Are Children Learning?

In July 15th issue of The Economist, there was an interesting article on whether the money being spent on education in developing countries was resulting in children actually learning. Globally, the World Bank alone has spent over $12 billion on primary education since 1990. Pratham, an India educational charity, reported that less than half of children ages 7-14 could read a simple passage in their native language.

One of the most successful programs to date in increasing school enrollment is to not only make primary education free, but to actually pay parents (cash or free meals) if they keep their children in schools. In Nicaragua, a pilot program like this has raised enrollment rates by 22%.

It seems that donors are more interested in school-building than they are in schooling. That is, focused on the inputs — # of buildings, # of teachers, # of text books, etc. — rather than the outputs — are children learning.

Pratham has found one educational experiment that has worked well … hiring balsakhis (which means “children’s friends”) who are unqualified high-school graduates to provide remedial education to students falling behind. These mentors were cheap, quick to train and could work in hallways or under trees reducing the need for more buildings. The result in Mumbai is that it raised the chances of fourth-year pupils grasping first-year math by almost 12% and second-year math by almost 10%.

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