The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasise the importance of all children and young people learning the basics by 2030, along with a commitment to ensuring noone is left behind. This dual emphasis is needed. Enrolment has increased considerably in many low- and lower middle-income countries over the past 15 years, in line with global commitments made as part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, this growth has been accompanied by an uncomfortable realisation: being in school does not necessarily equate to learning. Of the estimated 250 million children not learning the basics, around half have spent at least four years in school (UNESCO, 2014a). In order to change this situation, we need to know which children are not learning, at what stage learning gaps emerge, and whether the school system itself is responsible for holding back their learning – or, rather, can help to narrow learning gaps.
This paper identifies that learning inequalities start early in the primary school cycle, or even before children start school. It further shows that achieving a target central to the SDGs, namely ensuring all children, regardless of circumstance, are learning the basics by 2030, will require a step-change in progress over the next 15 years that will not be achieved by ‘business as usual’. Recognising the commitment that no target will be met unless met for all (UNESCO, 2015; World Education Forum, 2015), particular focus is needed on those who face disadvantages due to poverty, gender, where they live, and whether they have a disability.
To move from the current situation to achieving desired post-2015 goals by 2030, such that all children are learning the basics in mathematics and reading, this ‘think piece’ paper proposes five strategies that focus on supporting the learning of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
This think piece was written by Pauline Rose and Benjamin Alcott. It is part of a series commissioned by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). The purpose of the think piece series is to stimulate international debate on the future direction of education development in low income countries; provide direction for future DFID research priorities; and provide evidence products that can inform policy and programming decisions.