By Daria Blinova, yEES! member
Despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights anchors elementary education as an inalienable right of any person, the modern era of development and progress is experiencing a learning crisis. With the increase in school enrollment rate over the last decades, one could believe that the mission of universal education attainment is almost complete. However, as of today, more than 510 million children worldwide do not have literacy skills (Lost Potential Tracker, 2022), meaning they cannot read or comprehend basic sentences by age of 10 (Save the Children, 2021), not being said about the performance of sophisticated mental tasks.
Being in school does not necessarily mean being literate. It is only one part of the equation that by itself does not guarantee the desired outcome. Interestingly, while the primary school completion rate stood at around 90% in 2020 (World Bank, 2022), this factor alone is insufficient to conclude that basic education provides a child with the necessary set of skills required for the challenges of adulthood.
How much potential has been lost over the years and how much do we expect to lose? Every child deprived of quality education not only dooms its fate for an unsuccessful future but also abridges the contributions that societies could gain from the knowledge and interpersonal skills that he or she would get from effective learning. That being said, to achieve proficiency in reading, arithmetic, or critical thinking and escape “learning poverty” (UNICEF, 2020) that is prevalent in low- and middle-income countries, education should prioritize individual approach and personalization over universalization.
It is not new that international organizations and agencies draw the attention of global and local leaders to the impending danger of the insurmountable wall that contains accessibility of younger people to schooling opportunities. However, little has been said about the deeper reasons for the inability to acquire specific skills while already in school. This challenge for evaluators working in developing countries should be a priority area for analysis since knowing why learning poverty is on the rise might help to find solutions needed on the ground.
Among the array of reasons explaining the problem of the underserved, below I will focus on three particular ones that need to be urgently evaluated and addressed: inequality in education; teaching ineffectiveness, and the impact of conflict zones on educational quality.
First, while funding or higher spending has been injected nationally and globally into different educational projects, reality in countries of Sub-Saharan Africa demonstrates that this is not a solution given the fact of unequal distribution. Inequality in education is one of the problems that cause underperformance. Some research conducted by UNICEF (2020) in 42 countries indicates that children from riches households benefit more from public education spending with an average of 26%, while children with poor backgrounds get only 16%. Evaluators should design and assess programs that target the reduction of inequality since without even access to public resources among children of all backgrounds the allocation of skewed financial assets is meaningless and ineffective.
Moreover, it should be said that inequality is one of the primary reasons provoking the learning crisis. However, there are many secondary ones. For example, it is not uncommon to blame teachers for their low competence to educate children and deliver necessary skills. While addressing the teaching part is important, evaluators need to look at the broader context of teaching ineffectiveness. Potential triggers that impact teachers negatively may circulate around lack of educational materials for teachers themselves, ignorance about proper techniques of teaching, or obsolescence of learning programs that are not relevant to modern children.
In many developing countries, the teacher’s primary goal is to educate the whole class rather than pay attention to those lagging behind. Ignoring individual needs or not knowing how to handle them may frustrate the educational process and even impact a child’s decision to drop out. In this sense, evaluators need to find a solution for how to educate and integrate effective teaching techniques into the schooling routine in order to increase the capacity of each individual.
Finally, such problems as local conflicts, wars, and political instability play a major role in the spread of learning poverty. Conflict-torn countries not only divest attention to the educational needs of children but also openly neglect the investment in human capital. In many cases, internally displaced families or refugees is the category of people who cannot afford to educate their children properly. Being forced to relocate constantly creates disadvantages at a very early age that cannot be compensated through years. Therefore, it is an important goal for project planners and evaluators to work hand-in-hand on problems of humanitarian education.
The world is approaching the agenda of Sustainable Development Goals 2030. While much progress is underway and life quality has been improved at many points, effective education is the one interconnected component that bounds every aspect of solutions needed for the attainment of a prosperous future.
Author information: Daria Blinova is a Ph.D. student from the University of Delaware, studying at the Department of Political Science and International Relations
Save the Children. (2021). 393 million children unable to read: the world’s shocking lost potential. Accessed from: https://www.savethechildren.net/news/393-million-children-unable-read-world%E2%80%99s-shocking-lost-potential
Lost Potential Tracker. (2022). Accessed from: https://lostpotential.one.org/
World Bank. (2022). Primary completion rate. Accessed from: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.PRM.CMPT.ZS
UNICEF. (2020). For every child. Accessed from: https://www.unicef.org/media/63896/file/Addressing-the-learning-crisis-advocacy-brief-2020.pdf