The last decades have seen an impressive growth in school participation in developing countries. As countries have made remarkable progress toward universal primary school completion, the focus in the development community has shifted to reaching the most disadvantaged children and improving the quality of education. It has been recognized that even though universal primary completion is a major milestone for many countries, the quality of an education system cannot be assessed only by its ability to enroll and retain students. Most importantly, school should teach valuable skills that will help children achieve their full potential in life.
FHI 360’s Education Policy and Data Center (EPDC) has released a research brief, “Long Path to Achieving Education for All: School Access, Retention, and Learning in 20 countries,” which uses learning pyramids as a visual tool to show cumulative achievement of education systems and demonstrate how many children enroll in school, whether they remain enrolled until they reach a certain grade, and what percentage of them learn how to read. The report finds that although access to education is close to universal in most countries, not all of the students who enter school reach upper primary grades. Grade repetition is a common experience for many primary students, creating inefficiencies in education systems. Finally, a large number of those who reach the upper primary grades never gain basic literacy skills, defined as the lowest benchmark of a standardized learning assessment.
Pyramids: starting from access, through retention, to learning
The pyramids provide a snapshot of a country’s progress in providing universal school entry (access), keeping students in school (survival), and finally, teaching them at least minimum reading skills (learning). To measure school access, EPDC uses the percentage of 14-year-olds who have ever entered school. Retention is described by school survival rates — the percentage of enrolled students expected to reach a given grade. The level of learning is determined by using data from standardized learning assessments, including SACMEQ, PIRLS, SERCE, and PASEC.