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Lant Pritchett is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and professor of the practice of international development at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where he taught from 2000 to 2004 and from 2007 onward. Before rejoining the Kennedy School in 2007, he was lead socio-economist in the social development group of the South Asia region of the World Bank. He occupied various other positions at the World Bank during his tenure there, beginning in 1988. Pritchett was a team member on a number of prominent World Bank publications including Economic Growth in the 1990s: Learning from a Decade of Reforms (2005); Making Services Work for Poor People (World Development Report 2004); Assessing Aid: What Works, What Doesn't and Why (with David Dollar, 1998); and Infrastructure for Development (World Development Report 1994). He has published two books with Center for Global Development, Let Their People Come (2006) and The Rebirth of Education (2013). Pritchett has published over a hundred articles and papers (with more than 25 co-authors) on a wide range of topics, including state capability, labor mobility, and education, among many others. Originally from Idaho, Pritchett is the father of three children and now lives in an empty nest with his wife of 31 years.
President Nancy Birsdall, Senior Fellow Lant Pritchett, and Visiting Fellow Scott Morris are quoted in a New York Times piece on the feasibility of eradicating poverty.
From the article:
At a news conference during the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in late April, Jim Yong Kim held up a piece of paper with the year “2030” scribbled on it in pen. “This is it,” said Kim, the genial American physician who took over as president of the World Bank last summer. “This is the global target to end poverty.”
It sounds like the sort of airy, ambitious goal that is greeted by standing ovations but is ultimately unlikely to ever materialize. Development experts don’t see it that way, though. The end of extreme poverty might very well be within reach. “It’s not by any means pie-in-the-sky,” says Scott Morris, who formerly managed the Obama administration’s relations with development institutions. When I asked Jeffrey Sachs, the development economist, if the target seemed feasible, he said, “I absolutely believe so.” And Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development, the powerful Washington policy group, told me, “In many ways, it’s a very modest goal.”
In part, this is because the bar is set very low. The World Bank aims to raise just about everyone on Earth above the $1.25-a-day income threshold. In Zambia, an average person living in such dire poverty might be able to afford, on a given day, two or three plates of cornmeal porridge, a tomato, a mango, a spoonful each of oil and sugar, a bit of chicken or fish, maybe a handful of nuts. But he would have just pocket change to spend on transportation, housing, education and everything else. The 1.2 billion people living in such extreme poverty, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, might own land, but they are not very likely to own durable goods or productive assets — things like bicycles — that might help them raise themselves out of poverty. In such families, about half or three-quarters of income goes toward food.
Of course, making it above the $1.25-a-day mark doesn’t guarantee a white picket fence and a Caddy in the driveway — indeed it doesn’t even guarantee a proper meal. For that reason, some economists have criticized the bank for setting its targets too low. “It’s small,” Pritchett says. “It’s penurious. It’s charity-like. It’s not development.” He says that the billions who live on a bit more than $1.25 a day are still deeply impoverished by any reasonable standard. “Why are we focused on a line, above which nothing happens, set by some technocrats in Washington?” Another 1.2 billion live on between $1.25 and $2 a day, an only slightly less dire form of deprivation.
For the poor living in poor countries, particularly the profoundly unstable ones, gains have been harder-fought and slower, a trend that the World Bank’s own economists describe as worrisome. But that is not to play down the successes so far. In 2008, for the first time since the bank started measuring the statistics, the number of people living in dire poverty and the dire-poverty rate fell in every region around the world. Extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa has at last dipped below the 50 percent mark. Still, many within the development world doubt the ability of NGOs to cure the world’s most troubled nations of their woes. “I don’t think we have a recipe for fixing the Congo or South Sudan or Afghanistan,” says Birdsall, of the Center for Global Development.
In an interview, Kim sounded energetic and optimistic about the prospect that the great brute force of growth would keep on lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty — and about the bank’s role in nursing the process along. Given how big the world is, how big the goal is and how diverse economies are, it would take a multipronged approach, he said. For parts of sub-Saharan Africa, it would mean huge electrification projects. For China, it would mean smarter urbanization and clean energy. For India, it would mean enormous infrastructure investments that the World Bank could help finance. It also might mean replicating what has worked for those big, quick-growing emerging economies in poorer, poverty-stricken developing ones.
Read it here.
Most of the world’s children now live in countries on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary completion by 2015. Countries have indeed made great progress getting kids in school, but behind that progress is a problem: many children are hardly learning anything in school. Some measures of learning are just dismal. In India, for example, only about one-third of children in grade 5 can perform long division. Nearly one-half cannot read a grade 2 text, and one in five cannot follow a grade 1 text.
What is to be done? Broadly speaking, schools, governments, and donors need to focus more on actual learning goals, not just filling seats. This report of the CGD Study Group on Measuring Learning Outcomes shows how to make some headway in that direction. Governments need to develop comparable, public learning assessments. Civil society should engage at the grassroots to demand accountability. Donors can play a secondary role by pegging funding to results or experimenting with different strategies. And the UN and other multilaterals should set global standards against which national efforts can be measured. One option is to establish a global learning goal as part of the post-2015 development agenda.
The last decade has seen considerable progress enrolling children in schools worldwide: today most people live in countries on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of 100% primary completion by 2015.
Sadly, enrollment doesn’t necessarily equal learning. A new report by the CGD Study Group on Measuring Learning Outcomes shows a shockingly wide gap between education inputs and learning outcomes – many children finish primary school unable to read, write or do simple addition. The report, Schooling is Not Education: Using Assessment to Change the Politics of Non-Learning, finds the learning crisis reflects systemic issues in education sectors worldwide. It recommends strong assessment regimes as part of the solution.
On May 9, CGD president Nancy Birdsall will chair a conversation on the report with Alice Albright, chair of the Global Partnership for Education; CGD Study Group co-chair Lant Pritchett; Project director Charles Kenny; and other members of the Study Group. They will discuss the findings and implications for education in the post-2015 development agenda.
Here we extend the basic idea of rigorous impact evaluation—the use of a valid counterfactual to make judgments about causality—to emphasize that the techniques of impact evaluation can be directly useful to implementing organizations (as opposed to impact evaluation being seen by implementing organizations as only an external threat to their funding).
We combine newly created data on per student government expenditure on children in government elementary schools across India, data on per student expenditure by households on students attending private elementary schools, and the ASER measure of learning achievement of students in rural areas.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Schooling Ain’t Learning – And What to Do About It:
New Book Exposes Education Failures around the World
More information about the book
Book Launch-September 30
Buy the book
Washington, DC – A global push to get all kids enrolled in school has been largely successful—most countries will meet or nearly meet the Millennium Development Goal that each child “complete a full course of primary schooling” by 2015. But a new book by Lant Pritchett from the Center for Global Development documents a deeply disturbing reality: for millions of children in the developing world schooling is not producing “education” in any real sense.
Consider these examples from the book, The Rebirth of Education: Schooling Ain’t Learning:
· In India less than half of children surveyed in grade 5 could read a grade 2 level story, one in four could not read a simple sentence, and only slightly more than half could do subtraction.
· In Tanzania six-out-of-ten students who took the 2012 examination for secondary school completers failed.
· In Pakistan a child who enters fifth grade not knowing how to do simple division has only a one-in-six chance of learning in an entire year of schooling.
· Pritchett not only sounds the alarm. He goes on to diagnose these failures and propose a potentially transformative new approach to education.
The result of years of research, including time Pritchett spent studying schools in India, the book offers shocking new analysis and data about the current state of education in developing countries and a trenchant critique of the global focus on enrollment rather than learning.
“We often see education as one of the most powerful tools for escaping poverty,” says Nancy Birdsall, president of CGD. “In this important book, Lant Pritchett reveals the great divide between schooling and learning and reminds readers that our goal is not to get students into classrooms but rather to prepare young people to become productive members of the community.”
Pritchett begins his book with a story from India. In 2006, MIT researchers conducted a rigorous evaluation of schools in Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states, only to discover that many fifth-graders could not read a simple story, do basic division, or even recognize letters of the alphabet. At a village meeting Pritchett listened as the father of a boy who was unable to read rose to address the school principal:
“You have betrayed us. I have worked like a brute my whole life because, without school, I had no skills other than those of a donkey. But you told us that if I sent my son to school, his life would be different than mine. For five years I have kept him from the fields and sent him to your school. Only now I find out that he is thirteen years old and doesn’t know anything. His life won’t be different. He will labor like a brute, just like me.”
The principal responds: “It is not our fault. We do what we can with your children. But you are right, you are brutes and donkeys. The children of donkeys are also donkeys. We cannot be expected to teach your children. They come from your homes stupid and you cannot expect that they will be home from school anything other than stupid.”
India is not alone. Even in middle-income countries with high average years of schooling, between one-third and two-thirds of 15-year-old students do not meet even the most basic math, reading, and science learning goals. In Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia, and Mexico, over 50 percent of 15-year-old students with over five years of schooling do not meet math goals. When compared to their counterparts in rich countries, the educational divide is even clearer: 15-year-old students from Thailand, Mexico, Mauritius, and Chile fall below the 20th percentile of students in Denmark. Students from Qatar, Ghana, Saudi Arabia, and El Salvador fall below the 5th percentile when compared to their counterparts in Australia.
“This problem couldn’t be more important,” says Pritchett. “A child who finishes school at age 15 this year and plans to work until age 65 will be in the labor force until the year 2063. These children are emerging from primary schooling or even secondary schooling with so few skills that they are unprepared for today’s economy, much less for the economy of 2030 or 2063. Their lack of basic education is a burden they will bear for decades.”
Part of the problem is the emphasis on inputs instead of outputs. Desks and chairs, pencils and textbooks, students and teachers may look like a school but they don’t always add up to learning. Pritchett borrows a term from biology, “isomorphic mimicry,” to describe this phenomenon of looking like something else without acquiring the core functions, as when a non-poisonous butterfly evolves to look similar to a poisonous species to avoid being eaten by birds.
In describing education systems, Pritchett borrows from The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. In many countries, Pritchett says, the schooling system is controlled by a large government-owned, top-down bureaucracy – a “spider.” This spider dictates everything: which schools get built, which programs get funded, which teacher gets assigned to which school. Despite the bureaucracy’s extensive reach – the spider’s web – all decisions are made in one centralized location – the spider’s brain.
The Uttar Pradesh school principal’s rebuttal reflects one of the problems of the spider school system, Pritchett observes. In a top-down system, all the power rests with administrators. But educating children requires a system far more complex and flexible than a top-down bureaucracy, what Pritchett calls a “starfish system.”
A starfish, unlike a spider, is a radically decentralized organism – some species of starfish have no brain at all and a starfish’s parts are loosely connected and controlled by local actions. Pritchett praises starfish systems for being locally operated, performance-driven, and open.
The problem is that form follows function. Instead of focusing on what education should look like Pritchett urges a renewed focus on what schools are meant to do. This can only be achieved by encouraging school systems to measure learning outcomes – and allowing local schools the freedom to create schools that best meet learning goals.
He makes clear that there is no single solution that will solve the problem for all schools. Rather the “pivot to learning” he advocates will require school systems that are more like starfish and less like spiders: open, locally operated, performance-pressured, professional networked, and technically and financially supported.
The Rebirth of Education has received wide praise:
“With abundant data, experience, and clear thinking, Pritchett makes a compelling case for why more of the same won’t cut it anymore, how we need to think deeply about how change happens and who can drive it, and why we need to be suspicious of experts and blueprints,” says Rakesh Rajani, founder and head of Twaweza, a Tanzanian NGO.
"Lant Pritchett's path-breaking and courageous work exposes the scandal of education policy in development, which contents itself with achieving quantitative targets on student enrollment even when no real education is happening,” said William Easterly, Professor of Economics at New York University. “Nobody reading this book will ever think about education the same way again."
“Lant Pritchett’s recommendations will disappoint both orthodox economists and orthodox educators since they do not reinforce any of the standard recipes. But those willing to be convinced by Pritchett’s logic and the particular blend of caring and impishness that characterizes his writing will be justifiably alarmed, then enlightened, and finally filled with hope,” says Luis Crouch, chief technical officer, International Development Group. “I urge all my colleagues to read it immediately.”
The Rebirth of Education: Schooling Ain’t Learning will be released on Monday, September 30 at an event hosted by the Center for Global Development. More information about the book and the launch event can be found on the CGD website.
Notes for Editors:
Members of the media interested in attending the launch event should contact media relations associate Catherine An by calling 202-416-4040 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The book launch is slated for Monday, September 30 at 4 pm at the Center for Global Development.
About the Book:
The Rebirth of Education: Schooling Ain’t Learning may be ordered through Brookings Institution Press. ISBN: 978-1-933286-77-8.
The Social Progress Index is an effort of the Social Progress Imperative to create a new and better way to compare the human and social development performance of countries. High on their agenda is to not use GDP per capita or other measures of national development, but rather focus on direct measures of human well-being. Turns out, this new Social Progress Index (SPI) is almost perfectly correlated with national development.
The “just right” approach for the mobility of low-skill labor looks to avoid either “too hard”—expecting countries to make legally binding commitments to a global protocol—or “too soft”—no global mechanisms for reducing restrictions on labor mobility. We propose a “bundled” organization that works with existing bilateral labor agreements and partners as part of an organization capable of analysis and advocacy.