TaRL Africa
Considerable progress has been made to increase the rate of educational enrollment for children living in developing countries. Between 1950 and 2010, the average years of schooling completed by adults living in developing countries more than tripled; between 2000 and 2010, secondary school enrollment in Zambia increased by 75 percent. Morocco is experiencing a similar rate of growth in enrollment, indicating that the gap in enrollment between poor and wealthy countries is dwindling.

Educational System Improvement

Globally, trillions of dollars are being dedicated to improving educational systems. Government expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP is higher than ever before at a rate of almost 5 percent. In emerging markets, households are spending a greater percentage of their GDP per capita on education than households in developed nations. Governments and their people are fully convinced of the promise that education holds for reshaping the future, especially in developing countries.

Education has been shown to have enormous benefits in all facets of life. For individuals, education increases lifetime earnings, reduces the chance of living in poverty and leads to better health. For communities, education can increase long-term development, lead to more rapid economic growth, cause greater social cohesion and increase social mobility.

A New Challenge

With overall enrollment numbers climbing year after year, it may seem as though a crisis in educational attainment is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, school enrollment alone does not guarantee the presence of learning. Some alarming statistics underscore upbeat reports of increases in school enrollment.

In fact, 125 million children in the world are not attaining functional levels of literacy or numeracy after four years of education. In Malawi and Zambia, only 10 percent of the students were able to read a single word by the second grade; in Pakistan, 40 percent of 3rd-grade children could not perform simple subtraction.

An analysis of the current learning crisis by The World Bank attributes this lack of learning milestones in developing communities to four key factors. The four immediate determinants are learner preparation, teacher skills and motivation, the availability of relevant inputs and school management and governance. The current state of learning outcomes is not necessarily a setback, but an inevitable hurdle in the way of unlocking the full potential of education.

Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL)

MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and Indian NGO Pratham sought to address the issue of sub-par learning outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa, a region desperately in need of educational reform. In association with African governments, they developed the Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) Africa initiative. TaRL Africa attempts to take an evidence-based, yet novel approach to structuring education for young children in order to increase in long term retention and overall learning outcomes.

When students first join the program, they take assessment tests to gauge their current level of knowledge on relevant academic concepts. The students are then placed into groups based on their needs rather than age alone and regularly evaluated throughout the year to ensure that they are reaching key milestones on an individual basis. Evaluations by J-Pal and Pratham of TaRL initiatives have shown that the cost-effective approach gives instructors the opportunity to make a greater impact on the learning outcomes of children.

Innovative and Scalable

In October 2018, J-Pal and Pratham launched a dedicated website for TaRL Africa as part of an initiative to improve the reach of their program throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and around the world. One of the key components of TaRL is its scalability. The program is built to be able to be easily replicated and adaptable for any classroom’s needs. Although the website doesn’t give you access to the entire program itself, they are hoping to introduce teachers, administrators and potential donors to the benefits of the program.

Co-Impact, a global philanthropic collaborative for systems change, was recently tasked with narrowing down a pool of over 250 education, health and economic opportunity initiatives to just five that would be awarded $80 million and technical support. On January 15, TaRL Africa became one of the five recipients of the Co-Impact grant, increasing the reach of the program to over three million students over the next five years.

Regarding the grant, the Executive director of J-PAL said “This grant represents the critical importance of using evidence from rigorous impact evaluations to drive decision making. [W]e can disrupt the status quo and transform lives.” This potential to increase educational levels is inspiring and should encourage other organizations to become a part of a quickly growing, knowledge-giving solution.

– John Chapman
Photo: Flickr

reducing poverty through education
Education is often widely viewed as one of the fundamental pillars used to eradicate global poverty. According to Global Citizen, “61 million school-age children are not in school today,” and many trends show that education is perhaps the strongest tool to reduce extremism and bring world peace. Fortunately, the United States Agency for International Development has made tremendous progress in the realm of education.

Utilizing less than one percent of the total federal budget, “literacy rates are up 33 percent worldwide in the last 25 years, and primary school enrollment has tripled in that period.” In order to tackle global poverty, there must be a collective effort from grassroots movements to provide the necessary resources that foster opportunities for those in need. Some governments have made tremendous improvements in this regard, providing sustainable initiatives towards reducing poverty through education.


In Chad, the Global Partnership for Education responded in a timely fashion by providing nearly $7 million to the Ministry of Education in 2016 as a response to the 2016 conflict. This grant was not only allocated towards assisting the humanitarian relief crisis at the time, but was also used to provide education for refugees and displaced returnees.

According to the United Nations Education Index, Chad ranks 184th in the world in terms of its educational levels; nearly one in five children lived in poverty in 2015. In Hong Kong, a recent study came out affirming that “children who grow up in low-income households tend to have less access to opportunities and therefore are more likely to remain poor in adulthood.”

Many parents are strong proponents of education as they would like to invest in their children’s future, especially if they come from a predominantly poor household. The kinds of benefits procured from education help youths to break out of the poverty cycle and potentially become primary contributors to their country’s economy.

Additionally, income level persists when a child is enrolled in formal education. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have reduced poverty through initiatives in education such as developing workshops and extended learning opportunities.


A headmistress at a recent school conference in Ghana recently lauded the value of education in society, claiming it “is the only means through which one could bridge the poverty and knowledge gaps in society.” Mrs. Elizabeth Ama Asare also stressed the importance of education towards economic empowerment, asserting that without it, “you cannot dine with the rich” or “reason with the professors.”

Her remarks were made in light of the commencement of the Government’s Free Senior High School (SHS) policy, one of the many significant initiatives towards reducing poverty through education.

In Ghana, World Vision International (WVI) has played an integral role in improving the lives of children and levels of education in 10 basic schools in Kpikira. The WVI’s efforts include educating the youth on maintaining general hygiene, and fighting to end the practice of child-marriage that’s embedded in many communities.

According to the article, “ending child-marriage could help the district achieve at least eight of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, including health, education, and poverty.”


Additionally, the Haredi community in Israel is beginning to more strongly promote education. Characterized by traditional Jewish Law, the Haredi are marrying less and focusing more on their higher education. As seen in 2017, the number of Haredi enrolled in higher education spiked from 1,000 to 10,800. The Haredi community constitutes 16 percent of Israel’s population, and is set to increase monumentally to 40 percent by 2065.

If governments, international organizations and charities actively come together, then bridging the poverty gap can become an achievable task. Those living in destitute areas can benefit through the creation of institutions that enhance learning perspectives and opportunities. Such robust initiatives in reducing poverty through education are vital in paving the way for those who learn in a classroom environment to pursue a better life.

– Alexandre Dumouza
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and learning are often talked about together, mostly because it is agreed upon that education is an avenue out of poverty. On an individual level, education can be the difference between a life below and a life above the poverty line. On a societal level, educating girls is seen as the closest thing to a silver bullet for eradicating poverty. Education can improve food security, improve health standards and improve gender equality. However, poverty impacts education just as much as education impacts poverty; poverty has a direct impact on a child’s ability to learn.

The Relationship Between Poverty and Learning

Poverty affects children on several levels, including physical, social-emotional and cognitive. According to the NIH, “the stresses of poverty lead to impaired learning ability in children from impoverished backgrounds.”


Children’s ability to concentrate is affected by poor nutrition and poor health. Additionally, prenatal drug use, environmental toxins and long-term exposure to stress and violence can impact physical health and cognitive ability before birth and are more common in low-income households.


Children living in poverty often see themselves as victims of a system, lacking their own autonomy or ability to make choices that actually affect their lives. This poor sense of agency affects their focus, initiative and engagement in the classroom.

Cognitive Development

Long-term exposure to stress hormones as a result of living in or near poverty, violence and trauma affects brain development. In particular, children living in poverty exhibit lower executive function (impulse control, emotional regulation, attention management, task prioritization, working memory, etc.) because their energy is focused on basic survival functions.

Limitations of Schools in Low-Income Areas

Schools located in lower-income areas have deficiencies that create their own barriers to learning for students. For example, even when tuition is free, there are other potentially prohibitive costs associated with attendance such as textbooks, school supplies, uniforms and transportation. Coupled with the loss of income from sending a child to school who could otherwise be working, there are distinct economic barriers to sending poorer children to school.

Schools in lower-income areas are also typically overcrowded and have limited resources and infrastructure. There are fewer books and computers to go around, and teachers may be unqualified to teach their subjects or may be burnt out from operating under prolonged resource strain.

Possible Solutions

There are many possible solutions for improving the relationship between poverty and learning. Incentives for qualified teachers to teach in low-income areas could be implemented. Disadvantaged schools could receive better resources and funding. More schools could be built in rural areas and better transportation to schools could be instituted. Funding and implementation for early-childhood programs for identified at-risk students could also go a long way toward improving learning outcomes for students living in poverty.

Education may be one of the keys to reducing and eradicating poverty, but only quality education, tailored to meet the unique needs of poor, malnourished and/or traumatized children will be truly effective in this and break the poverty/education cycle.

– Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr