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Without learning, students will be locked into lives of poverty and exclusion, and the children whom societies fail the most are those most in need of a good education to succeed in life. Learning conditions are almost always much worse for the disadvantaged, and so are learning outcomes. Moreover, far too many children still aren’t even attending school.[1]


This seems like a simple sentence. However, three out of four third grade students in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda do not understand it. In rural India, nearly three-quarters of third-graders cannot solve a two-digit subtraction problem such as 46 minus 17, and by grade five — half still cannot do so.[2]

Learning Crisis

The world is facing a learning crisis. While countries have significantly increased access to education, being in school isn’t the same thing as learning. Worldwide, hundreds of millions of children reach young adulthood without even the most basic skills like calculating the correct change from a transaction, reading a doctor’s instructions, or understanding a bus schedule—let alone building a fulfilling career or educating their children.[1]

Rural school with school children at their desks in the classroom in North Tanzania (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Education is at the centre of building human capital. The latest World Bank research shows that the productivity of 56 per cent of the world’s children will be less than half of what it could be if they enjoyed complete education and full health.[2]

Delivered well, education – along with the human capital it generates – benefits individuals and societies. For individuals, education raises self-esteem and furthers opportunities for employment and earnings. And for a country, it helps strengthen institutions within societies, drives long-term economic growth, reduces poverty, and spurs innovation.

Addressing today’s massive global education crisis requires some disruption and the development of a new 21st-century aid delivery model built on a strong operational public-private partnership and results-based financing model that rewards political leadership and progress on overcoming priority obstacles to equitable access and learning in the least developed countries and lower-middle-income countries. Success will also require a more efficient and unified global education architecture. More money alone will not fix the problem. Addressing this global challenge requires new champions at the highest level and new approaches.[2]

Little girl thinking about mathematics problem, Photo: Tom Wang

Absents of Basic Education

In an era when youth are the fastest-growing segment of the population in many parts of the world, new data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics reveal that an estimated 263 million children and young people are out of school. On current trends, the International Commission on Financing Education Opportunity reported in 2016 that, a far larger number—825 million young people—will not have the basic literacy, numeracy, and digital skills to compete for the jobs of 2030. Absent a significant political and financial investment in their education, beginning with basic education, there is a serious risk that this youth “bulge” will drive instability and constrain economic growth.[3]

Among global education’s most urgent challenges is a severe lack of trained teachers, particularly female teachers. An additional 9 million trained teachers are needed in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.[3]

Highlighted below are actions and reforms that could lead the way toward solving the crisis [3]:

  1. Leadership to jump-start the transformation
  2. A whole-of-government leadership response
  3. Teacher training and deployment at scale
  4. Foster positive disruption by engaging community level non-state actors
  5. Confirm the appropriate roles for technology
  6. Commodity component

Leadership to Jump-start Transformation

The next U.S. administration should convene a high-level White House conference of sovereign donors, developing country leaders, key multilateral organizations, private sector and major philanthropists/foundations, and civil society to jump-start and energize a new, 10-year global response to this challenge. A key goal of this decadelong effort should be to transform education systems in the world’s poorest countries, particularly for girls and women, within a generation. That implies advancing much faster than the 100-plus years required if current programs and commitments remain as is.

Whole-of-Government Leadership Response

Such transformation of currently weak education systems in scores of countries over a generation will require sustained top-level political leadership, accompanied by the substantial new donor and developing country investments. To ensure sustained attention for this initiative over multiple years, the U.S. administration will need to designate senior officials in the State Department, USAID, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, and elsewhere to form a whole-of-government leadership response that can energize other governments and actors.

Teacher Training and Deployment at Scale

A key component of a new global highest-level effort, based on securing progress against the Sustainable Development Goals and the Addis 2030 Framework, should be the training and deployment of 9 million new qualified teachers, particularly female teachers, in sub-Saharan Africa where they are most needed. Over 90 per cent of the Global Partnership for Education’s education sector implementation grants have included investments in teacher development and training and 76 per cent in the provision of learning materials.

Foster Positive Disruption by Engaging Community Level Non-State Actors

Foster positive disruption by engaging community level non-state actors who are providing education services in marginal areas where national systems do not reach the population. Related to this, increased financial and technical support to national governments are required to strengthen their non-state actor regulatory frameworks. Such frameworks must ensure that any non-state actors operate without discrimination and prioritize access for the most marginalized. The ideological divide on this issue—featuring a strong resistance by defenders of public education to tap into the capacities and networks of non-state actors—must be resolved if we are to achieve a rapid breakthrough.

Confirm the Appropriate Roles for Technology

Confirm the appropriate roles for technology inequitably advancing access and quality of education, including in the initial and ongoing training of teachers and administrators, delivery of distance education to marginalized communities and assessment of learning, strengthening of basic systems, and increased efficiency of systems. This is not primarily about how various gadgets can help advance education goals.

Commodity Component

Availability of appropriate learning materials for every child sitting in a classroom—right level, right language, and right subject matter. Lack of books and other learning materials is a persistent problem throughout education systems—from early grades through to teaching colleges. Teachers need books and other materials to do their jobs. Consider how the USAID-hosted Global Book Alliance, working to address costs and supply chain issues, distribution challenges, and more can be strengthened and supported to produce the model(s) that can overcome these challenges.

Preparing for Work in the Future

Skill development is a critical part of preparing for work in the future – even for jobs that do not yet exist. It goes without saying that a child who cannot read, write or perform at least simple mathematics with proficiency will be poorly equipped as an adult to excel in the technology-driven industries of the future.

Complementing education systems with tutors or computer-assisted learning to make instruction more relevant to the current level of students’ competences has a significant impact on learning outcomes, particularly among lagging students.[4]

In all, the learning crisis puts a serious dent in the abilities of countries and job-seekers to seize the benefits of technological change. We can address three messages underlying the learning crisis [5]:

  1. Lack of access to school means that there are children who will never have the chance to gain the foundational skills stemming from literacy and numeracy.
  2. Schools are failing to retain children who enrol, leading to high dropout rates and insufficient learning.
  3. Poor quality of education and classroom practices are leaving millions of children and adolescents without the skills to compete in the global economy.

The role of education in skill development is particularly relevant today, and governments around the world have already been taking a hard look at it as part of their commitments to sustainable development goals. The goal for education includes a range of education targets such as equal access to vocational training and university as well as free universal education at the primary and secondary levels.

To meet these goals and to ensure that all children are learning, we need a meaningful investment in the millions of children and adolescents around the world who deserve an opportunity to develop their own talents so they can help themselves and contribute to the well-being of their families and communities.


  1. Learning to realise education`s promise, World Bank 2018
  2. Annette Dixon, Vice President, Human Development, World Bank, 2019
  3. Alice Albright, The global education challenge: Scaling up to tackle the learning, Brookings 2019
  4. Rafaelde Hoyos, Equal opportunities to enhance growth, World Development Volume 127, 2020
  5. The Learning Crisis is Causing a Skills Crisis. Here’s Why, UNESCO 2018

Lucubrate Magazine January 2020

The picture on the top of the article: A kid and his dog doing homework, by jivimages (Adobe Stock)

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Karl Skaar
Mr. Karl Skaar

He is a highly successful professional with a high degree of entrepreneurial flair.

- Responsible editor and publisher of the Lucubrate Magazine, Global
- Project Manager of the Lucubrate Project, Global
- Chairman of the Board of Directors of Norsk Kompetansebygging AS, Norway
- Chairman of the Board of Directors of Nobel Knowledge Building, Uganda

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1 Comment

  1. In the issue of education, a structured approach is necessary in order to obtain and consolidate the new knowledge and skills of each student.

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