To Improve Women’s Lives, Start by Improving Girls’ Education

written by Marla Spivack

By ensuring that all girls are receiving inclusive, effective instruction in well-functioning education systems, we can grow closer to achieving SDG 4’s promise of universal literacy and numeracy and lifelong learning.

Today is International Women’s Day. Among the unprecedented challenges that COVID-19 presents, there are manymanymany issues in women’s lives that deserve urgent attention.  Amid all of those pressing challenges, we should not lose sight of how COVID-19 is affecting today’s girls, who will become tomorrow’s women. 

COVID-19 and girls’ schooling

COIVD-19 has closed schools. According to UNESCO, nearly 1.5 billion children in more than 180 countries were affected by the closures. For girls with access to the internet, this means time spent in front of screens, where too little is known about how the abrupt transition to online learning will affect their progress. But for girls in disadvantaged countries and communities who lack access to the technology that enables remote schooling, school closures have severely curtailed or even completely paused their learning. 

Fortunately, schools are starting to open up again. This is welcome news. But school systems will have to act quickly to help girls catch up from this lost year of learning. Simulations and empirical estimates suggest that when children miss out on time in school, they can continue to fall farther behind after they return unless sufficient attention is paid to ensuring that classroom instruction matches children’s actual, post-lockdown learning levels rather than simply defaulting where the curriculum would have been under business as usual. Education systems need to focus on foundations when schools reopen, assess where students are when schools reopen, provide adequate time for remediation, and streamline curricula so that children don’t fall farther behind when they are back in the classroom

Those are the immediate steps systems can take to help children catch up from this crisis, but the reopening of schools is also the right time to ask: what kind of school systems are girls returning to? 

Even before the pandemic, far too many girls had their future potential stymied by ineffective education systems

The World Bank’s Learning Poverty measure paints a stark picture of the poor quality of the education most children in low- and middle-income countries receive. 53 percent of boys and girls in low- and middle- income countries reach the age of 10 without mastering basic reading skills. In the world’s poorest countries, the figures are even more grim, as Figure 1 shows.

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RISE Launches Interactive Data Visualisations Estimating Long-Term Learning Losses from COVID-19 School Closures

Guest blog written by Carmen Belafi

COVID-19 will exacerbate the learning crisis. Causing schools to close around the world, the pandemic disrupted education as we know it. But the COVID-19 shock to education systems will likely cause severe and long-term learning losses that are far bigger than the ‘mere’ time schools were closed. Learning losses can continue to accumulate after children return to school.

It is important to estimate long-term learning losses

Research following the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan shows how the long-run effects of school closures can compound over time.  When schools closed for 14 weeks following the disaster in Pakistan, learning losses were far more severe. Four years after the earthquake, children were 1.5 years behind their unaffected peers, far more than the 14 weeks of school they originally missed. Learning losses can far exceed the actual school closure time if no mitigating action is taken, multiplying an initial short-term learning loss into significant long-term losses.

The same will be true for COVID-19. Modelling the impact of school closures on children in Grade 3, Michelle Kaffenberger shows how an initial three-month school closure could build up to more than a year’s worth of learning by Grade 10 if no mitigating action is taken. This is because many students had already fallen behind before the pandemic caused schools to close, as curriculum and instruction were too ambitious to have all children keep up. And even school closures themselves will likely exacerbate inequalities—not only because solutions for remote learning vary a lot in quality and effectiveness, but also because students from lower socio-economic backgrounds do not have the same household support and access to remote learning options (especially those that require electricity or internet). Hence, differences in learning based on household characteristics are likely to widen during school closure times.

But the outcomes do not have to be so grim. Combining short-term remediation with long-term reorientation of instruction and curriculum to better align with children’s learning levels not only has the potential to fully mitigate learning losses, but to improve learning outcomes beyond what was to be expected under the ‘business as usual’, counterfactual scenario where the world never experienced COVID-19.

Continue reading RISE Launches Interactive Data Visualisations Estimating Long-Term Learning Losses from COVID-19 School Closures

Charting a new course: Education systems after COVID-19

Written by Dzingai Mutumbuka and Marla Spivack

An ordinary classroom in an African school.

We know that time away from school due to COVID-19 has undermined learning. Children are depending on education leaders – from high level officials to classroom teachers – to start planning now for a new focus on foundational skills. With bold action, and clear focus education systems can mitigate the long term effects of this crisis and set out on a new course towards sustainable improvement in learning. 

The global COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives and our education systems. Education has been adversely impacted in two significant ways: schools have been closed, in some cases for a whole year; and economic production, the major source of education funding through budgets, has declined precipitously.  In Africa, where there was already a learning crisis characterized by millions of children out of school and for those enrolled completing primary education without minimum competency in literacy – 86% of children reach the end of primary school without basic literacy according to the World Bank – and numeracy, COVID-19 school closures have turned the crisis into a nightmare.

Insights from research on education systems suggest that by making a system-wide commitment to prioritizing foundational skills, assessing children’s learning levels when schools reopen, and adapting instruction to children’s learning levels, education systems can mitigate learning loss and even come back stronger than before.

Several features of the learning crisis set the stage for COVID-19 school closures to severely impact long-term learning outcomes. Learning profiles in African countries are flat, meaning that children acquire little new learning with each additional year in school. Many fail to master foundational skills early on and then struggle to keep up or catch up as the curriculum progresses. For children who learn little during school closures, catching up will be even more challenging. Learning levels in classrooms can vary widely and are likely to likely to increase in the aftermath of COVID-19 closures

COVID-19 closures are also poised to exacerbate learning inequality. The majority of children in African countries do not have access to virtual learning, but those that do are likely to be urban and better off. Better off children are also more likely to have parents who can support and supplement remote learning from the school system.  

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Developing Country Education Systems that Learn

written by Lant Pritchett

Change is hard.  It is hard for individuals.  It is extra hard for organizations.  Change is especially hard for organizations when they have been successful.  Organizations often develop strategies, norms, and practices that are tailored to produce success in a particular activity or context.  When those strategies are successful, organizations have an especially difficult time to create and manage change that is not simply “more of the same, better.”

This is true even of large, successful, well-managed private sector organizations facing (organizational) life or death consequences.

The Big Store recounts how Sears, a veritable American retailing behemoth—accounting in the early 1970s for one percent of all US GDP—fell into a crisis and how incredibly hard it was to turn the organization around.  Even when people could see the organizational crisis it was often the people who were the very best at doing what made the organization a success in the past who were in top management positions—and hence those least likely to be able to recognize the need for, plan out, and lead change.

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