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Addressing the learning crisis: An urgent need to better finance education for the poorest children – World

Introduction

Although more children than ever before are enrolled in school, for too many, schooling does not equal learning. In 2016, over 600 million children and adolescents were estimated to be not reaching minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics.i To highlight the global learning crisis, the World Bank has introduced the concept of ‘Learning Poverty’ – the inability to read and understand a simple text by age 10. The concept draws on new data developed in coordination with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). An estimated 53 per cent of children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read proficiently by age 10.

Even so, solid progress on getting children into school has been made. The near universalization of primary schooling is one of the great global achievements of the past 50 years. In the early 1950s, some 50 per cent of primary school-aged children were out of school. Today, that figure has come down to 9 per cent.iii But, going through school without learning critical foundational skills – literacy, numeracy, digital and transferable skills like problem-solving and critical-thinking – is a tragedy unfolding in a world being transformed by globalization and automation. For millions of children and young people, it will mean a future where they are unable to find productive employment, engage in active citizenship, or shape better futures for themselves, their families and their communities.

The impact of education on reducing poverty is well established,1 with studies confirming education’s significant influence on a country’s economic development.iv The knowledge and skills provided by quality education accumulates human capital, increasing not only the productivity and employability of individuals, but also impacting the overall development of their countries.

Equally critical are the returns of education on many areas of human development: from better health and women’s empowerment, to civic engagement and social cohesion.

There are many dimensions to the learning crisis. But a key factor that affects quality of education is the availability of funding. Underinvestment in education can result in several conditions – from large class sizes and poor-quality teachers, to lack of supportive materials and poor school infrastructure – which negatively impact how and what children learn.v After the Millennium Development and Education For All Goals were adopted in 2000, there was an important focus on increasing the allocation of national resources to education. Between 2000-2015, many countries at different income levels saw an increase in public funding of education. In lowincome countries, education spending increased from on average 3.48 per cent of the GDP in 2000 to 3.82 per cent of the GDP in 2015. In lower middle-income countries, the average also went up: from 4.2 per cent to 4.64 per cent over the same period.2 However, many low-income countries attribute far lessvi than the 20 per cent of domestic resources to education, which is widely accepted as a benchmark target.

Underinvestment in education can result in several conditions that negatively impact how and what children learn.