Saturday, February 13, 2010

Reaching the Poorest

A recent article in The Economist (Reaching the Poorest, January 23rd 2010) questions the effectiveness of a recent push to increase funding to schools in the developing world. The article suggest that getting children into school is only the first step towards education and underlying issues of teacher absenteeism, students retention, and rural access deserve greater attention.

Although the number of unenrolled school-age children dropped by 33mm in the years between 1999 and 2007, nearly 50% of those children enrolled in school were in India. In sub-Saharan Africa 45% of the worlds 72mm remain unenrolled in school. Furthermore, the greatest drop in unenrolment came in the short time between 2002 and 2004, without significant change since that time.

“In Ghana, sixth-graders sitting a simple multiple-choice reading test scored on average the same mark that would be gained by random guessing.”
The difficulty of enrolling children from remote areas, as well as those speaking a minority language or from communities long excluded from education is stagnating the process. The article offers that increased funding is not a solution. In developing countries low-cost for-profit schools routinely out-perform the free or tax-payer subsided school. Teachers are more committed and parents complain if standards slip. Another option is performance-related pay for teachers. The idea, which has been tested in India, saw the extra pay to be three times more effective in boosting students test scores than spending the same money on teaching materials.

In order to meet the goals of the UN’s “Education For All” initiative, multiple approaches to increasing school enrolment in developing countries must be explored. It is not enough to build a school if the teachers do not come to teach or if the students do not understand the language of the teacher. Greater attention must be paid to the complexities of education and new solutions developed to increase access to education.