Schooling, not Learning

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

If you want to find children who lack education today, the place to find them is in school:

That’s because nearly all children are in school. That’s the good news. Governments have built schools and hired teachers. Parents have seen that schooling is key to their child’s future and are sending their children to school. There has been more progress made in expanding schooling since the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 acknowledged education as a basic right than in all previous human history.

But the bad news is that hundreds of millions of children are starting school, going day after day, year after year, but not really learning. One study found that almost three-quarters of a recent cohort of youth in Zambia were innumerate and six of 10 illiterate. But only 7% of these youth had not attended school. In fact, half of those who were innumerate and a third who were illiterate had not just started school but completed grade 6. These children were being schooled but not educated. Schooling without learning is just time served. Unfortunately, Zambia is far from alone in having schooling without adequate education.

The cumulative results of international and national assessments around the world have led to a widespread recognition that, while there are disadvantaged groups still excluded from schooling, there is a global learning crisis of children already in school.

This is all terribly surprisingly to people who learned a lot in school and kept going back for more.

In India, for example, the government made a major commitment to finance elementary education. Central government spending on elementary education increased 11-fold between 2001 and 2013. Over the same period, assessments show the percentage of children in grade five who could read or do simple subtraction declined.

In Indonesia, a major commitment to increasing teachers’ salaries has led to more than $4bn in additional spending a year – but a rigorous evaluation shows almost exactly zero learning gain from students taught by the more highly paid teachers.


  1. Bomag says:

    Well, clearly then, we need to commit even more resources to the thing; try even harder.

    School = political indoctrination and babysitting.

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