It is very interesting to compare how the great Asian nation states of today emerged from the chaos of World War II and subsequent decolonization. While Japan, China, South Korea and other East Asian countries each dismantled their old feudal order (at great human cost) to step into a modern and more egalitarian world; the fragments of what was the Indian sub-continent were kept busy in confrontation and conflict with each other, while the old feudal hierarchies flourished with a patina of modernity, albeit in discarded Western garb.
The choice to build a society of equals (with a natural outcome of inclusion in all policy, precept and practice) has been East Asia’s greatest strength and nowhere has inclusion paid richer dividends than in the universalization of education and the consequent enhancement of human capital for nation building. South Asia meantime, has concentrated on building elite institutions for the elite. Full stop.
In his introduction to the World Bank’s World Development Report (WDR) 2018: LEARNING – TO REALIZE EDUCATION’S PROMISE, the President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim, gives the example of his own country “… After the Korean War, the population was largely illiterate and deeply impoverished. Korea understood that education was the best way to pull itself out of economic misery, so it focused on overhauling schools and committed itself to educating every child—and educating them well. Coupled with smart, innovative government policies and a vibrant private sector, the focus on education paid off. Today, not only has Korea achieved universal literacy, but its students also perform at the highest levels in international learning assessments. It’s a high-income country and a model of successful economic development.”
The World Development Report this year is a refreshing change in that it looks at quality not quantity, effectiveness not efficiency, learning not schooling. Moreover, it admits that the global learning crisis is a moral crisis and schooling without learning is a wasted opportunity. “… More than that, it is a great injustice: the children whom society is failing most are the ones who most need a good education to succeed in life.”
The WDR 2018 sums up the reasons for the learning crisis, and the four immediate factors that break down:
Unprepared learners: Across the world, students from poorer households have more problems learning than those from richer households. Because of deprivation and malnutrition, a child’s innate learning ability is not fully developed and many come from homes where both parents may be illiterate/uneducated. The artifacts of learning, like books, are absent from the environment as the child grows to the age of enrollment, and child experts agree that if by the age of three, a child’s brain has not developed its full potential, it is unlikely to do so later.
Unskilled and unmotivated teachers: Poor training and the subsequent lack of knowledge and pedagogical tools make teachers in most developing countries a hindrance rather than a help to learning. The situation is made worse by widespread absenteeism with little or no monitoring and evaluation.
School inputs: Necessary resources often fail to reach classrooms or to affect learning when they do. One normally expects that with adequate resources, the quality of education would improve. However, resources in the hands of unmotivated and unskilled teachers are seldom deployed effectively and may have little or no impact on learning outcomes. (The other side of the coin is that one has seen highly motivated and dedicated voluntary workers achieving impressive results with few, if any, material resources in roadside ‘schools’ for street children or in the slums of large Indian cities.)
School management: Poor management and governance often undermine schooling quality. Although effective school leadership does not raise student learning directly, it does so indirectly by improving teaching quality and ensuring effective use of resources.
The Report goes on to suggest three complementary strategies to realize education’s promise and prioritize learning, not just schooling. It argues that achieving learning for all will require countries to:
- Assess learning to make it a serious goal. Information itself creates incentives for reform, but many countries lack the right metrics to measure learning.
- Act on evidence to make schools work for learning.
- Align actors to make the entire system work for learning.
Finally, the WDR 2018 points out that the rapid technological change of recent years has led to major shifts in the nature of work, and the demand for new skills will require “… foundational skills that allow individuals to size up new situations, adapt their thinking, and know where to go for information and how to make sense of it.”
If the learning crisis continues to remain unaddressed, then countries like India will forever lose their demographic dividend, and sink into a low-productivity-and-endemic-poverty trap, which they have so assiduously fought to break out of, in the past 70 years…
“If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children.”
KUAN CHUNG (7TH CENTURY BC)