Reversing the Global Learning Crisis (News and Research 317)

Reversing the global learning crisis before it derails a generation of children | The latest U.S. math and reading scores showed worrisome declines due to the pandemic’s toll and related school closures. For many developing countries, the impacts of this shock are even worse, amounting to a crisis in learning that threatens a generation of children. As many as 70% of 10 year-olds in low- and middle-income economies can’t read and understand a basic text—what we call “learning poverty.”  Learning deficits were already large before the pandemic but were deepened as COVID-19 brought education systems around the world to a standstill. This could result in massive productivity and earnings potential losses and endanger the future welfare of a generation of children and youth. Governments and the international development community must act quickly and decisively.

Higher Education: Understanding demand and redefining values | In developing countries, we are seeing a massive growth in demand for higher education as more students than ever are moving through the education pipeline—from primary to secondary and on to tertiary. This growth has not been stemmed by the pandemic which if anything has contributed further. Globally, in 2021, roughly 220 million students were enrolled in formal post-secondary education, more than doubling the enrollment figure from 2000. It is estimated that there will be 380 million higher education students by 2030.

Raising fiscal revenue in times of crisis | The multiple crises that developing countries are facing today constitute a major setback for development.  The war in Ukraine and COVID-19 aftershocks have resulted in a steep rise in prices of food, fertilizers, and energy. This in turn has contributed to high levels of inflation and rising interest rates, as well as to the risk of stagflation. Globally, food and energy prices have increased the risks of food insecurity, malnutrition, and hunger, hitting the world’s poorest the hardest. Poor families had already borne the greatest burden of the COVID-19 crisis. In 2020 alone, the number of people living below the extreme poverty line, on less than $2.15 per day, rose by over 70 million—the largest increase at least since 1990. And many people who were already in extreme poverty became even poorer. Vulnerable families also faced the largest setbacks in health and education. About 70% of children in low- and middle-income countries are in learning poverty—meaning that at the age of 10, they are unable to read or understand a basic text.

Opinion: To help students shoot for the moon, we must think bigger and bolder | By Dan Goldhaber, Thomas J. Kane, Andrew McEachin and Emily Morton | American students have experienced a historic decline in academic achievement. The only possible response — the only rational response — is a historic collective investment in children and young adults. The results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress reveal plummeting test scores nationwide, setting students back to where they were two decades ago. At the same time, we witnessed a sharp increase in educational inequity, with much larger losses in high poverty districts. Yet there’s a troubling disconnect between the scale of catch-up efforts in the last school year and the magnitude of the declines. These losses won’t be fixed by few hours of tutoring or a helpful computer program. Schools and families need to take a hard look at where every student stands. And their communities need to step up to help in any way they can. The best metaphor for this moment comes not from the history of education, but from the space program. When President John F. Kennedy issued his moon challenge, NASA’s rocket designers calculated the thrust they would need to send a spacecraft to the moon and soon realized that they would need something far larger than anything they’d built before. The result was the Saturn V rocket…

Charting a Brighter and More Prosperous Future for All Children in Serbia | If you knew of an investment that will make you 4 to 16 times more money you put in while helping equalize economic opportunities in your country, you probably wouldn’t want to miss the chance. Well, this is what Serbia has been doing by partnering with the World Bank to invest in early childhood education. There is a growing body of evidence indicating that early childhood education and care (ECEC) is key for human capital development. Research shows that each $1 invested in quality early childhood programs can yield returns between $4 and $16.

Economics of minority groups: Labour-market returns and transmission of indigenous languages in Mexico | This study demonstrates a series of links between minority language skills, their economic return, and transmission across generations among Indigenous Mexican groups. We begin by estimating the differential in employment likelihood and wages between monolinguals of the dominant language (Spanish), relative to bilinguals who also know a local minority language. This effect of bilingualism on labour-market outcomes is identified using census and labour survey microdata and a matching procedure that ties individuals closely by ethnicity and socioeconomic cline. This enables us to separate language from ethnicity and reduce the bias driven by unobservable factors, compared to existing research. We find that, for indigenous Mexicans, retaining the minority language along with Spanish improves employment prospects, overturning earlier results. Next, we investigate whether languages that are associated with larger labour-market benefits are also more likely to be passed on from parents to children, using intergenerational microdata. We find this to be the case, even after a rich set of controls on socio-economic environment. The results support a view that even in the absence of institutional support, minority languages may sustain themselves over generations in an ecological niche supported by labour-market specialisation.

Returns to Education in Greece: Evidence from the 1977 Labor Market Survey using the Greek Civil War as an Instrument | Just published in Economics Bulletin | Greece experienced a devastating civil war in 1946-1949. This led to many deaths, economic losses, and severe reductions in schooling expenditures and attendance. Using an instrumental variables approach, we estimate the 1977 returns to schooling, showing that for those affected by the civil war, the returns to schooling are higher than the corresponding least squares estimate.