Development & Aid, Education, Europe, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs

DEVELOPMENT: More in School, But Not Learning Enough

Mattias Creffier

BRUSSELS, May 11 2007 (IPS) - Poor countries are making progress in sending more children to primary school, but the quality of what they learn often leaves much to be desired, according to the World Bank Global Monitoring Report 2007 published Friday.

The report is a yearly check-up on how the world is doing on its way to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight goals agreed by world leaders in 2000.

UN member states pledged then to poverty by 2015, guarantee universal primary education, drastically reduce child and maternal mortality, and work for more equality between men and women. This year marks the halfway point to the target date.

The report cites sobering results of Indian research into the reading skills of pupils in primary school. The research shows that in one survey 68 percent of students at second- grade level could not read a simple paragraph, and that 54 percent could not solve a simple two-digit arithmetical problem.

Healthcare is also affected by quality issues. While 86 percent of clinicians in Tanzania correctly diagnosed a patient suffering from tuberculosis, 67 percent mistreated the disease. Doctors completed less than 24 percent of the essential checklist of a patient with malaria.

“The issues with reading skills differ from country to country,” World Bank economist and co-author of the report Barbara Burns said at a press conference in Brussels. “Teachers are not well enough trained, or they lack motivation and simply don’t show up. Children sometimes don’t go to school because they have to help their family with household chores.”

The report does not see an inherent trade-off between quantity and quality in education. Yet there are cases where quality has been strained as countries rapidly scale up access, it says.

The report asks donors to invest in an internationally benchmarked test to measure end- of-primary learning levels. “Knowing what is the problem is the first step in dealing with it,” Burns said.

The report also proposes some new indicators to measure gender equality – or the lack thereof – in a more comprehensive way. For instance, by making measurements of child mortality gender-specific, it becomes clear that young girls in South Asia are less well fed and looked after than little boys.

The larger picture on progress to the Millennium goals has not changed in the last year. The world seems on average well on its way to achieving the first goal of reducing poverty by half by 2015, though with large regional differences.

East Asia is already at the finish line, and other regions are more ore less on track, with the notable exception of sub-Saharan Africa. The proportion of extremely poor Africans is going down, but because of population growth their absolute number remains the same, even though per capita income growth on the continent has been stable at about 3 percent in the last few years.

The goals relating to human health and life expectancy show a less rosy picture. Not a single region seems on its way to reducing child mortality by two-thirds in 2015. Sub- Saharan Africa and South Asia risk not attaining a single one of the eight goals.

Looking beyond regional averages, there are some success stories as well. Benin, Guinea, Madagascar, Mozambique, Niger and Rwanda have been expanding completion rates in primary school by 10 percent between 2000 and 2005. Eritrea managed to cut child mortality by half between 1990 and 2005, despite a per capita income of only 190 dollars.

“Extreme poverty is increasingly concentrated in fragile states,” the report says, referring to 35 countries where, usually due to armed conflict, the government fails to provide its citizens with security and basic public services.

Fragile states account for 9 percent of the population of developing countries, but 27 percent of extremely poor people living on less than a dollar a day, and nearly one-third of all child deaths.

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