By Tina Rosenberg
The goal of putting millions more children in school in the world’s poorest places has been a huge success. The next task is making sure they learn.
…The aim of having all children in school by 2015 is one of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals that will come closest to achievement. Countries have made progress by abolishing school fees, building schools in remote areas, switching the language of instruction to the one the children actually speak and giving families incentive to send children to school with school food. In some countries, parents who keep their girls in school get sacks of food from the World Food Program.
…the influx of new students in many places has overwhelmed school systems that were already barely functioning. Poor countries devote their education budgets disproportionately to universities, because urban, middle-class students and their families have political clout. Neglect of primary schools in rural areas and urban slums is epic.
…Schools in poor parts of Latin America, Asia and Africa often have no books or teaching materials other than a chalkboard. The method of instruction is rote repetition. Teachers sometimes don’t speak the same language as their students. Absenteeism — among teachers, not just students — is astronomical, and some teachers just never show up at all.
…Community monitoring, however, has shown to have little effect on teacher absenteeism. There are things that apparently do work: Esther Duflo, the Harvard poverty researcher, reports on an experiment in 60 rural schools in India: each teacher received a camera with a tamper-proof time and date stamp. Each day, a student had to take a picture of the teacher with students at the beginning and end of the day. Teachers were paid according to the number of days they actually were there. It was a complete success. Teachers in the program schools had half the absentee rate of those in comparison schools, extreme truancy (absences more than half the time) was eliminated and their students got a 33 percent boost in learning time. Their test scores rose, too.
…Save the Children’s research found that children’s math skills improved as well. Dowd says that might be because reading is so basic: “Enhancing children’s reading skills shows you a benefit in most topics,” she said. It might also be that children in the program find that the increased emphasis on and support for reading spills over into education in general. Or it may be because they were attending school more.
Do read more here! A very interesting article: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/19/118675