What we need to do to get children in developing countries learning

Teachers and schools are doing their best to improve the learning of their children, but the needs are enormous and often beyond the current capacity of government.

Students at Mkunazini primary school in Zanzibar. Alice Albright and Cassandra Hallett write that while education is one of the most important investments a country can make in its people and its future, without increased and sustained investments in education in less affluent countries, we 'won’t see much progress.'GPE/Chantal Rigaud photograph

PUBLISHED :Monday, Oct. 2, 2017 4:20 PM

Meet Gloria. She is 15 years old and like many teenagers around the world, she dreams of her future—her own home, family, and a career. She loves to draw and is an excellent runner. She attends public school in Tanzania and although she is near the top of her class, she only reads and writes at levels comparable to early elementary grades here in Canada.

Her teacher, Mariam, has been teaching for 15 years and is dedicated to her students. Mariam’s pay is rarely provided on time. At the school, 60 to 80 students sit on a small bench, sharing desks and there are just a handful of textbooks. Still, Mariam does all she can for her students, each day.

This situation is not unusual for schools in many developing countries. Teachers and schools are doing their best to improve the learning of their children, but the needs are enormous and often beyond the current capacity of governments.

This is why the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) are working to improve the quality of education in the world’s poorest countries.


As those of us working on global education know, quality education is based on quality teaching, quality tools, and quality environments for teaching and learning. And there has been good progress in education over the last decade and a half. In sub-Saharan Africa, the percentage of out of school primary-aged children declined from 40 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2015 and, over the same period, in South and West Asia that number fell from 20 to 6 percent. We know what needs to be done and what works.

Since 2013 GPE has worked with the government of Tanzania to improve literacy and numeracy through improved teacher training and the provision of adequate teaching materials. Close to 23,000 teachers have been trained on a revised curriculum, more than 500 teachers have received training on special needs education. The number of students per teacher and class are slowly improving and transition rates into secondary schools have increased. 

But progress is too slow and cannot keep up with rapid population growth. If we continue at current rate, over half of the world’s upcoming youth generation—825 million of the 1.6 billion young people who will be alive in 2030—will simply not be equipped to work and thrive in the 21st century. The ones who miss out will be defined by pre-existing patterns of poverty.

With 264 million children and adolescents out of school, including more than 130 million girls who are still more likely than boys to never to go to school, school enrolment must continue to climb and the quality of education must improve.


More qualified teachers are needed and the status of the teaching profession needs to be elevated to attract and keep talent. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 69 million primary and secondary school teachers need to be recruited by 2030 to meet the education goal of inclusive and quality education for all as set out in the Sustainable Development Goals.

And teachers and students need quality learning materials like textbooks which are amongst the most cost-effective investments to improve student leaning in developing countries.

Leaders across the world agree that education is a powerful agent of change that improves health, contributes to social stability, and drives long-term economic growth. It reduces maternal deaths and combats diseases such as HIV and AIDS. Education can reduce child marriage and promote gender equality. In sum, education is one of the most important investments a country can make in its people and its future.

But without increased and sustained investments in education, we won’t see much progress. Aid to education in 2015 (the latest available year) was lower than what it was in 2010. That’s unacceptable. And developing countries themselves need to invest more in education. Together, we can and must do better.


The upcoming Financing Conference of the Global Partnership for Education in February 2018 is the first opportunity to turn political commitment for education into tangible support.

In Tanzania, where Gloria goes to school, the government is working to improve its education system and build a skilled workforce leading to a high quality of life for all.

And governments across the world need to fully fund education systems so that all children and youth will have access to quality education.

Success starts with fully qualified teachers, equipped with quality tools in quality learning environments.

Alice Albright is the Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnership for Education and is in Canada this week for World Teachers’ Day. GPE seeks support from donor and recipient countries to strengthen education systems for the benefit of all.

Cassandra Hallett is the Secretary General of Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF). CTF is committed to uplifting the teaching profession and advocating for quality education as a human right for all children and youth.


The Hill Times