World Bank: Education in crisis – over 260 million children do not go to school

Students during their final exams at Pagirinya Primary in Adjumani, Northern Uganda

Nowadays, more and more children get to go to school, but millions of children and young people are still left without skills needed in work.

Education is in crisis. This conclusion was reached by World Bank researchers as they wrote the 2018 World Development Report published in late September.

Giant leaps have been taken in the field of education over the past 200 years, and today, most children get to go to comprehensive school. However, merely going to school does not guarantee learning, the researchers write in the report.

In countries of low and medium income level, secondary education is completed by just one in three children. Over 60 percent of comprehensive school pupils in developing countries do not even learn basic skills in school. In countries of high income level, basic skills in e.g. mathematics are attained by nearly all pupils.

If skills learned in comprehensive school are weak, many are left lacking skills needed in work, such as basic skills in mathematics or in reading and writing.

“The report paints a disturbing picture of the magnitude of differences in the quality of education. Going to school does not guarantee learning. Without high-quality education, millions of young people are left without essential skills”, says Finn Church Aid Manager of Advocacy Katri Suomi.

“School should teach skills that help young people secure a job and lead a meaningful life. Education is key in preventing social exclusion and lifting people up from poverty.”

Teachers play a key part

If the children skip school, sometimes even the teachers do not show up. The report tells of surprise inspections to schools in seven African countries. On the day of the surprise visit, one out of five teachers was absent altogether, and two out of five teachers were somewhere other than in their own classroom, albeit in school. In rural areas, the situation is even worse.

If the teacher is present, his or her skills may be lacking. This is because the most talented pupils do not want to become teachers themselves. According to the report, in almost all countries, the 15-year-olds who want to become teachers receive lower-than-average results e.g. in PISA tests.

In a test conducted in 14 sub-Saharan countries, sixth-grade teachers received, on average, the same results as their best pupils.

In fact, training teachers is key in improving the quality of education.

“Training teachers is by far the most effective way to raise the quality of education. All of FCA’s education projects feature educating teachers as a key part”, says Suomi.

In 2016, FCA trained a total of 4,693 teachers in countries including Eritrea, the Central African Republic, and Nepal. Development work is conducted in cooperation with authorities in countries of operation to develop teacher training and e.g. school curricula.

More than 260 million children do not go to school

However, the biggest obstacle to learning by far is still not going to school at all. In 2016, more than 61 million children of comprehensive school age and as many as 202 million children of secondary school age did not go to school.

As many as one third of these children lived in fragile countries or in conflict zones. For example, in Syria, over 1,8 million children were left without education in 2013.

According to the report, among the first to be left outside school are those already in a vulnerable societal position because of gender, disability, caste, or belonging to a certain ethic group. Poverty is still one of the biggest obstacles to a child going to school.

The quality of education plays a part as well. If the quality of education is seen as poor, parents may not be ready to send their children to school, says the report.

“Especially in fragile countries and in catastrophes, education creates faith in the future and brings stability to everyday life. Lack of visions for the future drives people to look for better opportunities elsewhere, sometimes it drives young people to join extremist groups”, says Katri Suomi.

“Everybody benefits from investments made in education and in the quality of education. Education is important for societal development and for diminishing inequality.”

Words: Noora Jussila