What does recent evidence tell us are “Smart Buys” for improving learning in low- and middle-income countries?
Recommendations of the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel
- Knowing how to invest more efficiently to promote learning of all children is essential. Many low- and middle-income countries faced a learning crisis even before COVID-19 hit: 53% of their children suffered from learning poverty, meaning that they couldn’t read and understand a simple passage by age 10. Now the pandemic has caused a crisis within a crisis: 1.6 billion children saw their schools closed, and the most disadvantaged children are suffering the biggest learning losses from school closures and economic shocks.
- Tackling these crises requires answering tough questions about cost-effectiveness. What are the best programs and policies for closing these new learning gaps and improving learning for all children over the long term? And with the economic shock tightening government budgets, how can they do this as cost-effectively as possible?
- The Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel takes on this challenge in its new report, “Cost-Effective Approaches to Improve Global Learning”—in short, “Smart Buys.” This new cross-disciplinary panel, consisting of a highly experienced group of leading researchers and practitioners, has sifted through the growing evidence base to provide concrete guidance to countries. In this first set of recommendations, it identifies several classes of interventions:
o Great buys—the most cost-effective interventions, like providing families with information on education returns and quality
o Good buys—other highly cost-effective interventions, such as: structured pedagogy combined with teacher training and learning materials; programs to teach children at the right skill level; and pre-primary education
o Promising but low-evidence interventions—programs that appear to improve learning cost-effectively, but where more rigorous evidence is needed, like providing early stimulation to young children and involving communities in school management
o Bad buys—interventions that (as typically implemented) have repeatedly been shown to be either not effective or not cost-effective; these include investing in computer hardware or other inputs without making complementary changes (like teacher training or better school management) to use those inputs effectively
- The report also flags important areas of education where more research is needed to identify cost-effective approaches—areas like general-skills teacher training and interventions to safeguard students from violence.