The state of education in South Asia
In today’s world of rapid technological change and increasing global competitiveness, South Asian countries need a well-educated and skilled workforce to sustain long periods of growth. While the region has made tremendous gains in expanding access to schooling over the past decade, a new report by the World Bank, Student Learning in South Asia, says that poor quality education is holding the region back.
In the first comprehensive study to analyze the performance of South Asian educational systems in terms of student learning, the World Bank highlights two main areas of concern. First, nearly 13 million children ages 8 to 14 years remain out-of-school. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the quality of education for those attending school is low and does not equip students with adequate skills to join the workforce.
Large numbers of students appear to be learning little; up to one-third of those completing primary school lack basic numeracy and literacy skills. Many students in rural schools are being taught by teachers who barely know more than their students. And limited access to secondary education, which is often of poor quality, exacerbates the problem. Halil Dundar, coauthor and team leader of the report says, “unless the focus of education policy is explicitly shifted to improving student learning, the investments governments have made over the past decade will be wasted."
The challenge of improving student learning in South Asia
Student learning is complex and often influenced by a wide range of factors, including student background, school-level and system-level characteristics. The South Asia region faces particular challenges that further complicate the task of improving student learning outcomes.
First, South Asia has the highest number of school age children of any region in the world, and many are the first in their family to attend school. Second, schools in South Asia face the challenge of educating students from a greater myriad of socio-economic and linguistic backgrounds than anywhere else in the world. Third, most countries in the region have conflict-affected areas where the learning challenge is especially high. Fourth, there is very little systematic evidence on which policy interventions can improve student learning in this context.