AI and education in China

In recent weeks, we have come across a number of pieces on AI and education in China. For instance, a recent article by Karen Hao talks about how “experts agree AI will be important in 21st-century education—but how? While academics have puzzled over best practices, China hasn’t waited around. In the last few years, the country’s investment in AI-enabled teaching and learning has exploded.”

IEN contributor Aidi Bian offers further insights:

Education and AI has become increasingly popular in China during the past years. AI technologies are explored and applied in both individual learning settings and classrooms (see links below). While most of the time, high technology serves to assist students in preparing for standardized tests and learning, AI applications like the adaptive tutoring product Squirrel AI do contribute to learning efficiency and equality.


A few related reports:

AI-enabled tuition ushers in the intelligent age:

China wants to bring artificial intelligence to its classrooms to boost its education system:

Liulishuo’s AI App Is Teaching English to 70 Million People:

TAL Education Group (in Chinese):

Scaling education programs in the Philippines: A policymaker’s perspective

This week, we’re sharing highlights from a recent piece from Brookings about education programs in the Philippines. You can find the piece here. As the author, Rosalina describes:

In 2016, 586,284 children of primary school age in the Philippines were out of school, underscoring demand for large-scale programs to address unmet learning needs. As a chief education program specialist in the Department of Education (DepEd) in the Philippines, I have firsthand experience planning, implementing, and monitoring and evaluating a variety of education programs. One of our main challenges is ensuring that effective initiatives, such as with our teacher professional development program, take root and grow into sustainable, system-wide approaches for improving teacher quality and encouraging responsive instructional practices to improve learning outcomes.


How was DepEd able to improve literacy and numeracy skills in recent years? We began by articulating a clear vision that focused on teachers, as they play a fundamental role in developing these skills among their students. I worked closely with my team of education experts to retool teachers’ mastery of content knowledge and pedagogical skills so they could effectively lead in the classroom. In 2015, we introduced the Early Language, Literacy, and Numeracy Program (ELLN) to improve reading and numeracy skills of K-3 learners. ELLN strengthened teacher capacity to teach and assess reading and numeracy skills, improved school administration and management, established competency standards, and introduced a school-based professional development system for teachers, the “School Learning Action Cell” (SLAC). ELLN trained teachers through a ten-day, face-to-face training module. While this approach had some impact, it was not to the extent we hoped—we wanted to reach the entire country. We understood that scaling an in-person training would be costly and time-consuming to reach primary grade teachers in all schools throughout the country. Because of this, my DepEd colleagues and I began thinking about ways we could harness technology to deliver improved teacher professional development at a national scale.


In the Philippines, the following approaches helped us to create, adapt, and scale programs with the aim of sustainable impact:

  • Identify learning champions at all levels: There is a need to identify and empower a pool of champions at multiple levels of the system—in the regions, divisions, communities, and schools. By doing so, these champions become agents of change. In the case of ELLN, regional directors play a critical role in implementing the program by liaising with school division superintendents and public school leaders.
  • Adapt programs to local context: Those implementing programs at larger scale or in new locations should be equipped to make the programs work in their areas by contextualizing approaches to suit local needs. This includes identifying and articulating the “non-negotiables” of the original design to ensure adherence to a set standard, but those implementing in new contexts should feel agency to adjust to fit local needs. Setting specific standards on program implementation through policy guidelines or memoranda can help maintain the appropriate level of consistency in implementation between different areas. On ELLN-D, we encourage slight variations in the structure and format of SLACs in ways that make sense for a given context.
  • Recognize that every idea is valuable: It is important to allow champions to implement the program with standardized guidance but recognize that adjustments and changes are not only inevitable but also beneficial. Have faith that even when the originating organization or institution is no longer around, others implementing can successfully deliver the programs and have sustained positive impact on the people they serve.

IOE London Blog: Counting the cost of a fragmented school system

**This post initially appeared on the IOE London Blog, a blog written by academics at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), University College London.**

In an effort to turn schools into academies too little attention has been given to constructing a middle tier oversight system that is fair and efficient for all.

This is an unescapable conclusion of our new study, Understanding the Middle Tier: Comparative Costs of Academy and LA-maintained Systems, which has uncovered the cost of England’s systems for overseeing academies and local authority (LA) schools. We found a complex and confusing picture that reinforces the Public Accounts Committee judgement that the Department for Education’s ‘arrangements for oversight of schools are fragmented and incoherent, leading toinefficiency for government and confusion for schools.’

The ‘middle tiers’ are the systems of support and accountability connecting publicly-funded schools and academies with the DfE – functions that were formerly carried out for all state schools by local authorities (LAs).

We found inequity: the middle tier functions for academies cost 44% more than for LA-maintained schools in 2016/17 (latest available data). The overall cost of the middle tier for the academy system was £687.4m or £167.05 per pupil, compared to £524.4m or £115.71 per pupil for the LA school system.

The difference can largely be explained by extra grants provided to multi-academy trusts (MATs) for functions previously undertaken by LAs. The top-slicing of academy budgets by MATs further increases the available funding for senior leadership posts to undertake middle tier functions. These leadership posts have not only increased in number but salaries have been unregulated. This has led to headline-hitting figures, such as those for Harris Federation’s CEO, whose salary without on-costs was £440,000 in 2016/17. Perhaps this is a reason why large MATs (11+ academies) did not demonstrate the economies of scale that might be expected. Academies belonging to these large trusts had the highest cost per pupil.

We identified middle tier functions under four main headings of finance, accountability, access and people. In simple terms, these were carried out by LAs for all schools before the policy of large-scale academisation was introduced in 2010. In 2016/17 70% of schools were LA-maintained and 30% academies but the proportions have changed. 60% of schools are now overseen by the 152 LAs and 40% are academies overseen by the Education and Skills Funding Agency, the Regional Schools Commissioners and by 1,183 multi-academy trusts and 1,608 single academy trusts.

Assessing the comparative costs of the middle tiers has been extremely complex and difficult. The Department for Education (DfE) does not publish information about the costs of middle tier functions performed by its agencies and refused our Freedom of Information requests. It is clear that greater efficiency, fairness and transparency are needed in the funding and oversight of England’s school system.

The research report by Sara Bubb Associates was commissioned and part-funded by the Local Government Association, but its content expresses the independent evidence-based views of its authors: Dr Sara Bubb, Jonathan Crossley-Holland, Julie Cordiner, Dr Susan Cousin and Professor Peter Earley.

Launching THINK Global School: An Interview with Founder Joann McPike

THINK Global School is a “traveling” school that takes students to four different countries every year, twelve countries total. In this week’s post, IEN talks with Joann McPike who founded THINK Global in 2010.  We met McPike during the US-China Education Forum, organized by the Columbia-Teachers College Chinese Students’ Association. In a previous post, Launching a new school in China, we talked with Wen Chen about newly opened Moonshot Academy, and a future post from the Forum will feature Christopher Bezsylko Head of the Imagination Lab School.


Where did the idea for Think Global school originate?

Joann McPike: When my son, Alexander, was young, we traveled a lot. We took schoolwork with him, and we did it while we were travelling.  By the time he was thirteen, we had been to seventy-two countries. When we were in these countries, the questions that he was asking, the answers he was getting, and, consequently, what he was learning became so much more relevant.

At one point, we were in Vietnam, and our guide said “I’m going to show you some American propaganda.”  In my head, I was thinking “Americans don’t have propaganda,” but he took us into a room, and it was full of American propaganda from the Vietnam war. It hit me right then that we so often learn history from just one perspective. If you go to school in America you talk and think like an American; if you go to school in France, you talk and think like you’re French; in China, you talk and think like you are Chinese. I didn’t want that for Alexander, I wanted him to have a global perspective. I wanted him to be able to look at different countries, and say, “Okay, why is this society where it is now?”

We get so stuck in the world today looking at whathappened, but we don’t spend enough time looking at whythings happen. Why is the world the way it is? Why is a society where it is? Why is a country where it is? Why is a person where he/she is? Why are they angry? Why are they bullying you?

I wanted to start asking those “why” questions. So, when it was time for Alexander to go to high school, I said to him maybe we could just get a big boat and travel around the world and take a tutor.  But he said “That would be really boring. It would be more fun if there were a bunch of kids.” I said, “Okay, I’m going to get a bunch of kids and teach, and we can travel the world.”   But my husband said “You are insane. Nobody is going to want to go to a school like that.”  But I just felt like that was the way for Alexander to get an education, so we did it.

That first year, we found fifteen kids with very brave parents. Our curriculum was minimal to start off with and our first head of school came and left — just walked out one day.  But we did that first year in such a beautiful way. It was really philosophy heavy. The math was a great. The science was a little bit haywire, but every country we went to, it was the food, the sports, the history. We read books from local authors and it was so rich and full, and I thought that’s the way I wanted it to be. Then, during the second year, the board at the time thought we needed to have students take the International Baccalaureate because that would give us some credibility, academic rigor, and respect. So, we did the IB for a couple of years. At some point, though, the students pulled me aside, and they sat me down and said this isn’t working. Many of them had been part of that first year where they just travelled, and learned, and experienced, and lived, and they grew as human beings.

So how did you respond?

JM: I said “Yeah, I know.” We were on a lawn in India and they had me in the middle of a circle. They said “We are an IB school that offers travelling. We’re not a traveling school that’s offering the IB.” and I said “I agree with you.” They were so stressed out about exams, and they were so stressed out about the number, you know “What am I going to get?”  It just made me so sad. The teachers were stressed out as well. So I went back to the board and I said, “Look, this isn’t working. This is not the school that I envisioned. This doesn’t feel right. So either we close it or we change it.” That’s when we looked for a new head and found our current head, Jamie Steckart.  The students were the ones that interviewed him, and they were the ones that said, “Okay, by far he’s the one we need.”

So, the key step was to work with the students to identify a new principal, and then for the principal to hire new teachers?

JM: No, at that point, we didn’t hire new teachers. When Jamie came in, he sat down with the students and said, “Look, the IB isn’t working. We want to get rid of it, and I know exactly what we’re going to do.” Jamie had been teaching project-based learning for twenty-five years before it was a thing. He was an Outward Bound instructor, and he used to use project-based learning and saw the turnaround and the engagement it brought.

It did take a lot of trust, because even though I wanted something different, I didn’t know how to make that happen. I knew it had to happen, but just didn’t know how. So I had to have that trust in Jamie and in the process. When he said “Okay, this is what we’ve got to do. We need extra money in the budget because we’ve got to send these teachers around the world for the next year to develop curriculum and set up the projects for the next incoming class,” I went, “Okay, whatever you need. Let’s just do it.”  Through a lot of work, Jamie and a team of educators self-designed the Changemaker Curriculum, which we have in place today and has completely transformed our school, bringing it much closer to the highs we experienced during that first year.

When you describe the school, what are some of the key features you talk about?

JM: It’s a nomadic boarding school with a curriculum based on project-based learning and a heavy emphasis on social emotional learning.  I always say that our kids live their learning, and the learning is relevant. I tell them when they arrive: “You can go into any class and ask your teacher ‘Why am I learning this?’ and the teachers have to be able to tell you why. If the teachers can’t tell you why you’re learning that, why it’s relevant to your life, then come and talk to me.” That’s so different from my education. I did two years of algebra and calculus in high school. I have never used algebra and calculus. Someone once said to me, “Well, you need to have algebra and calculus so that you have linear thinking.” But my thinking is completely lateral. What kids are going to need in the future is lateral thinking. They need to be able to look at a problem from many different angles. Come at it sideways and not look at it the standard way.  That’s what we do with the kids as they travel around the world.

You might expect pivoting away from the IB would make our curriculum less challenging, but the opposite is true. The difference now is that our students are held to their own lofty standards rather than just that of an academic status quo. Instead of spending hours in a classroom being talked at by a teacher, our students are creating projects relevant to the communities they visit and answering driving questions that tackle real problems in the world.

How can we deliver potable water to rural communities in India? How should Japan’s government approach the nuclear debate? In each of the four countries they visit on a yearly basis, students integrate into the local community, gaining firsthand perspectives from locals and experts. Our students come from all over the world and apply their own unique take to everything they do. It’s incredible to see the different ways they approach each project’s driving question.

One of the key things I’d like to stress about education today is that we should be encouraging individuality in students instead of the standard one-size-fits-all approach, as no two students learn in the exact same way. This is where our focus on social-emotional learning and our curriculum truly shines. Our kids are gaining mastery in the subjects they truly care about and the 21st-century life skills that will truly help them as they leave high school and enter the next stages of their life.

We just graduated our first class of non-IB students in Greece, and the majority of them are now headed off to university or a gap year with a clear picture in their mind of what they want to pursue, and that’s because they’ve had hands-on experience doing it over the last two years. Their educational experiences at THINK Global School have been invaluable in getting them to that point.


As a school, what are you working on now? What’s one of the challenges that you face?

JM: With the school one of the challenges is getting full-pay students. Right now, it is a scholarship-based system. Most of the students have scholarships because I always said that it’s not just a school for rich kids, it’s a school for the right kids. There are a lot of amazing kids out there that would never be able to afford to go to a school like this but who are really going to do something good to change the world. They are the ones I want to go to this school. But we’re not a normal standard school, so another one of the challenges we have is to show that what we’re doing is safe. We’re not putting your children at some future risk that they’re not going to be able to get a job or they’re not going to be able to get into university. So our challenge is to prove to parents that it is academically safe to be so diverse.

What are some of the things that you’ve learned that you think might be helpful to those who are trying to create new schools, even ones that are quite different from yours?

JM: Be brave. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Just keep going. Dare to be different. Connect with other people who are doing similar things. Reach out. The people that I’ve met who are doing innovative things in education, we all want to know one another. There is support in numbers. It’s not a competition. I’m not competing with anyone. I want to help you build your school to be the best school that can be and you will help me do the same thing. I think in education, especially with these top boarding schools and universities, it’s all such a competition. It’s not a competition. If we truly want to save the human species, education is the key. We have to get everybody a decent education and help them develop a true belief of who they are, of their potential, and of what they’re capable.



Dr Kay Fuller is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Management. She works in the Centre for Research in Educational Leadership and Management (CRELM) at the University of Nottingham. Her research interests are centred in gender in educational leadership including research on the distribution of women secondary school headteachers in the UK; women and men’s constructions of identity among school populations; and the use of a variety of feminist theories including intersectionality theory. She is a member of the international Women Leading Education network. Kay is also an elected member of BELMAS Council, research co-ordinator and co-convenor of the Gender and Leadership Research Interest Group. She is a former English teacher and Deputy Headteacher of mixed comprehensive schools, an Initial Teacher Educator in secondary English education and currently leads the MA in Educational Leadership and Management at the University of Nottingham.

In this interview, part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Dr. Fuller discusses education movements, social transformation, and impacting people’s lives. As she puts it:

We have to question the drivers of educational transformation. Is the transformation designed to align a school’s practice with the dominant discourses of the day about ‘what works’ in education? Or is it about enhancing, and possibly changing some people’s lives, by establishing a focus on equality, diversity and inclusion? Will it enable access to learning and resources? If our perspective is critical, we must find ways to support grassroots movements that clearly resist some of the dehumanising impacts of contemporary education systems. A recent research project looking at an international social media based network for women in education, #WomenEd, demonstrates its members are more concerned with why and how they do leadership than with who does leadership. They desire humane organisations that are people, family, work- life and women friendly. Organisations where everyone can thrive, not just survive. It is up to us to uncover these desires for the profession and to disseminate the findings to give others the evidence to believe this approach is possible in their own settings. It is possible for equity to sit alongside excellence in education.

This Lead the Change interview appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently Lead the Change has also interviewed Kristin Kew and Osnat Fellus.


Headlines Around the World: TALIS 2018 Results

In June, the OECD released the TALIS 2018 results. The “Teaching and Learning International Survey covers about 260,000 teachers in 15,000 schools across 48 countries and economies.” The report “looks first at how at how teachers apply their knowledge and skills in the classroom in the form of teaching practices, with an accompanying assessment of the demographic makeup of those classrooms and the school climate to provide context on learning environments. The volume then assesses the ways in which teachers acquired their knowledge and skills during their early education and training, as well as the steps they take to develop them through continuous professional development over the course of their career.”

In this post, we share reflections from Professor Sam Abrams and news headlines from a number of countries.

According to Abrams:
The 2018 TALIS study leaves me with three concerns.
First, the data for teaching time for the United States continue to appear exaggerated. As I noted in my comparative analysis of teaching time in 2015, The Mismeasure of Teaching Time, the 2013 TALIS study reported that U.S. teachers at the lower-secondary level spend 26.8 hours per week (or 5.4 hours per day) leading classes. The average for the 31 countries surveyed for that study was 19.3 hours per week (or 3.9 hours per day). The length of the school day in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), is 6.7 hours. According to the TALIS survey, teachers are supposed to report only “actual teaching time,” nothing more. Covering study hall or seeing students for extra help should not be counted as “actual teaching time,” but that appears to be what U.S. teachers provided in the survey, given that typical lower-secondary teachers teach five classes running 45 minutes each, meaning a weekly load of 18.8 hours of teaching. Even if they teach six classes running 45 minutes, the weekly load would be 22.5 hours, not 26.8 hours, as reported in the 2013 TALIS study. The situation is worse with the 2018 TALIS study, according to which U.S. lower-secondary teachers spend 28.1 hours per week (or 5.6 hours per day) leading classes, compared to an average for the 48 countries surveyed of 20.3 hours per week (or 4.1 hours per day).
Second, this increase from 26.8 hours per week to 28.1 from 2013 to 2018 is nevertheless significant. Setting aside the interpretation of “actual teaching time,” U.S. teachers report a teaching load that has increased by 78 minutes per week. Such an increase did not happen for the teachers in the countries surveyed in 2013. Again, their average in 2013 was 19.3 hours per week. If we look at the countries in the 2018 TALIS study that were included in the 2013 study, we get an average of 19.9 hours a week, which means an increase in teaching time of 36 minutes per week (of the 31 countries in the 2013 study, all but Malaysia and Serbia were included in the 2018 study). This increase of 78 minutes per week–whether it came in the form of “actual teaching time” or monitoring study hall or seeing students for extra help–comports with the well-justified feeling among teachers across the United States of being overworked. The teacher walk-outs for better pay in 2018 in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona give these numbers additional context. Teachers are working more and getting paid less. And they had no choice but to protest.
Third, the OECD needs to do a more consistent job of reporting teaching time. On the one had, in their annual digest, Education at a Glance, the OECD publishes data from national administrative registers or surveys. On the other hand, in its TALIS studies, the OECD publishes data about teaching time from surveys alone. In response to my analysis in 2015, NCES withdrew its survey data from Education at a Glance. NCES had been reporting for years that “net statutory contact time” for lower-secondary teachers was 1,080 hours or thereabout, which translated into 6 hours per day for a 180-day year. That number came from the Department of Education’s Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), which turned out to be significantly flawed, as I documented in my analysis. NCES subsequently used the number from the TALIS study: 981 hours. Going forward, in Education at a Glance, the OECD should use either administrative registers or surveys but not a mix. The result has been a misleading picture of how teachers in different countries work.

Headlines from Around the World


Teacher Magazine (June 28th) — Teacher Staffroom Episode 5: International research


Croatia Week (June 23rd) — Croatian teachers more educated than EU average, survey shows


CNA News (June 19th) — Singapore teachers work longer hours than OECD average: International survey

South Africa

All Africa (June 30th) — South Africa: Minister Angie Motshekga Releases Talis Research Study Results

Inside Education (July 2nd) — #TALIS 2018 – What SA Teachers Are Saying

Business Tech (July 2nd) — 5 of the biggest problems South African teachers struggle with

United Kingdom

FE News (June 19th) — Research and analysis: Teachers in primary and secondary schools: TALIS 2018

Forbes (June 20th) — It’s Recruitment As Much As Workload That’s Key To Tackling The Teacher Shortage

United States

Education Drive (June 19th) — Survey: Despite long working hours, US teachers satisfied with jobs

The Progressive Pulse (June 20th) — Teachers enjoy the work, but don’t think they’re appreciated

30 New Findings in Global Education: RISE Conference 2019 (Repost from CGD)

This week, we are reposting a piece from Dave Evans on the recent RISE conference. Dr. Evans’ original post can be found here.


Last week, Research on Improving Education Systems (RISE) held its annual conference, which economist Karthik Muralidharan has dubbed “the top conference on education in developing countries in the world.” Over the course of two days, researchers presented over 30 new findings on education systems. If you weren’t able to attend, you can find the full line-up and livestreams here. If you want a quick taste of this year’s research highlights, read on!

Word cloud of paper titles from RISE conference

A word cloud of paper titles from the 2019 RISE conference

Learning inequalities and social mobility

  • You want kids to go further in school because more school improves their life outcomes. Across five countries, if you close the learning gap between poor kids and rich kids at age 12, it narrows the gap in completed years of schooling by age 22 by between a quarter and half (Singh, with Das & Chang; video).
  • In Benin, exposure to education in the colonial era increases “social mobility across three generations.” The largest effects are for grandchildren of people with only indirect exposure: They didn’t get an education, but they were in villages with a school (Wantchekon; video).
  • Indonesians exposed to a major school construction program in their childhood are doing better now, in their 50s. They got more education, make more health investments, and did better on the marriage market. Their children are also getting more education, especially daughters whose mothers were exposed to the program (Kleemans, with Akresh & Halim; video).
  • After examining 275 educational interventions across 50+ countries, two-thirds don’t report gender differentiated impacts, and general interventions deliver similar gains for girls as interventions that are targeted to girls (Evans, with Yuan; video; blog post).

Motivation, management, and incentives for teachers

  • Leave your problems at home? Not so easy! In rural Ghana, personal and professional challenges in the lives of new teachers are associated with lower learning and reduced socioemotional development among their students (Fatima, with Wolf; video).
  • When teacher incentives are removed, does performance drop? In Tanzania, non-monetary incentives (i.e., cool cell phones) increased test scores. After the incentives program ended, scores didn’t fall (Sabarwal, with Filmer & Habyarimana; video).
  • In Rwanda, pay-for-performance contracts (using the pay-for-percentile design) attracted more money-oriented candidates, but those candidates were at least as effective as traditionally recruited candidates. Pay-for-performance boosted student learning (Zeitlin, with Leaver, Ozier, & Serneels; video).
  • Poorer countries don’t just have higher pupil-teacher ratios: They also have higher variation in pupil-teacher ratios within the country. From a new data set of almost two million schools across 86 countries, we learn that changing how teachers are allocated across schools could significantly boost learning (Walter; video).

Inside the classroom

  • Technology aided education improved learning for kids in a small scale after-school program in Delhi. Integrated into schools in Rajasthan, the program still significantly increases learning, and at much lower cost. But it doesn’t boost the test scores that teachers are evaluated on, creating a conundrum for the future (Muralidharan, with Singh; video).
  • In middle schools in Pakistan, in-class technology together with teacher training (to help them integrate the technology effectively) increased both effort and test scores among students (Beg, with Lucas, Halim, & Saif; video).
  • “Does gamification in education work?” Math games in low-performing primary schools in Chile lead to sizeable gains in math learning. It also increased “the idea among students that study effort can raise intelligence” (good) and math anxiety (bad) (Cristia, with Araya, Ortiz, & Bottan; video).
  • Adolescent girls in Zambia received e-readers plus an empowerment curriculum and study groups: Literacy and non-verbal reasoning skills rose (Mensch, with 11 co-authors; video).
  • What explains why Vietnam’s primary schools are so effective? A panel study shows that just as elsewhere, easily measured teacher attributes don’t explain it (Glewwe, with 5 co-authors; video).
  • In Gambia, combining three effective interventions—para-teachers delivering after-school classes, scripted lessons, plus frequent monitoring and coaching—delivered big gains in learning, but it wasn’t cheap (Eble, with 6 co-authors; video).
  • In South Africa, teachers who received coaching maintained their improved teaching practices in subsequent years. Student learning for new cohorts was still elevated, but not as high as in the year the teachers received coaching (Cilliers, with Fleisch, Kotze, Mohohlwane, & Taylor; video).
  • Want to know how teachers are doing? Ask the students! A survey of 4,000+ primary school students and their parents showed that student perceptions of teacher performance—particularly teacher engagement and praise of students—were associated with students advancing in school (Weldesilassie, with Woldehanna, Oketch, & Sabates; video).

School accountability by parents and communities

  • Eight years after a school report card intervention in Pakistan, improvements in test scores and price declines in private schools are maintained, together suggesting large improvements in productivity in the education market (Das, with Andrabi and Khwaja; video).
  • In Uganda, a scorecard about the quality of schools increased student learning, but only when communities had input into what would be monitored on the scorecard. New work tries to understand whether this would work administered at the district level (Kabay; video).
  • School council members—teachers, parents, & community—in Pakistan received regular phone calls encouraging them to spend the funds they’d received. It worked: Spending rose. But there was no impact on attendance or learning (Asim; video).

What parents do

  • Lots of people pay for after-school tutoring, but in the slums of Delhi, offering prices to different families shows that paying a higher price leads to higher attendance and lower prices reduce dropout rates (from tutoring). There is “no evidence that tutoring impact average test scores” (Mukherjee, with Berry; video).
  • Do parents invest in their children’s education in order to maximize household income, or do they seek to reduce inequality across their children? A lab-in-the-field experiment in Malawi shows that parents care about both, but that they sacrifice a significant proportion of income to avoid inequality (Jagnani, with Berry & Dizon-Ross; video).

Reducing the cost of schooling

  • A scholarship program aimed at improving high school graduation rates in Mexico had no impact. The program was mistargeted, largely missing the poorest students. But many eligible students also lack the minimum skills to finish high school. As de Hoyos said in the presentation, “If kids don’t know how to add, and you want them to do calculus, you can give them a million US dollars & they still won’t be able to do calculus” (de Hoyos, with Attanasio & Costas-Meghir; video).
  • Merit-based or needs-based scholarships? Nine years after the scholarships were distributed in Cambodia, beneficiaries of both had more schooling, but only beneficiaries of merit scholarships had higher learning or well-being (Barrera-Osorio, with de Barros & Filmer; video).

Innovating at the system level

  • If we want education systems to align around learning, then the idea that providing quality education is the responsibility of the government needs to shift to all actors in the system. To do that, we need to create space for innovation throughout the system. Levy illustrates this with examples from South Africa (Levy; video).
  • Trust and control reinforce each other in South Africa’s education system. Whether that is positive or negative depends on how the accountability is implemented: Is it followed up with support? Is it meaningful for schools? (Ehren, with Paterson & Baxter; video)
  • In Kenya, an effective pilot to improve literacy was scaled up nationally, retaining the essential program inputs—classroom visits with feedback to teachers, updated textbooks, detailed learning guides—and delivering improved early grade literacy throughout the country. (Piper and DeStefano, with Kinyanjui and Ong’ele; video).

Measurement and methods

  • Can we construct quantitative, meaningful measures of bureaucracy in education? A new instrument measures coherence in terms of whether bureaucrats share a common understanding of which jobs are whose. Across four countries in Latin America (the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Peru, and certain states in Brazil) and levels, bureaucrats identify just 56 percent of tasks officially assigned to them as their own (Adelman, with Lemos, Nayar, & Vargas; video).
  • A new, first-of-its-kind dataset measures learning across 164 countries and territories—98 percent of the world’s population. It suggests that girls do better than boys on learning but have less schooling. Learning is associated with growth, but it matters more for countries at certain levels of development (Angrist, with Djankov, Goldberg, & Patrinos; video).
  • How big a problem is cheating on large-scale national exams? Indonesia introduced an integrity score in 2015, which showed a full third of middle schools with evidence of substantial cheating. But new, computer-based exams is making cheating more difficult (Berkhout, with Pradhan, Wati, Suryadarma, & Swarnata; video).
  • There is so much variation within categories of education interventions that trying to figure out “which interventions work” is unlikely to yield success. Rather, try to figure out why specific interventions work (Masset; video).
  • A large-scale randomized trial Andhra Pradesh, India shows that “paper-based tests overstate achievement a lot” relative to tablet-based tests (Singh; video).
  • Teacher skills matter for learning, but so do the initial distribution of student skills, the pace of the curriculum, and other factors. In different cases, the factor that matters the most for improving learning outcomes will vary (Kaffenberger, with Pritchett; video; blog post).

Beyond research

In addition to the research presentations, the conference included insightful policy discussions.

  • Kwabena Tandoh, Deputy Director General of Quality & Access for the Ghana Education Service discussed “Hard Choices: From Long Lists to Prioritised Action” with Karen Mundy (video).
  • Laura Savage of the UK’s Department for International Development led a discussion with Pinelopi Goldberg (World Bank), Raphaelle Martinez (Global Partnerships for Education), and Bronwen Magrath (Oxford University) on Big Efforts in Education.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.