Are Investments in Basic Education Geared towards Learning? How to Find Out with Under $150K
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The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the already existing global learning crisis. The latest simulations show that over 23 million children are at risk of not returning to school—bringing the number of out-of-school children close to 300 million. Combined with expected learning losses, this translates into a likely rise in the global Learning Poverty rate to 63% (from 53% before COVID-19). Confronted with deep recessions, two-thirds of low- and lower-middle-income countries have cut their public education budgets since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, as countries gear up to recover learning losses and rebuild back better their education systems with more constrained resources, where should they start? How can policymakers know if their investments are on the right track to recover and accelerate learning?
While a good sense of what works to close learning gaps is emerging, policymakers—and more generally stakeholders in education—need information about what the key barriers to learning are in their country context. This includes barriers not only at the level of the child and classroom, but also in the wider system, including the policy framework and the bureaucracy—that is, the factors that hinder effective delivery of quality education services at scale. Also, they need reliable indicators that can tell them whether reforms and investments are moving their systems in the right direction, even before the changes show up in improved learning.
In an effort to help countries identify these barriers and track progress, on May 12, the Bank unveils the Global Education Policy Dashboard (GEPD). Specifically, within 3 months, and typically for under $150,000, the GEPD makes it possible to map out the key drivers through a set of 39 key indicators, with more detail available in the sub-indicators behind them. The focus is first on the learning outcomes and service delivery indicators, because it’s crucial to making sure policymakers understand what is happening in the classroom. Yet because service delivery is influenced by policies governing the system, the GEPD also provides data on the de jure policy framework, as well as the de facto implementation of those policies in schools. And, finally, because the skills and orientation of education ministry officials also matter, as do the political pressures on them, the GEPD also presents data on these factors.
The GEPD is supported by the Foundational Learning Compact (FLC), a new, multi-donor umbrella trust fund set up at the World Bank that finances global and country efforts to promote sustained, systemic improvements in early childhood, primary, and secondary education to achieve learning for all. Being part of the broader FLC means that the GEPD can be leveraged to strengthen other efforts, such as the newly launched Accelerator Countries Program.
The GEPD builds on pioneering measurement initiatives from around the World Bank and partner institutions:
- Service Delivery Indicators (SDI), a program that has systematized the collection of user-friendly school-level indicators in Africa and elsewhere over the past decade.
- Teach, the new open-source teacher observation tool that is already being used in dozens of countries.
- MELQO, a joint project of the Brookings Institution, UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank to develop an instrument that provides governments with the necessary tools to measure child development and learning as well as the quality of early childhood education.
- Development World Management Surveys, which offer systematic tools for studying the quality of management.
- Bureaucracy Lab surveys, which provide new insights on attitudes of civil servants.
- SABER initiative, which measures the quality of education policy frameworks.
All of these provide valuable information, but the problem is that they’re usually applied individually, and no country has applied all of them. Doing so would be expensive and logistically challenging. As a result, policymakers end up being able to see only one segment of the system—just part of the elephant, to use the old metaphor.
The GEPD streamlines all these tools and combines them into one set of survey instruments. By doing this, the GEPD gives policymakers a bird’s-eye view of where the key barriers to learning are in a system, and thus entry points where both action and more in-depth analysis could pay off. For example, in Jordan and Peru, the GEPD’s assessment of the cognitive and socioemotional skills of 1st graders indicates that children get too little preparation before primary school and that this in turn correlates significantly with variation in learning outcomes across schools. To get more insights into this issue, policymakers could use the MELQO or other early child development measurement instruments to do much more in-depth, larger-sample analysis of 3- to 5-year-olds, of the determinants of ECD outcomes and programs and how they can improve school readiness.
In addition to taking a comprehensive approach, the GEPD incorporates the latest research on education. Concepts such as growth mindset, coaching, school leadership, socioemotional skills of teachers and students, integration of EdTech into the curriculum, and policy coherence, among others, are captured in the GEPD. In areas where further research is needed, like the impact of socioeconomic factors in the school or the assessment of curriculum quality, the GEPD is working to push the knowledge frontier with measurement innovations. Finally, while filling important data gaps to support evidence-informed policies, the project also has the broader ambition to help countries build and improve their own data collection and monitoring systems.
As we’ll describe in a follow-up post, the GEPD is already collecting and presenting data from representative samples of students, teachers, principals, and public officials, together with analysis of policies, in several countries across three regions, starting with pioneer countries Peru, Jordan, and Rwanda. In our follow-up post, we’ll share some of the findings from this first group of countries.
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