The urgent need for investment in pre-primary education

By Pauline Rose and Ben Hewitt

3A child’s most important steps happen before they set foot in a primary school. Early childhood, from birth to age five, is the most critical developmental stage in a person’s life. By their fifth birthday, a child’s brain will already be 90% developed. If children are going to reach their full physical, social, and cognitive potential in school and in life, they must be provided with quality nurturing care in their very years. Early childhood interventions should support four key developmental domains — physical, cognitive, linguistic and socio-emotional development. However, while progress is being made in some areas, children’s early education is too often neglected, putting millions of children at a disadvantage even before they enter school. Continue reading

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World poverty could be more than halved if all adults finish secondary school

By Aaron Benavot, Director of the Global Education Monitoring Report, and Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics

1In a few weeks, the UN High-Level Political Forum will gather to discuss poverty eradication as a cornerstone of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Agenda. Debates over how to tackle entrenched poverty often centre on different political ideologies. For some, the answer may be the pursuit of free-market economic growth, in the hope that some of the wealth generated will ‘trickle down’. For others, the answer may be social and economic interventions aimed at levelling the playing field, where everyone has something, even if that something is – at best – meagre.

A new paper released today by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report moves this debate beyond politics. It shows that the global poverty rate could be more than halved if all adults completed secondary school.

The paper, Reducing global poverty through universal primary and secondary education, demonstrates the importance of education as a lever for ending poverty and helping improve the lot of adults currently living under the threshold of $1.90 a day . By confirming the links between the two, the paper is welcome news for those working to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal on poverty eradication by 2030 (SDG 1) while reinforcing the investment case for universal secondary education – an education target under SDG 4. Continue reading

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Making the most of World Refugee Day

1.pngIt’s World Refugee Day, a vital moment for raising awareness of the challenges refugees face every day around the world. Refugees have existed since notions of empire and state took root: people who have been forcibly displaced from their home, lacking rights, living under the fragile protection of a foreign ruler or government. The global figures today are staggering: 65.6 million forcible displaced people, of which 22.5 million men, women and children are counted as refugees. It is the persistence, growing nature and precariousness of the refugee phenomenon that has spurred the GEM Report into writing a full report on the issue in relation to education, due out at the end of 2018. This blog will take a look at some of the comments we received from our recent online consultation, and how they might be addressed by the team.

Well over 1000 visitors visited the eight week public consultation on our next Report, with substantial comments coming in from Save the Children, UNHCR, Human Rights Watch, CARE, the IRC, GCE and some national organisations or bodies as well, including the Ministry of National Education of the Republic of Turkey. Continue reading

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Literacy assessments: the importance of reading with understanding

By Peter-Sam Hill, Education Consultant, Oxford Policy Management

1“Literacy stands at heart of the 2030 Agenda. It is a foundation for human rights, gender equality, and sustainable societies. It is essential to all our efforts to end extreme poverty and promote well-being for all people.” Ban Ki-Moon, 2016

Great things are expected of literacy: if more people become literate they will learn more, be healthier and participate more productively in civic life. Governance will improve, economies will grow, nations will be better off. Through the Sustainable Developments Goals the UN seeks to ‘measure what matters’. Clearly, literacy skills matter. However, how you measure them also matters.

The importance of meaning

If literacy is going to produce all of the benefits we are hoping for, it is not sufficient for children to only learn how to make the correct noises indicated by written symbols. Children need to learn to extract meaning from text and convey meaning through writing. A recent review commissioned by DFID and led by academics from the University of Oxford and The Promise Foundation looks at current practice in literacy assessment and emphasises the importance of meaning in foundational literacy and language acquisition.

The development of literacy skills is complicated for a number of reasons, not least because these skills don’t progress in a linear sequence (see, for example, a blog post and a paper questioning linear stage views of learning). Instead, literacy skills both influence and are influenced by each other: understanding the meaning of text and knowing the sounds associated with different letter combinations are mutually reinforcing.

Giving centre stage to meaning, however, has far-reaching implications for the assessment of foundational literacy and language skills. It informs decisions about what should be assessed, how these skills should be assessed and how assessment results should then be reported. Continue reading

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The 2020 GEM Report will be on Inclusion and Education

At the end of last week, the GEM Report’s Advisory Board met in Paris to discuss the success of the 2016 GEM Report, hear about the plans for the 2017/8 and 2019 GEM Reports, and decide on the future theme of the 2020 GEM Report. A consensus was reached on the theme: Inclusion and Education.


The desire to leave no one behind permeates the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Two of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) are dedicated to addressing inclusion: A goal on gender equality and empowerment of all girls and women (SDG 5) and one on reducing disparities between and within countries (SDG 10). There is also an unprecedented global commitment to using disaggregated data to monitor gaps and inequalities, in education and other sectors. Disaggregated information is critical to identifying populations who never exercised their right to education, who left school before completing a full cycle, and who did not succeed in acquiring key foundational and transferable skills.

The GEM Report has long taken an equity, pro-inclusive perspective when monitoring progress towards global education goals. Our team has shown that the poorest children are four times more likely to be out of primary school than richest children. An estimated one-third of all out-of-school children at the primary level have a disability. Aggregated analysis from 51 countries found a 10 percentage point gap in primary completion rates between people with and without disability, which is likely an underestimate. About 40% of people around the world are not taught in a language they speak or understand. Continue reading

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Making space for more and better aid to education

By Keith M Lewin

The latest policy paper from the GEM Report provides a stark reminder that trends in aid to education mean there is still a long journey to travel to deliver access to quality aid to ededucation for all. Aid to education has stagnated at around USD 12 billion a year, the share reaching the poorest countries in Sub Saharan Africa has been falling, and gaps between available finance and the amounts needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals may have been increasing.

Under the SDGs, aid to education should be expected to fall as goals are achieved and the numbers of children in school and learning increase. We saw rapidly accelerating school enrolment and increases in learning in the years after the Dakar World Education Forum and Jomtien. If the reason for the static and declining volume of aid to education was because of these successes, and the demographic dividend that leads to reduced demand for new school places, it would be a cause for celebration.

Alas the progress made over the last three decades is not a sufficient explanation for the declining appetite for aid to education. Better data now shows how unequally the benefits of improved access to education have been spread within countries. Completion rates are strongly associated with household income especially at secondary level. Educational infrastructure is lacking, class sizes remain large, and learning materials are lacking in quantity and quality. It is easy to agree with the GEM Report policy paper that a weakening of the appetite for aid to education is premature. Continue reading

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How to open doors to higher education for all: Look to the state of New York

Jim Malatras, President, Rockefeller Institute of Government says that New York’s recent offer of free tuition for state residents is a game changer for making higher education accessible to all.

1In today’s world, the lack of economic means shouldn’t stifle educational opportunity. Yet, for many, no matter the intellectual capacity, there remain financial barriers to a college education.

Completing a higher education credential—be it an advanced graduate degree, bachelor’s degree or training certificate—is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity. More well-paying jobs require an advanced college degree than in the past; indeed, a college degree is the key to economic mobility.

In the United States, like in many countries across the globe, access to a college education was once an exclusive benefit of the economic and social elite. Today, because of investments in strong public systems of higher education, college has become more inclusive for all. And yet, in the United States and other industrialized nations, there is plenty of more work to be done.

The recent GEM report paper, “Six ways to ensure higher education leaves no one behind” serves an important blueprint for states and nations to increase higher education access for all. The State of New York is putting the theory in this paper into practice, providing access to higher education regardless of socio-economic status by offering low tuition and generous need-based financial support.

Tuition at four-year schools in the two public university systems, the State University of New York (SUNY) and the City University of New York (CUNY), costs about $6,400 a year, which is significantly less than other public systems such as the University at Massachusetts system ($14,596), and the Pennsylvania State University system ($17,900). When compared to average private school tuition ($34,000), New York’s system of public education is already a bargain. Continue reading

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