A crisis in learning: 9 charts from the 2018 World Development Report


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There’s a crisis in learning. The quality and quantity of education vary widely within and across countries. Hundreds of millions of children around the world are growing up without even the most basic life skills.

The 2018 World Development Report draws on fields ranging from economics to neuroscience to explore this issue, and suggests improvements countries can make. You can get the full report here and to give you a flavor of what’s inside, I’ve pulled out a few of the charts and ideas that I found most striking while reading through it.

Each additional year of schooling raises earnings by 8-10 percent 


The report sets out several arguments for the value of education. The clearest one for me? It’s a powerful tool for raising incomes. Each additional year of schooling raises an individual’s earnings by 8–10 percent, especially for women. This isn’t just because more able or better-connected people receive more education: “natural experiments” from a variety of countries - such as Honduras, Indonesia, Philippines, the U.S., and the U.K. - prove that schooling really does drive the increased earnings. More education is also linked with longer, healthier lives, and it has lasting benefits for individuals and society as a whole.

Only 1 in 3 children complete secondary school in low and middle-income countries 


In spite of these potential benefits, young people follow different paths in their education. In low- and middle-income countries, out of every 100 students entering primary education, 90 complete their primary education, 61 complete lower secondary education, and just 35 complete upper secondary schooling. Meaning, about a third of youth leave school between lower and upper secondary, many of whom are unprepared for further education and training.

In the poorest countries, fewer than 1 in 5 primary school kids are proficient in math & reading 


It’s not just the quantity of education that matters, it’s the quality. It’s hard to measure learning in a way that’s comparable across countries, but the report draws on new studies which attempt to do just that. The recently updated “Global Data Set on Education Quality” suggests that more than 60 percent of primary school children in low- and middle- income countries fail to achieve a minimum proficiency in mathematics and reading. By comparison, in high-income countries nearly all children reach this level in primary school.

Starting from preschool - achievement gaps between rich and poor children grow with age 

Not only are there disparities across countries, there are disparities within them. The most striking to me is largely a consequence of poverty. Almost 1 in 3 children under 5 in low and middle income countries are physically stunted, typically due to chronic malnutrition. This kind of deprivation - whether in terms of nutrition or unhealthy environments, has long-lasting effects on brain development. So even in good schools, children who are deprived (and are typically poorer) learn less, and breaking out of this pattern becomes harder as children age because their brains become less malleable, and learning new skills becomes harder.

Learners are often failed by their schools and teachers 

It’s not just students who are failing in schools, schools are also failing their students. Across seven African countries, an average of one in five teachers was absent from school on the day of an unannounced visit by survey teams, and two in five were absent from their classrooms even though they were at school. In remote communities, these problems are even more severe. This kind of analysis is not intended to blame teachers, but to call attention to systematic issues of resourcing, management and governance which often undermine the quality of teaching.

There is too little measurement of learning, not too much 


To tackle the learning crisis, the report's first recommendation is to have more and better measurements of learning. While media attention and education debates often focus on the issue of “overtesting” and high-profile national examinations, a look at the available data suggests many countries lack information on even basic learning. A study of 121 countries found that 1 in 3 lack data on the reading and mathematics proficiency of children at the end of primary school, and even more lacked this data for the end of lower secondary school.

Countries are willing to invest in education, but investments need to be smarter 


Countries are willing to invest in education but the report argues that governments don’t just need to spend more, they need to spend better, making sure resources are allocated more effectively and equitably. Most funding comes from domestic sources, and it typically absorbs the largest single share of a government’s budget, averaging about 15 percent of the budget across low- and middle-income countries. While this shows that governments recognize the importance of education, the report show that increased spending alone is not sufficient to improve learning.

There have been two centuries of growth in primary and secondary schooling 

In spite of all the challenges pointed out in the report, it’s worth taking a step back to recognize the progress the world has made in education over the last 200 years. Today, most children have access to basic education, and each new generation is spending more time in school than the previous one. The years of schooling completed by the average adult in a low or middle-income country more than tripled between 1950 and 2010—from 2.0 to 7.2 years. This rate is historically unprecedented. It took the United States 40 years—from 1870 to 1910—to increase girls’ enrollments from 57 percent to 88 percent. Morocco achieved a similar increase in just 10 years.

These are some of the charts and ideas that I found most interesting in the 2018 World Development Report on Education. There’s much more to be found inside and you can download it here.

September 26, 2017

Very useful and enlightening information.

September 27, 2017

Interesting read

September 27, 2017

In Fiji, education is indeed seen as a way to better the living standards of a family. However, on completion of a university degree, there is a job market scarcity for preferred jobs. Education in Primary Level and Secondary Level is same yet perceptions among generations differ, claiming their education level was better than today's system. The quality of education has changed for a better and the Govt of the day is trying to ensure all children get a education for a better Fiji.

Abhishek Saurav
October 02, 2017

Great material Tariq! The charts are interactive and a valuable accompaniment to the just-released WDR. Enjoying the read!

Tayo Adefemi
October 04, 2017

It's been concisely condensed! The 2018 World Development Report on Education isn't only worth digesting, absorbing but neatly worth assimilating as well. Thumbs up to Mr Tariq Khokhar for taking his precious time to comprehensively breakdown this report into soluble forms. Low and middle income countries have been seriously fingered as lagging behind countries. The graphical presentations on performances on the issue of the concept of learning are worryingly telling stories for any responsible and effectual government that are sincerely and committedly ready to step up. Honestly, I see this report as an impressively solution-coated pills for those failed governments. This should be a wake up bell, but amusingly just for how long would we have keep ringing this bell? How would they expect the lion in me to roar if my education isn't complete without learning? I'm going to download this report with a view to scoop more facts and more importantly, for future reference.

KP Sharma
October 06, 2017

In India public schools upto senior secondary level is under local State Governments. There teachers and school administration are practically non functional. Poor parents are helpless. Central Government run schools known as Kendriya Vidyalayas are far superior but very less in number.

October 18, 2017

Very useful report

November 02, 2017

Very interesting snapshot Tariq! Thank you :-)

Dr Machfud Sidik
December 26, 2017

Interesting figures, very useful in understanding the trend of secondary schooling from different group of countries around the world

March 01, 2018

Interesting time for education

September 19, 2018

very useful information

October 12, 2018

Indeed there is little learning that is taking place in classrooms. Something must be done; its a time bomb in waiting.

Norman Hill
March 24, 2020

This is very compelling data. We are working in Ghana and so I wonder if you have this same data broken out fir Ghana and could send it to me?
Many thanks,
Norm Hill