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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.
Can teacher quality explain the low learning levels observed in many African countries? Survey data spanning seven countries in sub-Saharan African shows that after four years of schooling, the majority of students fail to master tasks covered in the second year curriculum. In their new paper, Tessa Bold and her co-authors show these low learning levels can be partly explained by teachers’ limited knowledge of curriculum content. Many teachers struggle with tasks that their students should master in lower primary. If all students had been taught by teachers who had mastered the lower secondary curriculum, students would have acquired the equivalent of an additional three quarters of a year of schooling after four years, and the observed gap in effective education after four years would have been reduced by one third.
After one year, public schools managed by private contractors in Liberia raised student learning by 60 percent, compared to standard public schools. But costs were high, performance varied across contractors, and contracts authorized the largest contractor to push excess pupils and underperforming teachers onto other government schools.
When Pratham used simple “report cards” to provide information about learning outcomes to villages in India, the intervention largely failed. There was no improvement in attendance of children or teachers, no improvement in learning outcomes; and parents, teachers, and village education committees did not become more engaged with the schools (Banerjee et al., 2010). However, when Pratham-trained youth volunteers offered basic reading classes outside of regular school, reading skills of children who attended improved substantially after one year. Why did information provision fail to improve learning outcomes?
Currently, the bulk of the new empirical work on estimating the impact on learning of various education projects/ programmes/policies, while based on sound principles of estimating causal impacts, is far too inadequately theorised and specified to be of much immediate and direct use in formulating effective action to accelerate learning. The RISE research agenda is moving forward by: (a) embedding research into a prior diagnostic of the overall system, (b) evaluating on-going attempts at education reform at scale, (c) specifying the details of programme/project/policy design, and (d) acknowledging that policy relevant learning is itself part of the system.