On the importance of quality schooling

Halsey Rogers

In rural India, nearly three-quarters of students in class III could not solve a two-digit subtraction such as 46-17, and by class V half could still not do it”, says the World Development Report 2018.    

This year’s  World Development Report — first ever to be devoted entirely to education, says learning is not happening in many societies and countries. The report highlights not merely failures in delivery, but deeper systemic problems. Halsey Rogers, the co-director of the report provides an insight into the same in an interview. Here are the excerpts: 

What are the symptoms of learning crisis? 

Worldwide, hundreds of millions of children reach young adulthood without even the most basic life skills. Even if they attend school, many leave without the skills for calculating the correct change from a transaction, reading a doctor’s instructions, or interpreting a campaign promise — let alone building a fulfilling career or educating their children.

How can the countries do better?

  Even as learning goals are receiving greater rhetorical support, in practice many features of education system conspire against learning. 

 The report argues that countries can improve by advancing on three fronts: By using well-designed student assessments to gauge the health of the education system where hidden exclusions could be spotlighted and progress could be evaluated.

And, by continuously using innovative methods to improve learning, and by meeting all the stakeholders and working towards the solving the issues pertaining to education.

The report talks about teacher-learner breakdown. Where does it happen?

Firstly, it may be because children arrive at school unprepared to learn due to malnutrition, illness, low parental investments, and the harsh environments associated with poverty. There is evidence that poor children’s cognitive skills fall well behind in the years before primary schools. Secondly, teachers are the most important factor for effective learning in schools. But most education systems do not attract applicants with strong backgrounds or train teachers effectively. High incidence of absenteeism among teachers also counts. Thirdly, devoting enough resources to education is crucial. But resource shortage is only a small part of the problem. In most cases, key inputs like textbooks, stationery or laptops fail to make it to the front line. Fourthly, poor management and governance often undermine schooling quality. Ineffective school leadership means that school principals are not actively involved in helping teachers solve problems, do not provide instructional advice and do not set goals and prioritise learning.

 The report talks about systemic failures too...

  There could be factors — often invisible — that pull key actors away from a focus on learning. Some of the deeper causes are political in nature. Politicians act to preserve their positions of power which may lead them to target certain groups (geographic, ethnic or economic) for benefits. Bureaucrats may focus more on keeping politicians and teachers happy than on promoting student learning, or they may simply try to protect their positions. Private suppliers of education services—whether textbooks, construction or schooling—may in the pursuit of profit, advocate policy choices that undermine learning. Teachers may fight to secure their jobs or to protect their income. These concerns may override their learning-aligned interests in poorly managed systems. These technical and political challenges keep many systems stuck in low-learning traps, with low accountability and high inequality.

What does the report recommend to address the maladies?

Only half of all countries have metrics to measure learning at the end of primary and lower secondary schools. It is useful to remember the adage: ‘‘What gets measured, gets managed”. Lack of measurement makes it hard to know where things are, where they are going, and what actions are making any difference. Countries and communities need to put in place a range of well-designed student assessments to help teachers guide students, improve system management and focus society’s attention on learning.  Countries should focus on preparing learners by reducing stunting and promoting brain development through early nutrition and should support disadvantaged children with grants. Secondly, skilled, motivated teachers can make the difference. Thirdly, deploying appropriate technologies that could enable the teachers to get down to the level of the students would increase the productivity of investment in education.      

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