NCAER staff had the privilege on April 10 of listening to members of the core team of the 2018 WDR on Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. At hand were both WDR co-directors, Deon Filmer and Halsey Rogers, and WDR team member & senior economist Tara Beteille. This is the first WDR entirely dedicated to education. In a far reaching presentation (attached), Filmer and Rogers had three key WDR messages to convey. First, education is not learning. Second, many developing countries are in a learning crisis. Third, much can be done to climb out of the crisis. The report has been extremely timely: learning, vital to building human capital, has to be the bedrock of almost all the SDGs.
Filmer and Rogers started the discussion with the powerful message that schooling is not the same as learning, illustrating this with telling examples from India (using the ASER results) and South Africa. But the story is similar across many developing nations. Years of schooling is not the same as learning. What is even more worrying is that the progress made by these countries on standardized tests such as the OECD’s PISA suggest that if nothing changes, it would take a very long time for these countries to catch up to the OECD averages: in Brazil, for example, it would take 15 years to reach today’s OECD PISA average for math.
They then shared why the WDR 2018 team is persuaded that much of the developing world is in a learning crisis. And why the learning crisis ends up being a skills crisis. The percentage of kids leaving primary school who meet minimum proficiency thresholds for maths drops off significantly from higher income countries to lower income ones in each of the upper-middle, lower-middle (where India is), and the low income countries. The learning crisis amplifies inequality. As foundational education remains weak, the learning deficits widen over time resulting in poor skills and employability and incomes. The learning crisis severely hobbles disadvantaged and poor youth who most need the boost that a good education can offer. In a few years, the learning crisis then transforms into a skill crisis.
But education continues to have great promise. The WDR shows data demonstrating that what matters for growth is learning. Dean and Halsey talked about the four key issues that impede learning:
These problems persist and are often compounded by technical complexities in the learning process and political economy that pull education systems out of alignment with learning, and reinforce a low-learning, low-accountability, high-inequality trap.
What can be done? The world has seen substantial success stories in countries such as South Korea, Vietnam, Peru, and in parts of India, experiences that tell us that rapid progress is possible.
Tara Beteille spoke about the companion report on South Asia that she is leading and which will drill down into the implications of the WDR messages for the region. She promised to present this new report at NCAER later in the year.
The presentations were followed by a lively and rich exchange and Q&A with NCAER staff. They also talked about how the findings of the WDR 2018 resonated closely with the Skilling India: No time to lose report that NCAER is about to release.
The WDR team and NCAER are likely to partner over the coming months to hold a series of video conferences open to researchers and interested public built around the four parts of the WDR 2018: Education’s promise; The learning crisis; Innovations and evidence in learning; and Making the system work for learning at scale.
Over lunch with the WDR team, further plans were hatched to explore if India’s Right to Education Act should be renamed the Right to Learning Act, and what that would mean for India’s children and teachers and for India’s policymakers and political leaders.