According to a report released by the World Bank on June 30, 2014, the poor quality of education in South Asia is holding the region back. Weak education systems act as a snare, keeping many young people in poverty and preventing economic growth.
The World Bank performed its first comprehensive study to assess the effectiveness of the education in South Asia. It found low levels of student learning in the region despite the increase in enrollment.
In South Asia, a region which includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sir Lanka, countries have committed significant resources to increasing access to education. The recent push to raise enrollment comes in an effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of universal education for primary education by 2015.
The effort has been largely successful, as the enrollment rate in the region has grown from 75 percent in 2000 to 89 percent in 2010. The percentages, however, are just an average, and education access varies greatly from country to country. For example, Sri Lanka achieved almost complete universal education over 10 years ago while Afghanistan and Pakistan are considerably behind.
Despite the increased enrollment, the systems of education in South Asia prove to be achieving below the standards. The World Bank concluded this after measuring the student learning in each country. Part of the problem is that many children who attend primary school do not complete the final grade. For example, in Bangladesh only 55 out of 100 students complete the last grade of primary education. Gender inequality is also a contributing factor as evidenced by the fact that over half of world’s illiterate women reside in South Asia.
The poor quality of education is, according to the organization, also due in part to the large increase of first-generation students in the classroom. The curriculums lack important lessons on measurement, problem-solving and writing. More than one quarter of students who complete primary school do not have fundamental number and literacy skills. This deficit severely impairs their ability to complete secondary school and to secure higher paying jobs.
The World Bank surveyed employers in the region and the results supported the findings that students lack many skills essential for the work place. As a result of the poor education systems, there is a lack of a skilled and qualified labor force.
To help address the issue, the World Bank presented a multi-faceted strategy in order to improve the quality of education. One factor calls for the countries to ensure that children receive proper nutrition. South Asia has one of the highest rates of malnutrition, which inhibits children’s ability to learn. Another aspect includes improving the quality of teachers by establishing and upholding academic standards that every educator must achieve. Additionally, more investments should be focused on improving the learning goals for students and not simply expanding facilities and raising teacher salaries.
Part of the World Bank’s strategy also includes bringing in the private sector to help. The governments of South Asia have very little money, and companies could provide a source of capital to improve education. In addition, the strategy calls for and improvement in the measurement of student progress by bettering the quality of student assessments.
The hope is that with the World Bank’s model for improvement, children will be able to receive better education. Literacy and mathematical skills are key for accessing skilled labors jobs. With more young people getting these jobs, individuals will be able to escape poverty. And an increase in the skilled labor force will also help the individual countries prosper as the country will be able to produce more and have more potential consumers. In starting with education, the World Bank hopes to help the entire region grow.
– Kathleen Egan