Education for sustainability: exploring the global impact of education

RISE research director Lant Pritchett and the RISE team present at 63rd CIES education conference

The fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SGD 4) aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. With more than half of children and adolescents around the world still not achieving minimum proficiency standards in reading and mathematics, and with quality of education standards diverging between rural and urban areas, as well as between regions and countries, stepped up efforts are needed to ensure no one is left behind.

However, even though a minimum standard in literacy and numeracy is an essential step in attaining global equity in education, it is important to consider if this way is the most sustainable in the long run. Already, many education systems struggle to support all students to learn basic skills or acquire basic knowledge, while teachers struggle to change their focus from rote learning to building skills.

Reflecting on the long term consequences of an education that promises productivity, industrialisation, and consumption, while also considering repercussions for the planet, is an important step to establishing sustainability in education. The 63rd annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society, taking place in San Francisco, USA, between 14 and 18 April, will try to answer some of these pressing questions.

OPM-managed RISE programme, which aims to provide key insights and policy-relevant evidence to support improved learning outcomes for children across the world, is joining other researchers, academics, experts, and policymakers to discuss how to scale up education sustainability.

Sharing perspectives from RISE programme

In recent decades, many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have greatly improved access to education, including for the poor and marginalised groups. But few have made significant gains in learning outlined by international standardised assessments. Without significant improvement in learning, and in the rate of improved learning, 'sustainability' for the people in LMICs remains an empty catchphrase.

The RISE programme seeks to understand what features make education systems coherent and effective in their context, and how the complex dynamics within a system allow policies to be successful. Based on the research from seven countries (Vietnam, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, India, and Pakistan), RISE’s panel event on Thursday, 18 April, will explore the links between politics and learning outcomes, focusing on how true sustainability in educational improvement hinges on understanding the political economy of educational reform.

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Learning from learning profiles: implications for learning goals and equity

  • Date/Time: 15 April, 1:30 to 3:00pm
  • Chair: Lant Pritchett
  • Participants: Maryam Akmal, Michelle Kaffenberger, Amanda Beatty
  • Summary: Learning profiles from diverse datasets present a shared message: learning per year of schooling varies massively across countries, and learning profiles in many countries are remarkably flat. What are the implications of these learning profiles for achieving learning goals, such as quality schooling and universal literacy and numeracy? And what are the equity implications, when learning profiles are dis-aggregated by gender or by wealth? This panel will explore new evidence, with some surprising answers, and implications for education policies.
  • More information available in a RISE Working Paper Learning Equity Requires More than Equality

Political Economy Research to Improve Systems of Education: Perspectives from the RISE Programme

  • Date/time: 18 April, 1:30 to 3:00pm
  • Lead: Alec Gershberg
  • Chair: Luis Crouch
  • Discussants: Agustina Paglayan
  • Presenters: Alec Gershberg, Andrew Rosser, Shelby Carvalho, Jonathan London
  • Summary: RISE has constituted a Political Economy Team (PET) with a program of research to test these ideas, refine them, and generate new ideas about the link between politics and learning outcomes in developing countries by analysing a set of country cases. All seven RISE countries will be cases, as well as some non-RISE countries, in particular from Latin America, Eastern Europe and perhaps the Middle East and North Africa. The program involves three main components: i) the formulation of an analytical framework for understanding the political economy of education system development in developing countries and, in particular, enrolment and learning outcomes; ii) the application of this framework to a set of country cases to elucidate the political obstacles to improved learning outcomes in these countries and the conditions under which they have been overcome; and iii) an assessment of the implications of the analysis for donor and government efforts to enhance learning in developing countries. This panel presents the analytical framework and applications in three countries: Vietnam, Indonesia, and Ethiopia. Insights will be drawn from on-going research efforts in the other RISE countries: Tanzania, Nigeria, India, and Pakistan.

What contributions can randomized experiments (RCTs) make to our understanding of education systems reforms?

  • Date/Time: 18 April 18, 3:15 to 4:45pm
  • Chair: Marc Shotland
  • Discussant: Marc Shotland
  • Participants: Radhika Bhula, Tassew Woldehanna
  • Summary: Systems research is an emerging field in education, and ambitious researchers are tackling questions of how education reforms can achieve dramatic student learning gains at scale. This requires understanding not only the relationship between a particular intervention and its effect, but the system dynamics and actors’ relationships involved. Studies that examine at scale implementation, or reveal features of market structure, rather than the isolated effect of a single intervention, can make valuable contributions. This panel will tackle the question of the role that randomized control trials can play in generating the systems evidence needed to inform reforms at scale.

Image: Juliya Shangarey /

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