The world is facing a learning crisis. A new World Bank dataset illustrates the bleak outlook: in developing countries, less than 50 percent of students are achieving proficiency in basic skills (reading, writing, and counting), compared to 86 percent in developed countries. Despite great gains in enrollment levels and an ambitious Sustainable Development Goal, education quality worldwide is failing children, affecting their empowerment, employability, future earnings, health, and society’s overall growth potential.


The recent World Development Report 2018, Learning to Realize Education’s Promise, unpacks the drivers and dimensions of this learning crisis, and identifies three policy actions that can lead to real change: 1) assessing learning, to make it a serious goal; 2) acting on evidence, to make schools work for learners; and 3) aligning actors, to make the system work for learning. Approaches towards implementing these recommendations are both technical and systemic, as well as political in nature.


At the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA), we’ve been thinking about this learning crisis, and how social accountability mechanisms offer potentially powerful solutions. Particularly, we believe that engaging the very beneficiaries of education – students, and their parents – is the key to making many sector interventions achieve their aims by using the power of accountability and transparency. The 2017/18 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report on Accountability in Education underscores that everyone has a role to play in improving education. Earlier in 2004, the World Development Report on Making Services for the Poor galvanized global efforts to strengthen citizen-driven accountability processes in order to improve delivery and responsiveness of services such as education.


Citizen-driven data, community engagement and accountability, and multi-stakeholder coalitions can support the implementation of these actions. The GPSA, in alignment with the World Bank’s projects in education and its citizen engagement efforts, is supporting 14 promising projects in 11 countries where civil society, governments and other stakeholders use collaborative social accountability, whether directly or indirectly to improve the quality of education.


In Moldova, for example, the GPSA supports the ‘MySchool’ project led by local think tank Expert Group. The goal is to improve the accountability of the sector’s reform process, while building upon the World Bank’s existing support to improve the quality of education services in 100 schools. Local school communities (students, administrators, teachers, parents and mayors) are now participating in public hearings, budget monitoring, and scorecards on school performance. They are holding authorities accountable and helping devise relevant solutions to their specific challenges. At school level, this is already addressing issues that directly influence learning such as lack of heating in classrooms and budgeting for appropriate teacher-to-student ratios. At the national level, the project is increasingly influencing dialogue about system improvement, and helping to mainstream citizen engagement in the education sector.  


In Malawi, a country that faces enormous challenges with regard to learning outcomes, the GPSA-supported project by the Malawi Economic Justice Network is addressing a key input for learning – having usable textbooks in each classroom. In the targeted schools, thanks to the diligent work of monitoring committees of parents and teachers, gaps in textbook deliveries are being filled. Once in the classroom, students and teachers are taking better care of books. Public procurement is improving, and even looting and illegal sale of textbooks by private sellers has been reduced by 80%.


In Morocco, a project by CARE Morocco has trained parent associations and education authorities in 50 primary schools in vulnerable communities in using social accountability tools such as the Participatory Assessment and Monitoring Tool (PAMT) along with scorecards and social audits. They now collaboratively identify areas for practical school improvements. There is more transparency on available budgets, which is improving decision-making at local, regional and national levels.


As we learn from these experiences, the GPSA is keen to explore how collaborative social accountability can help address critical aspects of the learning crisis, whether technical or systemic in nature. And one of the major questions we are aiming to answer is: what role should global partnerships play to accelerate local efforts towards learning for all?


Share your thoughts with us in the upcoming Roundtable on March 6, organized by the GPSA together with the World Bank’s Global Practices for Education and Governance, the Global Partnership for Education, and the Basic Education Coalition.