cases, government officials) are caught in a system of low accountability and, correspondingly, weak learning outcomes. To improve learning outcomes, we need to strengthen teachers’ accountability to the children (or their parents). This is not easy. Absentee teachers are earning a rent: they are getting paid for a job even if they don’t show up. No one likes to see their rents dissipated. But I doubt we can improve student learning outcomes without strengthening teacher accountability. Once we recognize this, we need to work with teachers to develop a new system with clear lines of accountability and monitoring of outcomes such as student learning.
Secondly, my proposal to have only a learning goal (which, incidentally, is not a new idea) is based on a notion that has a long tradition in economics, not to mention common sense. If you have two goals, one of which is easier to achieve (or at least monitor) than the other, there is a disproportionate amount of resources devoted to the easier goal. This is the problem with having both enrolment and learning as goals: the former is much more straightforward to achieve, which is why we see nearly 100 percent enrolment rates with below-50-percent learning outcomes. I was suggesting that, if we had one goal—100 percent learning outcomes (basic reading, writing and numeracy of all primary-school-age children)—that would focus all stakeholders on this goal. This goal applies to the whole cohort. It would not be abandoning the out-of-school children. On the contrary, it would require getting them into school, but we would not stop there; we would make sure they learned to read and write.

September 19, 2012

Thanks for your questions, which are important. I hope other readers will chime in. My thoughts are:
1. The ways people measure learning outcomes in poor countries is simply testing whether the child can read and write, and do simple arithmetic. In rural Peru, for instance, the RECURSO program sends the child home with a paragraph and asks the parents to test whether the child can read the paragraph in one minute. Even here, teachers object by saying there's more to education than just being able to read and write, but I would think reading and writing is a minimal test.
2. Yes, there are cases where the de-politicization of learning outcomes has been achieved. One is in East Asia. We don't know whether this is due to the strong Confucian ethic of learning, or the de-politicization of other aspects of society, but many countries have achieved strong learning outcomes (Shanghai consistently scores at the top of student achievement rankings). I once asked a Taiwanese scholar how they avoided teacher absenteeims in his country (when it had per capita incomes close to Africa today). His answer: After the war, the government decided to post ex-military officers in the schools as inspectors, intending that they would help keep discipline among the students. But these inspectors also monitored the teachers, who always showed up on time.

Sunny Dzik, Boston
September 18, 2012

I suspect, strongly, that the same principle may apply in government-sponsored healthcare in Africa. Creating "bed capacity" and hiring healthcare workers might have simply resulted in a situation where the healthcare workers (like teachers) would find it more suitable not to come to work on some days, still collect a salary, and then moonlight in a non-gov't hospital on those "absentee days"..... so, here again, the emphasis will need to be not on enrolment, but rather on (health) outcomes (under 5 mortality, death in childbirth, etc). One has the sense that maybe healthcare has already got off on the right foot.... since health outcomes are perhaps easier to "count" than learning..... and so the healthcare system may give insights to what you propose.

September 18, 2012

I cannot help but notice that the same situation occurs in the developing world (i.e. teacher strike in Chicago right now.)
The argument used by teachers, at least in the United States -where measuring learning outcomes seems as politically-charged as in Africa- is that tools currently used fail to take into account the contextual issues of learning (poverty, family-issues, etc.) that may have as great an impact on a child's ability to learn as the performance of the teacher.
So I have two questions for Shanta.
1. Is there a way to measure learning outcomes (say, with a standardized test that measures progress towards a universal goal) controlling for these contextual issues? (so that teachers don't see them as unfair measurements of their abilities?)
2. Are there any examples around the world in which the de-politization of learning outcomes has actually been achieved? And if yes, do they point to the existence/non existence of unions as the main obstacle?
Thank you.

Bob Prouty
September 21, 2012

This is really an unworthy blog post, with a line of lazy reasoning that just doesn't hold up under scrutiny. You argue that learning levels in Africa are low, and African teacher unions are to blame because they oppose efforts to improve learning. And you go on to conclude that all of this means that Africa should focus 'exclusively' on learning, presumably leaving the remaining out-of-school children to fend for themselves. The one piece of evidence you cite to support the idea that African teacher unions oppose efforts to improve learning is a Merilee Grindle book that says nothing about Africa at all, and in fact says that education reforms in Latin America failed precisely because teacher unions weren't invited to take part in the design and were 'systematically ignored' by the education reformers (pp. 199,120). You blame politics, neglect and teacher ignorance (do you really think that only 11% of teachers in Tanzania have a working knowledge of Swahili?). Seems a bit odd to overlook war and poverty...I work for the Global Partnership for Education, active in most of the low-income countries in Africa, and have found teacher unions to be enthusiastic supporters of efforts to improve learning. Your blog post is simply wrong on the facts, and wrong on the inferences it draws.

October 10, 2012

Here in Ghana, non-trained teachers are mostly employed in private Basic school, and receive a tiny fraction of what well-trained certified teachers get in the public Basic School system yet the former perform very much better than the latter. The key factor is effective teacher supervision in private schools. In the public system, the main reasons given for lack of supervision are non-availability of resources to support the Circuit Supervisors. For nine months now, Ministry of Education in Accra has not transferred funds to the Regions to be sent to the District Directors to support such activities. Yet the government will get funds to increase MPs' wages by more than 100% if civil society does not wake up to stop them! Where are our priorities? Self-serving politicians and their technocrats cannot be trusted to support our future generation. Present and past governments have paid lip service to decentralization of government services--the cure for this notorious habitual delays in the transfer of funds to the districts. The communities must resolve to take back their schools. All that will be necessary is to build their capacities to do so.

Karen Mundy
September 22, 2012


I've enjoyed your provocative blog for some time now. But I am confused by this one.
What exactly does an "exclusive focus on learning" mean? No focus on access at all? No planning for access issues? Raising the bar for all or raising the bar for some?

While we can all agree that learning is important (otherwise why go to school?), to imagine that exclusion and inequality will be addressed purely by a focus on learning strikes me as naive. Indeed, when systems focus on learning "exclusively" we will find very quickly that other incentives and system features will emerge to exclude and stratify children into those who have the opportunity to learn and those who do not. We've got lots of examples of this: cream skimming, test gaming etc. are rampant. And all human actors - public teachers unions and private schools for the poor, are likely to game whatever incentive system we put in place.

Your views of teachers unions, in my view, are also too simplistic. We do need collective actors to get things done - and teachers unions themselves have proved to be among the few robust collective actors supporting democratic transitions the world over. In many African countries they are the largest formally organized non state actors around - a huge civil society asset. They can also prove extremely valuable partners in major educational reforms -- see for example this thoughtful piece by Diane Viallant on the political economy of teachers unions in Latin American reform

Here in Ontario, bringing teachers unions on board with a new focus on literacy and completion has ensured the success of our learning (and access) strategy. Working with unions can in fact secure successful learning strategies - in Vaillant's examples from Latin America, and in Ontario, among many other examples. I'm not going to say that organized settlements with teachers unions are simple. But nothing I've seen or read from the research can convince me that we should lay blanket blame on teachers ad their unions and then expect greater fidelity to learning goals from private schools.....

Finally, I believe we need to think of access and learning as two important dimensions of equity in our learning systems. If the education system places barriers to entry and persistence, learning can't happen. I'd like you to convince me that an "exclusive" focus on learning will get us to where we want to go. Or is this just another harmful simplification?


Karen Mundy
Associate Dean, Research
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
University of Toronto

Paud Murphy
September 25, 2012

How interesting. The only way to deal with the problem is to kill (well perhaps not kill but slander, insult, vilify) the messenger. The quality of education in Africa is not as most would want it to be. If we could agree on that then we could posit reasons why and then, maybe solutions. The reasons for low quality are legion: poverty affecting children's attendance, ability to comprehend, study at home etc; limited examples of good schools and a good school environment; poor infrastructure, gender bias or at least lack of focus. But one problem and it is pervasive is the teacher. Large numbers of teachers are either not in school or not in the classroom. Why? large numbers of teachers do not have the skills needed to teach mathematics or science. Why? A very large share of the teaching force in any African country will not teach in rural areas. Why? Many, even a great many, teachers would leave the profession if they could. Why? However, we should probably ask the same question of other professional groups, country by country. Clearly, teachers as a group are not likely to behave better than most other groups and Teachers' Unions will do what all Unions do first, protect their members. Would those questions be answered in the same way if we asked them of nurses and other paramedicals, doctors, agriculture extension workers? If so we have a public service problem, if not an education problem.

However we analyse the reasons for the problem with teachers, the problem remains and we should be trying to solve it. It is unlikely that pupils will learn if teachers are not well prepared, well motivated so that they look forward to attending school and interacting with children, well supported in their work and and and... Salary is an issue but my experience has been that teachers respond well to other rewards. Head teacher support and acknowledgement, Pedagogical support staff support and acknowledgement, parental support and acknowledgement. For what it's worth, a possible solution is to have a good teacher campaign that recognizes the good they do, rewards the best performers but does it within a school environment in which teachers, children and head teachers are all focused on learning. And where the teacher is not paid when she, more likely he, does not come to school without good reason. However, all of this is best done in a context of increased resources and where is that these days?

September 20, 2012


WBank, other MDAs, NGOs, western taxpayers are to blame for the failures in education in Tanzania?

That's not only unfair, it's outrageously covering the responsibility of the Tanzanian Government, one of the most corrupt and insensitive of Eastern African, only efficient in filling his pockets with money.

I am deeply sorry and disappointed for that comment in your blog. For all the mistakes done by the international community in Africa, you should think carefully what would become of many people without its support.

Steven Klees
September 22, 2012

Shanta: I appreciate your response but I think you are missing several important points. First, you have been blaming teachers since the 2004 World Development Report, as well as in your recent blog. If that was not your intent, you owe teachers everywhere an apology. To highlight the problems posed by drunk and rioting teachers, in the first instance, and of teacher "absenteeism," "neglect" of their job, and "ignorance" about performing it, in your blog is to blame teachers. To do so in a blog entitled "Africa's Learning Crisis" and then to only discuss your view of the problems with teachers -- as opposed to the many other factors that affect learning, as I discussed in my previous comment -- is clearly casting the blame on teachers.

Second, you couch your attack on teachers as if it is a management problem. Taking a narrow neoliberal, fundamentalist market economics perspective, for you, the question is simply getting the contract "right." For example, simply fire absent teachers as private schools do or as communities can sometimes do under World Bank decentralization initiatives.. But at what cost? Teacher turnover in these latter schools is very high and achievement is not improved. And, mostly, these mechanisms to fire teachers are a way of attacking unions. Another example, quite popular nowadays in the Bank and elsewhere, pay for performance contracts fire teachers with low-scoring students and reward those with high-scoring students. But at what cost,? Teaching to the test. Narrowing the curriculum. And often identifying the wrong teachers to reward and punish as it is impossible to separate out the effect of a teacher on student test scores from the myriad other factors that influence them.

This idea of specifying very complete and detailed contractual rewards and punishments is based on a punitive view of workers and the need to control them very tightly to get them to do what management or public policy wants. To the contrary, we need to take a completely different view of teacher contracts. To start, consider teacher salaries. You say that "just raising salaries is not enough." But it is a very important start and one the World Bank has been on the wrong side of for 30-plus years. Thanks to agencies like the World Bank, current primary school teacher salary conditions are deplorable. On average, in African countries, teacher salaries as a percent of GDP per capita from 1975 to 2000 have declined by 50%! For Sahel countries, by two-thirds! Since 2000, teacher salaries have likely declined even more. And salaries in 1975 were not good. But absenteeism then was not the problem it is today, and salary decline goes a long way towards explaining it.

But it is more than salaries. Working conditions for teachers around the world have deteriorated, especially in African countries. Large class sizes, again promoted by the World Bank, make teaching and learning difficult. Cuts in pre-service and in-service teacher training, again promoted by the World Bank, leave teachers unprepared. Your idea that teachers gain little from training because their contracts do not tie their success to their salaries flies in the face of research (not by the World Bank. of course) and experience. Every educator knows that most students work hard in these training programs because they are committed to becoming good teachers. In my four decades of working in developing countries around the world, the vast majority of teachers I encountered were hardworking, dedicated, and committed to helping their students -- even with low salaries and against overwhelming odds.

We need to treat teachers as professionals, not piece workers. This means respecting teachers, not blaming them, having faith in them, not distrusting them. The same goes for teacher unions. Of course, there is a place for evaluation and supervision, but these processes have to rely a lot on teachers themselves. While not a perfect fit, the professional physician model offers useful guidance.

Shanta, your argument blaming teachers is symptomatic of the perspective offered by neoliberal economists like yourself on issues of privatization, user fees, decentralization, testing, higher education, merit pay, and others. For the past 30 years, neoliberal economists like you have controlled the World Bank. Liberal and progressive economists, with a more positive view of government, a more critical view of markets, and a much broader view of teachers and workers, have fled, been fired, or been silenced. We will not see any significant change in education policy from the World Bank unless the newly appointed President Jim Kim decides to clean house.

Helen Abadzi
September 17, 2012

The Bank has taken the position that learning will happen if peripheral variables are strengthened: economic climate, management, teacher attendance. Under such circumstances in middle-income countries and families learning happens "magically".

But the poor have no one at home to help. And without facilitation, the children do not learn. People don't process informaton magically, there are rules of how we remember and forget, and they have been demonstrated for decades. The Bank needs to just take them into account. And many issues are "low level", related to perceptual learning and speed of recall. Reading experiments in the Gambia and Cambodia show DRAMATIC results in a few months.

The Bank can design its projects to take learning rules into account at all levels and ages. For anyone who wants to know more, please contact me. Aksi see the H. Abadzi "Efficient Lerning for the Poor", 2006.

Freddy Diwa
August 13, 2021

Thank you for the article, it helped me in my Non Governmental Organization, building schools in Africa. I had to make some changes after being informed about the focus of the Millennium Development Goal . and I added another focus in improving learning outcomes,

September 21, 2021

Dear Shanta

Yes thank you for sharing the issues of quality education in Africa . Yes more weight is given for enrollement than the learning specially sub saharan africa . Standard test is mandatory . I wish to participate if any study is planned to be conducted in Ethiopia .