Using National Education Accounts to Help Address the Global Learning Crisis

Financial Data as Driving Force Behind Improved Learning

During the past decade, school enrollments have increased dramatically, mostly thanks to UNESCO’s Education for All (EFA) movement and the UN Millennium Development Goals. From 1999 to 2008, an additional 52 million children around the world enrolled in primary schools, and the number of out-of-school children fell by 39 million. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, enrollment rates rose by one-third during that time, even with large population increases in school-age children.

Yet enrollment is not the only indicator of success in education, and does not necessarily translate into learning. Even with these impressive gains in enrollment, many parts of the world, and particularly the poorest areas, now face a severe learning crisis. The latest data in the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2011 reveal poor literacy and numeracy skills for millions of students around the world. In Malawi and Zambia, more than one-third of sixth-grade students had not achieved the most basic literacy skills. In El Salvador, just 13 percent of third-grade students passed an international mathematics exam. Even in middle-income countries such as South Africa and Morocco, the majority of students had not acquired basic reading skills after four years of primary education. Although the focus on children out of school is fully justified, given that they certainly lack learning opportunities, the failure to focus on learning also does a disservice to the more than 600 million children in the developing world who are already in school but fail to learn very basic skills.