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Crisis in education. How Kyrgyzstan can overcome it

The World Development Report 2018, the theme of which is education, was presented in Kyrgyzstan. The co-author of the document Halsey Rogers and the head of the Education in Europe and Central Asia Department Cristian Aedo told 24.kg news agency about the crisis of schooling, studied in the report, and the measures necessary to overcome it.

— What is the global learning crisis described in the report?

Halsey Rogers: The world has made great progress: today a very large number of children began to go to school. In recent decades, impressive results have been achieved. This is very important, because education helps to reduce poverty and is a powerful tool for economic growth.

However, the problem is that schooling does not always mean learning. That is, children go to school, but this does not always mean that they learn there, get knowledge. And this problem is typical for many countries in the world.

The situation with education is that if we, for example, take a rural area in India, the fifth grade students do not know how to properly subtract two-figure numbers. Only a half of the children will cope with this task correctly.

And this situation can be observed in many countries. In most of the countries on which we have data, about a half (or more) of the students graduate from primary school without the basic literacy and work with the numbers skills that are needed to continue schooling.

Unfortunately, the learning crisis mainly affects children from poor families — that is, the children who are most in need of education as a mean of getting out of poverty.

The probability of graduating from a primary school with the knowledge and skills needed to continue studying in the senior grades among such children might be several times lower, compared to the children from middle-income families. And we see this trend in many countries of the world. This is not only unfair, but also entails great lost opportunities.

— What are the causes of the crisis?

Halsey Rogers: There are several reasons behind the learning crisis. First, children come to school unprepared — not enough stimulation of development at an early age, malnutrition of children, lack of basic preparation for school have its effects.

Secondly, teachers are not always sufficiently motivated and prepared to give children knowledge. In many countries, if you visit a school, about 40 percent of teachers are not in the class, although they should conduct classes at this time. And even if the teachers are in the classroom, they are not always well prepared to teach children — even in primary school.

The third reason is that both teachers and schoolchildren need training materials, technology, textbooks. The textbooks often just do not reach a school, and if they do, they can not be used. A typical example: computers are delivered to schools, and teachers do not know how to use them.

In addition, it is difficult to find good leaders in the schools themselves. Management does not have enough capacity to promote and guide the learning process.

Why does the learning crisis continue to exist? We rise this issue in the World Development Report. The fact is that the system itself in many countries focuses very little on changing the situation.

— How much these problems are typical for Kyrgyzstan?

Halsey Rogers: There is a low level of knowledge in the country, although there are very good indicators in terms of schooling coverage and attendance. Perhaps, therefore, the results of PISA assessment in 2006 and 2009 was a big surprise for the country, after all, Kyrgyzstan, it would seem, has achieved good indicators in the level of coverage of children with school education, general literacy. But about 80 percent of the students who were assessed by PISA did not have a basic competence in the tested subjects.

In addition, another part of the problem, which I mentioned, is characteristic for Kyrgyzstan: children from remote rural schools, from poor families, show the worst results in learning. Unfortunately, the existing system to a lesser extent helps those who need good education most of all.

— What measures should help to overcome this crisis? What should Kyrgyzstan do?

Halsey Rogers: First, it is necessary to make the first graders ready for learning, otherwise they will lag far behind their agemates and this will have a bad effect on their education in subsequent years. Therefore, it is necessary to invest in preschool education. In this regard, we are pleased to observe the success of the program of preparing children for the school «Nariste,» which, with the support of the World Bank, covered about 350,000 children all over Kyrgyzstan.

Secondly, it is important to work with teachers. Kyrgyzstan is now moving in the right direction in this issue: about 10,000 teachers with our help got acquainted with the improved teaching methodology and introduce it at schools. But it is also necessary to assess how much the students’ knowledge has changed as a result of using this technique. Therefore, we supported the creation of pilot classes for monitoring that will improve the situation.

The World Bank also helps with the development and introduction of modern teaching materials, including multimedia, the publication of new school textbooks that better reflect the curriculum.

As for the management of schools, there is such a system when those teachers, who have more experience in teaching, become school directors. But this does not mean that they are really those leaders who have management skills.

The approach should be changed in order the directors can manage the schools financially. Currently, work is under way in this direction.

It is very important, at the same time, for such changes to remain sustainable in order the support and problems of education to be resolved not only at the school level, but also to reach the level of the society. The political system, the society should understand: the idea of ​​education for everybody is not overall attendance of school, but getting knowledge. It is important for this topic to be the subject of conversations, discussions at a broader level — at the level of families, schools, professional pedagogical communities, private sector employers and politicians. All participants involved in the process must come to a common understanding of the importance of improvements in the education system and work towards this goal together.

Cristian Aedo: As for Kyrgyzstan, it is very important that all the measures Halsey mentioned above — to prepare children for school, to ensure the availability of quality teaching materials, to conduct regular assessments of students’ knowledge, to raise the qualification and motivation of teachers, to improve the quality of school management — were taken simultaneously, together. Only then the students will successfully learn and show good results.

— By the way, you did not say anything about the teachers’ salaries. How important is it?

Halsey Rogers: Of course, all teachers should get a decent salary, to be respected in society, their work is to be prestigious and promising in order high schools graduates to came to school and want to stay in the system.

It is clear that salary is not less important, but in countries where the worst learning crisis has occurred, in particular in some countries in Africa, one can see that teachers’ salaries are not less than in other sectors. However, this does not influence the learning results.

In Indonesia, for example, teachers’ salaries were almost doubled, but this did not in any way influence the results of students’ learning.

That is, whatever policy in the sphere of education is adopted, we should ask the question: how much will it help to ensure that all children — regardless of the income of their families or their place of residence — to learn and receive knowledge.

— Will the World Bank support the participation of Kyrgyzstan in the next round of PISA?

Cristian Aedo: Assessing the knowledge, skills and abilities of students is one of the key areas of our assistance to the education sector of Kyrgyzstan. In particular, we help teachers develop tests, strengthen and develop the potential of the National Testing Center, assist in conducting national assessments of students’ achievements. I must say that there is some progress: the quality of measurement and assessment of knowledge at the class level, at final examinations, tests has improved.

As for PISA, as far as we know, Kyrgyzstan plans to participate in this program in 2021. And if there is a need, the World Bank is ready to support the country.

— The World Bank has been supporting the education sector in Kyrgyzstan for many years. Are the millions of dollars provided were used effectively?

Cristian Aedo: Indeed, we have a long history of cooperation with the Kyrgyz government in the education sector, which began in 2005. The World Bank then committed itself to supporting the country in improving the education system by providing funding for one of the first projects in the sector.

The main objective of the World Bank is to eradicate poverty and improve the general welfare. Accordingly, the bank considers a project through the prism of these two goals. In designing the projects, we strive for using our strengths and mobilizing resources so that our assistance to have a tangible and lasting effect.

When the projects are implemented, supervisory missions that track the implementation of the project in accordance with the planned goals and objectives are carried out, as well as the issues of financial management, procurement are worked out — all of them must be in accordance with the World Bank rules that ensure the efficiency and economy of spending the project funds.

After completion of a project, an independent expert group assesses its effectiveness. All reports on all projects financed by the World Bank in the Kyrgyz Republic can be found in the public domain on the Internet.

Overall, I am pleased to note that the effectiveness of our assistance to the education sector over these years has been good enough both in terms of concrete results and in terms of broad impact.

I will add that a grant of $ 13 million is being used now in the education sector. It would seem that it is a large amount, but in terms of the needs that the education sector has, this is a very small sum.

— So, you will continue to invest in education, will not you?

Cristian Aedo: We hope so, but for this, we must receive relevant requests from the government of the Kyrgyz Republic.