- The United Nations has declared that the world is suffering from a “learning crisis.”
- Although students are physically going to school, a quarter of a billion aren’t learning anything.
- In a recent TED talk, Tunisian politician and education expert Amel Karboul offers ways to solve the crisis.
In 2014, the United Nations put the state of global education in bleak perspective: Some 250 million students weren’t learning anything in school, a report found, despite those kids having received several years of education.
These ineffective systems were leading to a reported waste of $US129 billion.
Almost four years later, the problem is ongoing. As the original authors noted, the world is engulfed in a “learning crisis,” in which kids physically show up to classrooms but don’t absorb anything that can help them achieve in their later years.
The learning crisis isn’t unsolvable
Amel Karboul, a former minister of tourism in the Tunisian government and current member of the Education Commission, a global body that advocates for investments in education, recently gave a TED talk offering solutions for the learning crisis as it exists today.
“We can, for the first time, have every child in school and learning within just one generation,” Karboul told the TED audience. “And we don’t even have to really invent the wheel to do so. We just need to learn from the best in class, but not any best in class – the best in your own class.”
Karboul’s solution involves encouraging countries to match the performance of the best-performing country within their own income bracket. Rich countries should look to other rich countries, poor ones to other poor ones.
“Let’s take Tunisia, for example,” she said. “We’re not telling Tunisia, ‘You should move as fast as Finland.’ No disrespect, Finland. We’re telling Tunisia, ‘Look at Vietnam.’ They spend similar amounts for primary and secondary pupils as percentage of GDP per capita, but achieves today higher results.”
As a direct result of spending more of its national budget on education – 7% to 20% in two decades, Karboul said – Vietnam is one of the highest-performing countries on the gold-standard PISA rankings, which looks at standardised test scores. It beats out multiple high-income countries, including the United States.
Countries can get creative to help teachers reach kids
Karboul also draws examples in her TED talk from Brazil, which shows the improvements countries can make in education when students have access to technology and teachers have teams to support them.
In Brazil, city workers and officials set up livestreams for teachers to reach “over 1,000 classrooms in scattered communities.” Some teachers curate lesson plans, some deliver instruction. In both cases, the idea is to reach kids where they are, instead of requiring them to trek to a classroom.
Teams like these are important (and not redundant), Karboul said, because the average teacher is overworked to begin with.
“Imagine a hospital ward with twenty, forty, seventy patients and you have a doctor doing it all by themselves: no nurses, no medical assistants, no one else,” Karboul said. “You will say this is absurd and impossible, but this is what teachers are doing all over the world every day with classrooms of twenty, forty, or seventy students.”
More than 300,000 kids in Brazil have benefited from the program, Karboul said.
The final piece is financing. Countries need to spend more on education than infrastructure if they want to increase their competitiveness over the coming decades, Karboul said. That’s a tall order since roads and bridges are concrete examples of change, and educated minds are not visible to the naked eye. But the success of countries like Vietnam are proof the investment is worth it, she said.
“Education is the civil rights struggle,” she said. “It’s the human rights struggle of our generation. Quality education for all: That’s the freedom fight that we’ve got to win.”
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