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CGD's work in this area seeks to better understand the sources of global learning gaps and to identify solutions to help close these gaps.
While primary school enrolment levels have increased dramatically in recent decades, this progress has not been matched by equivalent gains in learning. Millions of children in the developing world leave school without basic literacy and numeracy skills. CGD seeks to better understand what causes this learning gap and to identify policies and ideas to help end the global learning crisis.
That’s what Tom Friedman recommends in his New York Times column today – that the U.S. divert $100 million of its $1.3 billion in military aid to finance science schools in Egypt. Even Defense Secretary Gates would probably agree. Meanwhile David Leonhardt of the same venerable newspaper also weighs in today on education in Egypt. Egypt scores in the bottom ten of 48 countries on a standardized math test for eighth graders (the PISA no doubt – for more on how badly developing countries score read Lant Pritchett here). Leonhardt quotes CGD senior fellow Michael Clemens on U.S. immigration policy too – that only one of every 146 Egyptians who entered a recent U.S. immigration lottery received a green card—and refers to Michael’s work with Lant Pritchett showing Egyptian high school graduates would multiply their income by eight times (!) if they could get in (controlling for selectivity and so on).
Would a new class of super high schools make a difference in Egypt? Only if the economic and political fundamentals – property rights, rule of law, competitiveness driving wealth instead of rents, and democratic opening – get fixed. It is those meta problems that explain Egypt’s low quality of schooling and its failure, revealed in high youth unemployment, to put education to work for greater and more broadly-shared prosperity up to now.
There are more schools worldwide than ever before, but are children really learning? Charles Kenny investigates the broken link between schools and learning and suggests some proven methods for improving outcomes in education.
It is little wonder that the United States has prioritized education in its aid program in Pakistan. Pakistan is sitting on a ticking “population bomb,” with a youth population that is unusually large compared to its South Asian neighbors, and growing. Half of Pakistan’s 185 million-strong population is under the age of 17. By 2050, conservative estimates predict that Pakistan’s population will grow to 335 million, which would make Pakistan the world’s fourth largest country. How well Pakistan’s education system prepares its millions of young people for a productive future will profoundly impact the country’s internal stability, security and prosperity.
The status quo, however, foretells a dismal future. By all counts, Pakistan has one of the worst performing education systems in the world. On the United Nation’s education rankings, Pakistan scored an abysmal 163rd out of 177 countries. Pakistan has a net primary enrollment rate of just 66 percent – significantly lower than India’s 90 percent and lower even than (much poorer) Bangladesh’s rate of 88 percent. Consider these three startling facts from a superb paper by Sir Michael Barber:
For each 100 children that begin kindergarten in Pakistan, only one will make it to 12th grade
Each day, a quarter of Pakistan’s teachers simply do not show up to school
Over a quarter of Karachi’s 4 million children of school age are not in school at all, which makes Karachi arguably the worst educated megacity in the world
Donor attention to Pakistan’s failing education system is not new. In fact, as my colleagues and I documented in a recent CGD analysis, the World Bank and other donors spent hundreds of millions of aid dollars to improve Pakistan’s education system and other social sectors in the 1990s. The results were deeply disappointing. During the decade when the program was implemented, school-enrollment rates stagnated, while enrollment for boys and children in public schools actually declined. Some of the reasons were frustratingly clear: teachers were not hired on the basis of merit, were frequently transferred from one school to another, and were often simply not present.
Despite this uneven donor track record, today there are several promising trends in Pakistan’s education sector that might provide a window of opportunity for the U.S. aid program. The first is the success of several recent donor efforts in mobilizing political will in the Pakistani government. The newly formed Pakistan Education Task Force -- co-led by the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Government of Pakistan -- is leading the charge on policy and curriculum reforms. At the provincial level in Punjab and beyond, the World Bank has collaborated with provincial ministries to craft effective education sector reform programs.
The second opportunity is the clear parental demand for a good, quality primary education for their children – a demand so great that millions of Pakistani parents are willing to pay for it. In recent years, Pakistan has witnessed an explosive growth of its secular private schools. Some estimates suggest that as many as 75 percent of school-attending children in Karachi alone are enrolled in private schools. Even with less qualified and lower paid teachers, one influential study in Punjab found these private schools in at least this area are on average three times as efficient as public schools from the perspective of cost and learning outcomes.
In her open letter, Nancy delivers five recommendations for what U.S. policies and aid programs would be most effective in strengthening Pakistan’s education sector:
Improving Pakistan’s education system and learning outcomes depends on how well aid money is spent more than how much the United States spends. Money alone won’t solve Pakistan’s education problems. A big push on innovation, transparency, and accountability is key, especially as some portion of the education budget is likely to be redirected for school reconstruction in the flood-affected communities.
Earlier, we put forth the idea for U.S. and Pakistani policymakers to agree upon a small set of simple indicators to serve as the benchmarks for the success of development programs. As part of this exercise, U.S. and Pakistani leaders should identify and track a single, simple measure of national education attainment to serve as the benchmark of success. For instance, they might choose to track the primary school completion rate or the percentage of children that enter secondary school.
To build on the positive momentum around private schools and to empower parents to hold schools accountable for results, the United States should consider financing a massive effort to provide information to parents about the availability and quality of both private and public schools. For instance, U.S. assistance could help Pakistan’s federal government finance nationwide student testing. U.S. aid could also fund other accountability and transparency initiatives that provide parents with information about teacher attendance, school funding, learning outcomes, and other school characteristics.
The United States could build on the successful efforts of other donors, including by co-financing the World Bank’s provincial-level education programs in Punjab and beyond. The United States could announce a major U.S.-U.K. partnership on education in Pakistan over the next five years. This partnership could introduce outcome-based assessments at the district and provincial levels, with an emphasis on school quality and learning results. Some portion of aid could be used to provide incentives for governments that are willing to make these issues a priority. One such aid model is a “cash on delivery” arrangement, whereby a provincial-level government in Pakistan would be given a flexible stream of aid based on incremental progress on a fundamental education indicator. The United States could also consider contributing $50 million to a new innovation fund established by the United Kingdom. As in the U.S. Race to the Top model, this fund could provide financial incentives to districts or provinces that administer tests and publicize the results.
The United States should leverage its comparative advantage in higher education to finance investments in advanced training and science and technology education, which equip Pakistanis with skills needed to put the country on a more stable economic path.
Jenny Aker, Christopher Ksoll and Travis J. Lybbert
The results of a randomized evaluation of a mobile phone education program (Project ABC) in Niger suggest that simple and relatively cheap information and communication technology can serve as an effective and sustainable learning tool for rural populations.
For the first time, the elderly, urban populations, and women of reduced fertility outnumber their counterparts. Joel E. Cohen discusses how changing demographic trends will require a heavier focus on primary and secondary education, reproductive health and demographically sensitive urban planning.
The large-scale expansion of primary education in developing countries has led to the increasing use of teachers on fixed-term renewable contracts who are not professionally trained and who are paid much lower salaries than regular civil service teachers. This has been a very controversial policy, and there is limited evidence about the effectiveness of contract teachers. We present experimental evidence from a program that provided an extra contract teacher to 100 randomly-chosen government-run rural primary schools in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. At the end of two years, students in schools with an extra contract teacher performed significantly better than those in comparison schools by 0.15 and 0.13 standard deviations in math and language tests respectively. While all students gain from the program, the extra contract teacher was particularly beneficial for students in their first year of school and students in remote schools. Contract teachers were significantly less likely to be absent from school than civil service teachers (16% vs. 27%). We also find using four different non-experimental estimation procedures that contract teachers are no less effective in improving student learning than regular teachers who are more qualified, better trained, and paid five times higher salaries.
I'm joined this week by Ayah Mahgoub, a program coordinator here at the Center for Global Development who works on issues related to the effectiveness of foreign aid. Along with Nancy Birdsall and Bill Savedoff, Ayah is working on designing a new form of development assistance called Cash on Delivery Aid that would pay for progress on specific development outcomes.
Nancy summed up the basic idea of the Cash on Delivery approach on a Wonkcast last month—read that post or go here for a short introduction to the idea of COD Aid. While discussions are underway to develop COD aid mechanisms for a number of sectors (including water and health), the initial application is in education. In this sector, a Cash on Delivery contract would pay recipient governments a fixed amount for each additional student who completes primary school and take a standardized test. Ayah is helping to match aid donors and recipient governments who are interested in supporting a pilot of this innovative approach. I asked Ayah to tell us about the countries where the first COD Aid programs might happen: Malawi, Ethiopia, and Liberia.
In Malawi, she says, government officials have been interested in COD Aid as part of a broader push towards education reform. Donors already give Malawi a significant amount of aid and a large new grant program is in the works that would focus specifically on education. Those new funds are tied to an extensive education sector plan, developed by the government with input from donors. Ayah says that when she visited Malawi late last year, officials were eager for the flexibility that COD aid would offer to strengthen incentives to make those plans a success.
“They listed a number of very innovative ways to improve the quality of education, to improve access, and to improve retention,” says Ayah. For example, she said, the proposed $200 per student who completes primary school could be shared with local districts based on the local increase in the number of students completing school.
In Ethiopia, which has a much larger population, current thinking focuses on pilots in a small number of districts where progress under COD aid could be compared to outcomes elsewhere in the country, she says. Work in Liberia is at the early stages, with Bill and Ayah planning a trip there next month.
Nancy, Bill, Ayah and Kate Vyborny have authored a book, Cash on Delivery: A New Approach to Foreign Aid, to be released this month, that they hope will serve as a guide for people who would like to apply COD aid to a broader set of development challenges in a wider range of countries. I encourage you to read it—and if you live in or near the Washington DC area, keep the afternoon of March 23rd open. CGD will be hosting an event where you’ll be able to hear more about COD aid and get a copy of the book.
Listen to the Wonkcast to hear the interview. Have something to add to the discussion? Ideas for future interviews? Post a comment below. If you use iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week.