Prof. Behrman – Dr. Birdsall – Information Assessment and the Quality of Education

In an essay entitled “Information, Assessment , and the Quality of Education around the World in a Changing Global Labor Market: Making More People Winners,” prepared for the Global Citizen Foundation, Jere Behrman and Nancy Birdsall, two highly respected development experts with deep knowledge of education and human capital accumulation, present their views and concerns about the quality of education around the world and suggest ways to increase awareness of emerging issues and develop with appropriate policy responses at both the national and international level.

Over the past half century or so, large increases in public investments in child health and schooling across the developing world contributed to dramatic declines in infant and child mortality, substantial increases in preschool enrollments, and near universal enrollment of children in primary schooling. But over the last decade, evidence has accumulated of dramatically lower levels of learning in low- and even middle-income countries compared with high-income countries. Within developing countries, children from higher-income families perform better than children from poorer families. Children from poor households and poor countries start school systematically less prepared than in higher-income households and countries.

These variations, Behrman and Birdsall argue, suggest the logic and potential for greater emphasis in developing countries on improving the quality, not just increasing the quantity, of school, and on encouraging household and public investments in early child development of all kinds. The fact that investment in school quality and preschool child investments commands less political support—from national policy makers and donors—than investment in basic health and schooling infrastructure bodes ill for development, according to the authors, because studies suggest that higher-quality education could improve children’s and families’ well-being in the short run and increase growth and reduce inequities within and across countries in the longer run.

Citizens’ lack of information on the low quality of school and preschools is a barrier to both their own investments in children and their political support for greater and smarter public investments in early child development and better school systems. To address the problem, Behrman and Birdsall propose that the Global Citizens Foundation or a similar not-for-profit organization sponsor a contest that would reward the best ideas for increasing popular understanding of the unexploited options for smarter investments in children. Entries would focus on increasing popular understanding on the part of citizens and the political leadership in developing countries; they would also address increasing the understanding of the broader community of global citizens around the world concerned with fairer and more prosperous global system.

Please send your comments and suggestions regarding this idea to info@gcf.ch .

Dr. Nancy Birdsall is president of the Center for Global Development. Prof. Jere Behrman is the William Kennan, Jr. Professor of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Prof. Behrman – Dr. Birsdsall – Information Assessment and the Quality of Education

View the Essay here