Education without learning. The situation is all but too familiar in Pakistan. Students going through the grind of sub-standard education, grade after grade, without ever learning anything constructive.

The focus is on rote and memorisation to perform in exams, not on developing skills an education can provide for improving the quality of an individual’s life. It is no surprise then that many Pakistani students who make it past the primary and even secondary stages of the mainstream education system hardly have the ability to earn a decent livelihood in life beyond schools.

Students in many other low- and middle-income countries face a similar “learning crisis”, and the World Bank is cautioning the world against this impending doom. Findings in a latest report by the World Bank suggest that millions of students around the world remain prone to lower wages and standard of living in life due to failing schooling systems.

The World Development Report 2018, titled ‘Learning to Realize Education’s Promise’, highlights the global threat of schooling without learning, saying substandard education is not only a wasted opportunity for developing human resource, but a great injustice to children and youth worldwide.

Learning crisis

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim labled the “learning crisis” a “moral and economic crisis”. The report says education alone is not enough, as learning and acquiring skills was what truly enabled a student to make a difference in his and others’ life. It says education without learning makes students prone to “lives of poverty and exclusion”.

Shedding light on state of schooling across the world, the World Bank says three-quarters of grade 3 students in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, failed to understand what a simple sentence such as “The name of the dog is Puppy” meant. Citing India’s example, the report says 75% of grade 3 students could not perform a simple two-digit mathematical subtraction like 46-17, “and by grade 5 half could still not do so”. Coming to Pakistan, it says two-fifths of grade 3 students in urban centres could not perform a two-digit subtraction such as 54-25, and the average rose to three-fifths in rural areas.

The report says that although rate of primary school enrolment in low-income countries almost became the same as in average high-income countries by year 2008, schooling has not translated to learning. “Children learn very little in many education systems around the world: even after several years in school, millions of students lack basic literacy and numeracy skills,” it says.

Worse off

The reports says the average student “in low-income countries performs worse than 95 percent of the students in high-income countries”, while even the top students in low- to middle-income countries “would rank in the bottom quarter in a wealthier country”.

Giving clues to the failure of the schooling systems, The World Bank report highlights four key problem areas: unskilled and unmotivated teachers, unprepared learners, limited school inputs (budget, learning resources and material) and poor governance and school management that affects learning.

However, the World Bank proposes three focus areas that could reduce the learning gap and allow a level playing field to students. The first step, according to the report, is to assess learning so it can become an assessable goal. It focuses on analysing the shortfalls and putting “in place good metrics for monitoring whether programmes and policies are delivering learning”.

The next crucial step is to “act on evidence — to make schools work for all learners”, while the final step is to align actors to make the whole system work for learning by involving politicians, civil society, judiciary etc. for social mobilisation and removal of impediments, as well as for involvement in the educational process.

Given the crutches Pakistan’s mainstream education system is upon, we think the World Bank recommendations offer crucial insights to the country’s policymakers to make amends. There still is time to save the coming generations from the burden of a useless education and offer them a shot at a better life through learning and skill accumulation.

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