Only system change can save global education

The 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly — UNGA77 as is universally known – had to deal with a lot of urgent business.

War in Ukraine, world food prices, energy prices, climate change. It is therefore instructive that the UN Secretary General chose to convene a special summit around none of this.

Instead, Antonio Guterres has brought education to the attention of the world’s most powerful people – a testament to the scale of the global learning crisis.

The Transforming Education Summit spent three days addressing the depth and breadth of learning issues around the world.

A facility outside the UN called the “Learning Crisis Classroom” made clear that two out of three 10-year-olds on the planet cannot read even a single sentence.

Such levels of “learning poverty” have also drawn attention to foundational learning, the early school years designed – currently more in theory than in practice – to equip students with basic levels of literacy and numeracy. without which they cannot progress further.

A Commitment to Action on Foundational Learning calls on governments and organizations to halve global levels of learning poverty by 2030. Many have signed it.

But even if this objective is achieved, there will still be more than 30% of 10-year-olds worldwide cannot read. Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) — adopted by all countries as recently as 2015 — was supposed to ensure quality education for all by 2030. This new commitment cannot mask the massive failure of global education.

How did it go ? The pandemic and long school closures played a part. But UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made it clear to world leaders that Covid-19 could not be blamed for the scale of the learning disaster:

“The education crisis started long before the pandemic and is much deeper. Education systems are not up to par. They are failing students and societies. We will not end this crisis by simply doing more of the same, faster or better. Now is the time to transform education systems.

Antonio Guterres pointed out an undeniable but uncomfortable fact. The vast majority of children who do not reach even basic education standards are already in school. This includes in low- and middle-income countries and, as Education Cannot Wait has shown in its latest reportchildren affected by the crisis.

Decades of enrollment campaigns have succeeded in ensuring that most children go to school. But they didn’t make sure they learned.

The Summit sought new ideas, but the urgency and need to implement change quickly also focused on current successes of “policy interventions that work…existing initiatives and partnerships” – devoting a day to “ solutions” already highlighted.

Governments in the Global South increasingly understand the magnitude of this challenge, and political leaders are investing their capital to do precisely what the UN Secretary-General is calling for: the complete transformation of the entire global education system.

The government of Rwanda is one. His RwandaEQUIP program is described as follows:

“A transformative program to make the country’s basic education system globally competitive. It is the Government of Rwanda’s integrated last mile solution that will put Rwanda’s basic education system on the path to success.

RwandaEQUIP is built on data-driven technology, high-quality learning materials, and ongoing training and coaching for teachers and government school leaders.

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“If we don’t have data, we’re really flying blind. If we don’t have data, it’s impossible to know where the systems are and it’s impossible to know if the policies we’re implementing are working or not,” says the World Bank’s director of education, Jaime Saavedra.

Yet many education systems do just that.

As the Gates Goalkeeper Report 2022 tracking progress towards the SDGs puts it:

“Measures of learning competence remain rare, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, and their reliability is often questionable.”

The Goalkeepers report published a year earlier used exactly the same wording.

Government education transformation programs supported in partnership by NewGlobeon the other hand, are data-rich and therefore able to assess and provide progress.

The EdoBEST launched in 2018 in Edo State in Nigeria. Three years later, the governor of the state, Godwin Obaseki, was able to declare:

“Today, primary school children in Edo State are learning three times as much as they learned with the former pedagogue. The World Bank has recognized the substantial progress we have made in basic literacy and numeracy. Edo today is ranked as one of five national and sub-national countries in the world to lead the charge in the fight against learning poverty. »

This recognition came in the form of a $75 million investment in one of Nigeria’s poorest states.

EdoBEST’s pioneering progress was followed by the launch of transformational programs in Lagos State in 2019 — EKOEXCEL — and Kwara State in 2022 — KwaraLEARN.

Kwara Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq has expressed his ambition. “It’s our flagship education program. It will transform all public primary schools. KwaraLEARN represents our vision of a stronger Kwara. It is expected to bring dramatic improvements to the learning outcomes of public school children across the state. »

Governor AbdulRazaq and all African leaders who invest in education transformation know that the methods behind their programs have been independently reviewed and proven to be effective.

“Never before has there been so much good evidence about what works to improve schooling at scale,” says Benjamin Piper of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

A study led by Nobel Prize-winning economist Professor Michael Kremer, used a randomized controlled trial to measure the effects of NewGlobe’s teaching methods in Kenyan schools.

Professor Kremer found: “The effects of this study are among the largest in the international education literature, especially for a program that was already working at scale.”

Primary students taught using NewGlobe methods learned as much in two years as their counterparts in other schools learned in three years.

With foundational learning currently at the center of attention, the study also revealed that first-graders at NewGlobe-supported schools were more than three times more likely to be able to read than their counterparts.

Professor Kremer continued: “The magnitude of the gains suggests that policy makers may want to explore whether a similar approach could be used in their systems, including in public schools.”

The UN Secretary General was clear. Now is the time to transform the entire global education system. Pioneering political leaders in the Global South show how it can be done, using proven learning methods. If the world is to move closer to the goals of the Transforming Education Summit, others must follow their lead.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.comIn the featured photo: An empty classroom. Featured photo credit: Ivan Aleksic.