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Since the UN’s High Level Panel announced its vision for the post-2015 development agenda in May, much debate has centered on the absence of a goal for inequality among the panel’s list of 15 proposed goals. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, commenting on the goals in Jakarta last June, stressed that the principle of “no one left behind” was central to the panel’s vision, and that each of the U.N.’s goals focused on tackling inequality. The proposed education goals, in fact, include a commitment to ‘ensure every child, regardless of circumstance, completes primary education able to read, write and count well enough to meet minimum learning standards’.
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I recently came across a report card from my secondary school days in Ireland. It was an interesting read. My progress in areas as diverse as mathematics, singing, Irish language, and physical education was reported on in the form of marks, grades, and narrative feedback. Some teachers provided little information on my learning. Others went into detail. I was impressed by the number of areas in which my progress had been assessed (less so by my lack of singing ability, which, evidently, had been spotted early on!).
Flash forward to 2013, and there is a conversation raging in the development community about how to measure and report on learning globally. A huge concern is the fact that too often children leave school without acquiring the basic knowledge and skills they need to lead productive lives. To make matters worse, there is a global data gap on learning that is impeding efforts to better understand this crisis and how to achieve learning for all.
Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, is gaining a lot of attention for the accessible way she demonstrates how high achieving countries got that way. While she provides useful insights into the usual suspects: Finland, Korea and Poland (a not so usual suspect), there are lessons waiting to be learned from other places, the least likely suspects, in other words, middle and lower income countries. While this analysis is useful, what policy makers in developing countries ask me is, “Why should we participate in international assessments?” They are concerned with being ranked at the bottom and having nothing to show for their efforts.