Washington The World Bank has warned of a learning crisis in global education, particularly in low and middle-income countries like India, underlining that schooling without learning is not just a wasted development opportunity, but also a great injustice to children worldwide.
The Bank in its latest report has noted that millions of young students in these countries face the prospect of lost opportunity and lower wages in later life because their primary and secondary schools are failing to educate them to succeed in life.
According to the World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realise Education’s Promise, released on Tuesday, India ranks second after Malawi in a list of 12 countries wherein a grade two student could not read a single word of a short text.
India also tops the list of seven countries in which a grade two student could not perform two-digit subtraction.
“In rural India, just under three-quarters of students in grade 3 could not solve a two-digit subtraction such as 46 minus 17, and by grade 5 half could still not do so,” the World Bank said.
The report argued that without learning, education will fail to deliver on its promise to eliminate extreme poverty and create shared opportunity and prosperity for all.
“Even after several years in school, millions of children cannot read, write or do basic math. This learning crisis is widening social gaps instead of narrowing them,” it said.
Young students who are already disadvantaged by poverty, conflict, gender or disability reach young adulthood without even the most basic life skills, it said.
“This learning crisis is a moral and economic crisis,” World Bank group president Jim Yong Kim said.
“When delivered well, education promises young people employment, better earnings, good health, and a life without poverty,” he added.
“For communities, education spurs innovation, strengthens institutions, and fosters social cohesion. But these benefits depend on learning, and schooling without learning is a wasted opportunity. More than that, it’s a great injustice: the children whom societies fail the most are the ones who are most in need of a good education to succeed in life,” the Bank president said.
In rural India in 2016, only half of grade 5 students could fluently read text at the level of the grade 2 curriculum, which included sentences (in the local language) such as ‘It was the month of rains’ and ‘There were black clouds in the sky’.
“These severe shortfalls constitute a learning crisis,” the Bank report said.
According to the report, in Andhra Pradesh in 2010, low-performing students in grade 5 were no more likely to answer a grade 1 question correctly than those in grade 2.
“Even the average student in grade 5 had about a 50% chance of answering a grade 1 question correctly compared with about 40% in grade 2,” the report said.
An experiment in Andhra Pradesh, that rewarded teachers for gains in measured learning in math and language led to more learning not just in those subjects, but also in science and social studies, even though there were no rewards for the latter.
“This outcome makes sense – after all, literacy and numeracy are gateways to education more generally,” the report said.
Further, a computer-assisted learning programme in Gujarat improved learning when it added to teaching and learning time, especially for the poorest-performing students, it said.
The report recommends concrete policy steps to help developing countries resolve this dire learning crisis in the areas of stronger learning assessments, using evidence of what works and what doesn’t to guide education decision-making; and mobilising a strong social movement to push for education changes that champion ‘learning for all’.