New education “Smart Buys” report outlines how cost-effectively supporting teachers and parents can lead to significant learning improvements

Learners during a TaRL classroom activity. Photo: TaRL Africa

Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel’s (GEEAP) interdisciplinary panel of the world’s top education experts provides educators with practical recommendations to improve children’s learning.

LONDON, May 9, 2023―The new 2023 Cost-Effective Approaches to Improve Global Learning report summarizes the latest evidence on what the “smart buys”, most cost-effective interventions are for improving learning of all children in low- and middle-income countries. Launched today at the Education World Forum in London, the report is authored by the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel (GEEAP), an independent, multidisciplinary panel of leading global experts in education evidence and policymaking that is co-hosted by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), UNICEF Office of Research-Innocentithe U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the World Bank.

The report finds that investing in parent-directed early childhood development interventions, which coach parents in how to provide early childhood stimulation, has been proven to have a significant impact on children’s future learning. The GEEAP also found strong research evidence that in low-income countries, young children who benefit from these early childhood stimulation programs can enjoy benefits that last into adulthood. For example, an early-stimulation home visiting program in Jamaica yielded substantial gains in children’s educational attainment, IQ, mental health, and earnings in adulthood – up to a 37 percent gain at age 31. The panel also identified ways to reduce delivery costs, such as providing group sessions or leveraging community health workers who are already making regular home visits.

“This matters because the education challenge remains huge – according to the World Bank, 57 percent of children living in low- and middle-income countries could not read and understand a simple age-appropriate text by the age of ten. That was before the pandemic. Now, after the pandemic, that rate is estimated to have risen to 70 percent. Moreover, low- and middle-income countries closed schools for longer, on average, than in high-income countries, leading to increasing gaps in learning outcomes. So, it is urgent to invest in interventions we know are going to work,” said Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Panel member and Professor of Globalization and Education, NYU Steinhardt.

The Panel have sifted through over 13,000 research papers, and every approach recommended in the new report has been rigorously tested in multiple countries and has been shown to work when introduced by governments at large scale. The Panel has grouped interventions into different categories based on cost and learning impact:  three approaches are ranked as “Great Buys”, five as “Good Buys”, and eight as “Promising, but Limited Evidence”.  In addition, the Panel rated two common input-focused interventions as belonging in the “Bad Buys” category: 1) investing in computer hardware, and 2) investing in other education inputs without addressing major underlying problems – such as lack of teacher training or poor system governance.  Neither of these usually lead to additional student learning.

“The COVID-19 shock compromised spending on education in many low- and lower-middle income countries.  The GEEAP report is designed to help countries maximize the impact of their education budgets by highlighting cost-effective ways to ensure every dollar spent has an impact on the experience of the student in the classroom. Otherwise, their children will not gain the knowledge and skills they need for life,” said Jaime Saavedra, Panel member and Global Director for Education at the World Bank.

Another key cost-effective recommendation highlighted in the report is support to teachers with structured pedagogy programs, which has been successful in increased learning – especially foundational literacy and numeracy – at relatively low cost in Kenya, Liberia, and South Africa. USAID’s Primary Math and Reading (PRIMR) Initiative, a structured pedagogy intervention in Kenya, produced reading fluency gains equivalent to over one full year of normal learning in Kenya, and was then scaled up across Kenya as Tusome Early Grade Reading. Early Grade Reading, a partnership between USAID and the Government of Kenya’s Ministry of Education.  Similarly, another “Great Buy” is targeting teaching instruction by learning level instead of by grade. Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) is a holistic approach to improving foundational skills. A version of this approach that includes an interactive pedagogy, has been developed and tested in Ghana and implemented at large scale in India, Cote d’Ivoire, and Zambia.  Now, after the pandemic, this approach of targeting instruction by children’s learning level – rather than just following a grade-based curriculum – is more important than ever.

Finally, providing quality pre-primary education also yields large long-term economic benefits in low- and high-income countries.  Several studies have shown how to provide preschool at low cost and at large scale, by leveraging existing education infrastructure and improving the quality of teacher training. Adapting preschool curricula to integrate them better into with primary education programs also helps sustain these gains over time.

“With more countries investing in early childhood education and development, the strengthened evidence on ‘what works’ in early childhood development is critical to ensure that money produces the best results,” said Rachel Glennerster, Associate Professor, Division of the Social Sciences and the College, University of Chicago; former Chief Economist at FCDO.

For more information or to download the report please visit the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel webpage.

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This press release was first published by The World Bank

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