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Addressing the Global Challenge of the Lack of Education

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Copenhagen Draft 1 June 7, 2004Towards A New Consensus forAddressing the Global Challenge of the Lack of EducationLant Pritchett1Kennedy School of Government, Harvard UniversityExecutive SummaryThis paper is part of the Copenhagen Consensus process, which aims to assess and evaluate the opportunities available to address the ten largest challenges facing the world. One of these ten challenges is the “lack of education.” As a challenge paper this paper intends to:- Describe the scope of the global challenge of “lack of education” in enrollments, attainments, and learning achievement.- Provide an analytical framework for assessing opportunities to address this challenge. - Review the existing literature to produce estimates of the costs and benefits of five classes of feasible opportunities for addressing this challenge.As grappling with this Herculean task in the limited space available leads to an extremely dense document, I want to highlight the main conclusions up front, and in particular stress how they differ from (at least some strains of) the current international conventional wisdom. - Scope. Defining the scope of the problem of ‘lack of education’ must begin with the objectives of education—which is to equip people with the range of competencies (which includes both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, knowledge, attitudes) necessary to lead productive, fulfilling lives fully integrated into their societies and communities. Many of the international goals are framed exclusively as targets for universal enrollments or universalcompletion. But getting and keeping children “in school” is merely a means to the more fundamental objectives and while schooling is necessary, it is by no means sufficient. The challenge of the lack of education must remain focused on creating competencies and learning achievement.- Framework. The analytic framework for evaluating options must consider both the demand for education by parents and children and the supply of educational services. o Demand. The choices made by parents and children about schooling are based on objectives, constraints and information. Since the vast majority of those not receiving adequate education are children from poor households, it has to be acknowledged that their choices are difficult ones that trade off additional spending on necessities and additional help and labor from children in needed tasks versus more spending on and time devoted to education today. Their choices are also based on the information 1With assistance from Michal Shwarzman. I would like to thank, without implication, Barbara Bruns, Michael Clemens, Alex Schlegel, and Miguel Urquiola for comments. Also I would like to thank the Copenhagen opponents, Paul Schultz and Ludger Woessmann for their insightful critiques. I would like to particularly thank Luis Crouch to whom, as usual, I am indebted for seeing clearer and writing clearer than I dared.Copenhagen Draft 2 June 7, 2004they have about the benefits to education generally; the abilities, aptitudes and preferences of their children, the quality of the available schooling options. o Supply. A key element that is missing from nearly all existing analysis of the lack of education is a coherent, general, positive theory of government action. Typically in policy discussions and international forums it is simply assumed that the variety of normative reasons why a government ought be involved in schooling (e.g. “externalities” or credit constraints or a concern for inequality) are actual the positive explanation of government action. This is simply untenable as a theoretically or empirically adequate explanation of what governments actually do. Assuming perfect governments is as unrealistic as assuming perfect markets. Some plausible positive model of government action is necessary to answer the question of what is an “opportunity”—a realistic discussion of opportunities must address not just the question of what should be done but also who should do it and why it is not already being done.o Teachers are the core of any system of schooling. Learning requires millions upon millions of individual interactions between teachers and students every day. These interactions are effective in generating learning achievement when teachers: Know what it is they are trying to accomplish, Have command over the necessary knowledge themselves, Are competent in at least one (and preferably multiple) ways of teaching,  Are motivated to perform, Have adequate facilities and instructional resources with which to teach. Any discussion of the supply of education has to have a positive model of how it will do this.- Opportunity 1: Physical expansion. A quantitative expansion of existing school facilities is far from sufficient for addressing the lack of education—and in the majority of country cases will have almost no impact at all. Nearly all of the global lack of education is due to (a) children not attending available schools, (b) children dropping out of available schools tooearly, and (c) low levels of learning achievement while in school. While there are certainly situations in which school availability is a key constraint (e.g. sparsely population rural areas, junior secondary in some countries) system expansion (“building more schools”) as an opportunity for addressing the lack of education tends to be vastly over-rated.- Opportunity 2: Improve quality o Radial expansion in budgets. There is almost no evidence that “more of the same” or “business as usual” expansions in expenditures per pupil will be capable of improving learning achievement. This is not to say that increases in expenditure cannot improve quality or that increases in expenditure won’t be necessary, but only that there are many ways in which expenditures have increased without improvements in learning achievement. Expanding the budget is not the solution—it is only a part of a broader solution—and more money in isolation in systems with entrenched and pervasive problems more resources may even make matters worse.Copenhagen Draft 3 June 7, 2004o Expand specific interventions. While nearly everyone engaged in the debate about schooling acknowledges that more resources is not a panacea—the question is whether budgets can be expanded on specific items in a way that would increase the efficacy of schooling.  Known. Nearly every empirical study in


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