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By showing that learning really matters to them, countries can realize education’s full promise. Beyond being a basic human right, education—done right— improves social outcomes in many spheres of life.
Education Improves Social Outcomes in Many Spheres of Life
For individuals and families, education boosts human capital, improves economic opportunities, promotes health, and expands the ability to make effective choices. For societies, education expands economic opportunities, promotes social mobility, and makes institutions function more effectively. In measuring these benefits, research has only recently focused on the distinction between schooling and learning. But the evidence confirms the intuition that these benefits often depend on the skills that students acquire, not just the number of years in the classroom. Economies with higher skills grow faster than those with schooling but mediocre skills; higher literacy predicts better financial knowledge and better health, beyond the effects of schooling; and poor children are more likely to rise in the income distribution when they grow up in communities with better learning outcomes.
Many Countries Struggling with the Learning Crisis
Taking learning seriously won’t be easy. It’s hard enough to work through the technical challenges of figuring out what will promote learning at the level of the student and school in any context, let alone tackle the political and technical challenges of working at scale. Many countries struggling with the learning crisis may be tempted to continue with business as usual. After all, they may reason, the development will eventually improve learning outcomes: as households escape poverty and schools take advantage of better facilities, more materials, and better-trained teachers, better learning outcomes should follow.
Where is the Need to Wait for Learning?
But waiting out the learning crisis isn’t a winning strategy. Even though national income and learning are somewhat correlated at lower levels of development, higher incomes do not invariably lead to better learning outcomes. And to the extent that development does bring better learning and skills, it is partly because development has been accompanied by a willingness to tackle the political impasses and governance challenges that hamper learning. Ultimately, then, those challenges are not avoidable. Furthermore, there’s no need to wait for learning. At every level of income, there are countries that not only score better than others on international assessments but also— and more important—show from the quality of their education systems and their policy-making that they are committed to learning.
The future of work will place a premium on learning. Rapid technological change has led to major shifts in the nature of work, leading some to declare this a new era—the Second Machine Age or the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In the extreme versions of this vision, all but a few jobs could disappear, decreasing the value of skills for most people. But the seismic changes predicted have yet to permeate the high-income countries, let alone the low- and middle-income ones. More importantly, no matter how the demand for skills changes in the future, people will require a solid foundation of basic skills and knowledge. If anything, the rapid change will increase the returns to learning how to learn, which requires foundational skills that allow individuals to size up new situations, adapt their thinking, and know where to go for information and how to make sense of it.
Lucubrate Magazine January 2020
The article is from the report: Learning to realise education`s promise, World Bank 2018 (Page 27: “Learning to realize education’s promise”
The picture on the top of the article: Businesswoman holding a laptop, coworkers hold a meeting in background, Photo: Jono Erasmus