Schooling is not the same as learning. In Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, when grade 3 students were asked recently to read a sentence such as “The name of the dog is Puppy,” three-quarters did not understand what it said.1 In rural India, just under three-quarters of students in grade 3 could not solve a two-digit subtraction such as 46 – 17, and by grade 5 half could still not do so.2 Although the skills of Brazilian 15-year-olds have improved, at their current rate of improvement they won’t reach the richcountry average score in math for 75 years. In reading, it will take more than 260 years.3 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.4 Moreover, such data are for children and youth lucky enough to be in school. Some 260 million aren’t even enrolled in primary or secondary school.5 These countries are not unique in the challenges they face. (In fact, they deserve credit for measuring student learning and making the results public.) Worldwide, hundreds of millions of children reach young adulthood without even the most basic life skills. Even if they attend school, many leave without the skills for calculating the correct change from a transaction, reading a doctor’s instructions, or interpreting a campaign promise—let alone building a fulfilling career or educating their children. This learning crisis is a moral crisis. When delivered well, education cures a host of societal ills. For individuals, it promotes employment, earnings, health, and poverty reduction. For societies, it spurs innovation, strengthens institutions, and fosters social cohesion. But these benefits depend largely on learning. Schooling without learning is a wasted opportunity. More than that, it is a great injustice: the children whom society is failing most are the ones who most need a good education to succeed in life. Any country can do better if it acts as though learning really matters. That may sound obvious—after all, what else is education for? Yet even as learning goals are receiving greater rhetorical support, in practice many features of education systems conspire against learning.
This Report argues that countries can improve by advancing on three fronts:
• Assess learning—to make it a serious goal. This means using well-designed student assessments to gauge the health of education systems (not primarily as tools for administering rewards and punishments). It also means using the resulting learning measures to spotlight hidden exclusions, make choices, and evaluate progress.
• Act on evidence—to make schools work for all learners. Evidence on how people learn has exploded in recent decades, along with an increase in educational innovation. Countries can make much better use of this evidence to set priorities for their own practice and innovations.
• Align actors—to make the whole system work for learning. Countries must recognize that all the classroom innovation in the world is unlikely to have much impact if, because of technical and political barriers, the system as a whole does not support learning. By taking into account these real-world barriers and mobilizing everyone who has a stake in learning, countries can support innovative educators on the front lines.