“I think what we need to recognise is that despite some improvements, we have two problems,” said Jaime Saavedra, senior director of education at the World Bank’s Education Global Practice.
“One is that millions of children are still not in school, so we still have not solved the quantity issue. But in addition to that, we have a huge quality [issue] in education.
“The budget of [our] government for the whole year is roughly equivalent to one high school in the UK”
“The one thing we were interested in at the World Bank is how we make sure that everyone understands that we don’t have a problem, but that we have a crisis, an extremely serious crisis,” he warned.
According to Saavedra, in lower and middle-income countries 53% of 10-year-olds cannot read and understand a simple story. This rises to an estimated 90% in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Unfortunately we think that [SDG4] is not going to happen… If we continue [the current] trends, that number will go down from 53% to only 43%,” he added, noting that even to reduce rates by half would require countries doubling or tripling their rate of improvement.
However, for some countries, Saavedra continued, the money needed to implement changes and reforms that would help meet SDG4 simply isn’t there.
“We have a situation where only 23% of school-age children in the country are attending primary schools and 15% secondary schools,” said the Somali minister for Education, Abdullahi Godah Barre, during one session.
“The budget of the government for the whole year is roughly equivalent to one high school in the UK.”
The importance of pre-primary education was also highlighted, particularly with regards to how it can promote continuing education as children grow up.
Despite around a third of countries dedicating less than 2% of their budgets to it, places such as Bulgaria, Ecuador and Mongolia allocate more than 20% of their education budgets to pre-primary education.
In Mongolia, this has been credited with creating near-universal access to pre-primary education, tripling the rate between 2000 and 2017.
A lot of the recommendations for improving global education centred on a need to “work together” and “innovate”, as well as for leaders to “recognise the importance of collecting data”.
Developments in edtech were praised for improving education access for disabled children, though there appeared to remain some questions about how it can be best used in disadvantaged areas.
“I do think the glass is half full. If we look back in the 1950s, some 50% of primary school children were out of school,” said Robert Jenkins, chief of education at UNICEF.
“In Vietnam, primary school enrolment is now near-universal”
“Within countries, there have been notable successes. For example, in Vietnam, primary school enrolment is now near-universal, with lower and upper secondary school enrolment not far behind.
“However, we should not sit back and congratulate ourselves. Today 9% of primary school-aged children remain out of school and this has not changed since 2008.”
The OECD’s director of education and skills, Andreas Schleicher, explained that reforms in education are not just an issue for low and middle-income countries.
He advocated a greater focus on employability and a rethink of education and how it can be adapted for the digital era, emphasising that “the things that are easy to test and assess are also the things that are easy to automate”.
“We have employers not finding people with the right skills and young people with a good education not finding jobs,” he told the audience.
“[Bridging] this gap between what the world requires and what people know is easy to talk about and really, really hard to do.”