Today, we are highlighting a report from the Brookings Institution about learning in international development contexts. The report’s author, Michelle Kaffenberger, offers several key insights, some of which we highlight below.
PISA for Development (PISA-D), a new effort to include more low- and middle-income countries in the internationally comparable PISA assessments, released its first results in late 2018. Test results revealed shockingly low learning levels. Across the seven countries participating, only 12 percent of children who were tested met minimum proficiency levels for math, and 23 percent for reading, compared with 77 percent and 80 percent in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, respectively. Further, the test is only administered to 15-year-olds who are in school and in at least grade seven. When children who were ineligible for the test are taken into account, only six percent of all 15-year-olds on average across the PISA-D countries demonstrated proficiency in math (Figure 1). In Zambia it was only one percent. These measures of minimal proficiency correspond with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for literacy and numeracy, meaning these countries are far from achieving this basic goal.
Small tweaks will not be sufficient to address the severity of the learning crisis, nor to increase the pace of learning enough to reach universal basic skills in the foreseeable future. The scale of the problem suggests education systems, which have successfully achieved high levels of schooling attainment in most places, now need to be reoriented to be coherent not just for schooling but also for learning. The RISE Programme is conducting research to shed light on how to accomplish this. Other efforts are working to understand how approaches that achieve learning can be dramatically scaled, such as the Center for Universal Education at Brookings’s Millions Learning Real-time Scaling Labs, Pratham and JPAL’s Teaching at the Right Level, and RTI and USAID’s Tusome Early Grade Reading Program in Kenya. New data make it abundantly clear that profound improvements are urgently needed if we are serious about achieving learning for all.