Learning to Realize Education’s Promise: Presentation of World Development Report 2018

The 2018 World Development Program is the first of its kind, devoted entirely to education. On January 24, the World Bank Group and the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia co-hosted the presentation of the report, at an event that brought together experts, donor agencies and leading policy makers for a high-level dialogue about the challenges facing Georgia’s education system and the possible remedies for it.

Mr. Halsey Rogers, Co-Director of the report, highlighted the key findings of the project.

“Schooling without learning is not just a wasted opportunity, but also a great injustice. The children whom society is failing the most are the ones in greatest need of a good education to succeed in life. Without learning, education fails to deliver fully on its promise as a driver of poverty elimination and shared prosperity. Within countries, learning outcomes are almost always much worse for the disadvantaged. In Uruguay, poor children in grade 6 are assessed as “not competent” in math at five times the rate of wealthy children. Moreover, these results are for children and youth lucky enough to be in school. Many aren’t even enrolled in primary or secondary school, with members of disadvantaged groups - poor children, girls, children with disabilities, ethnic minorities - most likely to be out of school. Together, these severe short-comings constitute a learning crisis,” he said.

There are three dimensions to a learning crisis, Rogers explains. Firstly, it is the poor learning outcomes themselves, which result from low levels of learning across the world (not just in the poorest countries), high inequalities in the learning outcomes, and the sheer amount of time it takes to improve systems of learning. The second dimension pertains to the immediate causes, like children arriving to school unable to learn,

“Malnutrition, illness, low parental investments, and the harsh environments associated with poverty undermine early children learning. Poor developmental foundations mean that many children arrive at school unprepared to benefit fully from it, with poorer children’s cognitive skills falling well behind in the years before primary school. In some countries, the gap between rich and poor children’s ability to recognize letters of the alphabet doubles between the ages of three and five.”

Teachers lacking in sufficient motivation and skill to perform effectively constitutes another part of the second dimension, as do poor management and governance, and inputs often failing to reach the classroom or affect the learning. As Rogers said,

“Public discourse often equates problems of education quality with input gaps, such as a lack of textbooks or educational technology. Devoting enough resources to education is crucial, but resource shortages in the system explain only a small part of the learning crisis. One reason is that inputs often fail to make it to the front lines. In Sierra Leone, for example, textbooks were distributed to schools, but follow-up inspections found most of the books were locked away in cupboards.”

The final dimension to a learning crisis is the deeper systemic causes that distract key players from a focus on learning. Many of these deeper causes are often political as the actors have interests that do not overlap with learning, Rogers noted, “Politicians act to preserve their positions of power, which may lead them to target certain groups (geographic, ethnic, or economic) for benefits. Bureaucrats may focus more on keeping politicians and teachers happy, than on promoting student learning, or they may simply try to protect their own positions."

There are, however, three policy actions to address the crisis, “To do better,” Rogers continued, “a nation must assess learning, to make it a serious goal; act on evidence, to make schools work for all learners; and align actors, to make the system work for learning.”

Chair of Parliamentary Committee on Education, Science and Culture, Ms. Mariam Jashi, present as a member of the speaker’s panel, stressed the importance of Georgia to continue its progress in improving the quality of its education systems.

“For Georgia to economically progress and create national economic wealth, we have to invest more in the quality of education, starting from pre-school until university level - that should be the focus of our policy making and partnership with different stakeholders. I am using the year of 2018, with every single public announcement, to highlight that even though we have fewer challenges in terms of accessibility, in order to ensure that we have quality of education, we need more financial resources for the system. Georgia has almost doubled its investments in the education system, but still, we need more financial resources to ensure that our education is state of art and based on the latest evidence; to make sure that the teachers have the relevant qualifications, and that the teachers dealing with children with disabilities have the necessary skills and are sufficiently re-numerated; to ensure a continuity of more resources leading to more progress in this country. While we do have all the basic parameters and inputs to make a breakthrough effect, we definitely need more resources to support and ensure the quality of our education system.

Fifteen years ago, when the education reforms started, they were extremely pertinent, and they really resulted in substantial progress in terms of a minimization of corruption, and having an important influx in the new energy and process. Even though we are improving in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, that doesn’t represent the average learning outcome of every child in this country. If you look at the analysis of the segregated data, we have substantial inequality in both access and outcomes between the ethnic minorities, as well children with disabilities, for example, even though through the support of UNICEF, World Bank and others, we have made substantial progress. Still we are lagging behind. We need to do more in the practical application of knowledge… we have to focus more in transforming both the teaching and learning processes in schools,” she said.

Regional Director of the World Bank for the South Caucasus, Ms. Mercy Tembon, expressed her joy at the progress that she has seen, while acknowledging that there is still a long way to go. While Georgia has made education a key point in its four-point plan, “there is still a long way to go, but I know that the government is willing. Where there is a will, there is a way. I know that the government is willing; we have to find a way to make it happen.”

Tembon added that it was extremely important that the findings of the report were applied to Georgia in a contextually appropriate manner,

“The big question is asking the right questions and finding the right solutions for the right context. You cannot take something from Finland and apply it to Georgia - it just won’t work. That constant inquiry, that constant searching for solutions, is where learning to learn is important; what we learn from experience. What we are saying is be able to adapt to your community… It is important to know how to learn, and I think that this is the main take away from this report. What can we take away from these results and apply to Georgia? That is why I pushed to have this presentation here, so that we in Georgia can pick what is relevant, adapt the knowledge that we get from this report to the Georgian situation, so that tomorrow Georgia will be quoted as the country that knows how to learn.”

Máté Földi

25 January 2018 20:23