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Primary school enrolment rates exceed 90 percent in many developing countries—getting children into school has been one of the success stories of global development. But many of these children still are not learning. CGD seeks to better understand what causes this learning gap and, more importantly, what policies might help to end the global learning crisis.
One-quarter of the world’s school-age children live in East Asia and the Pacific. In the past 50 years, some economies in the region have successfully transformed themselves by investing in the knowledge, skills, and abilities of their workforce. Through policy foresight, they have produced graduates with new levels of knowledge and skills almost as fast as industries have increased their demand for them. Yet, tens of millions of students in the region are in school but not learning. In fact, as many as 60 percent of students remain in systems that are struggling to escape the global learning crisis or in systems where performance is likely poor.
High-stakes national assessments in developing countries tend to have important consequences for test takers. These assessments can determine a child’s future opportunities by deciding whether a child progresses to a higher grade or achieves a certain certification to enter the workforce. Because these assessments are important for both children and teachers, they have a strong influence on what actually happens inside the classroom, and as a result, on the learning outcomes of children.
DFID’s new education strategy to tackle the learning crisis prioritizes a pivotal part of any well-functioning education system: good teaching. It is obvious that any attempt to reform education systems cannot work if it does not generate effective teaching practices, which requires skilled and motivated teachers in the classroom.
"There are better ways to improve test scores," "food is expensive," "most kids would eat anyway," and other counterarguments contain some truth, but fail to overturn the basic economic logic of free, universal school feeding in poor countries.
The release of the World Bank’s World Development Report (WDR) is a milestone in the struggle to prepare the youth of today for the challenges of the world they will face. The report focuses on both the need to “get education right” and how to reform education systems to meet the challenge of preparing today’s youth to be tomorrow’s citizens, parents, community members, workers, and leaders. As we outline below, the WDR and our RISE programme share many core themes.
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?
We need an international assessment that will pinpoint educational challenges by providing consistent information on the status of all youth, not just those who have somehow stayed in formal schooling into adolescence. Think of a universal test of nine-year-olds in basic math, reading, and problem solving skills.