How to Improve Education Quality in South Asia?

south-asia

Last year, the World Bank published Student learning in South Asia : challenges, opportunities, and policy priorities report about the state of education in South Asia. It showed that, despite undeniable achievements, poor education quality is holding back the region and trapping the youth in poverty. The good news is: there are solutions!

south-asia

1. How is the education sector doing in South Asia?

It’s doing much better! For the past decade, most countries have invested a lot in education, and they have achieved impressive results. Today, 89 percent of the children go to school; in 2001, there were only 75 percent. Besides, the literacy rate has skyrocketed, and 80.6 percent of the youth can now read.

Yet, despite this tremendous progress, there is still much to do. Even now, 13 million young South Asians have no access to education at all. For those attending primary school, many will drop out before graduating, and only 58 percent will get a secondary degree. This is below the world’s average by 12 percentage points.

2. Will South Asia reach universal primary education by end-2015?

There are still wide disparities across the region, so it depends on which country we are talking about. For instance, Sri Lanka achieved this goal several decades ago, and India with its 96 percent enrollment rate is well advanced too. On the contrary, Pakistan is lagging much behind, with only 72.1 percent of its children going to school. And in Afghanistan, the situation is even worse!

3. What are the barriers to accessing education?

As elsewhere in the world, poverty and gender discrimination are the number 1 barriers.

South Asia is one of the poorest regions in the world, and this has a huge impact on education. Children from disadvantaged families tend to drop out more often. But, here, the poverty factor is aggravated by the many conflicts and natural disasters that have racked the region since 2000. Schools have been closed or destroyed, and this has prevented the youth from studying at all.

For the girls, the chance to get an education is even lower. Over half of them have to drop out before reaching the last grade of primary school. This is a pity, as educating the girls is one of the keys to overcoming poverty. Indeed, an educated woman is likely to marry at a later age and have fewer, healthier, and better educated children. And since they often get a higher wage, they can contribute to increasing the standard of living of their family.

4. What about learning outcomes?

For the World Bank, this is the greatest challenge South Asia is facing now. The current education system does not give the youth the skills they need to reach their potential, get a good job, and succeed in life. Today, up to one-third of primary school’s students lack basic numeracy and literary skills. And it hardly gets better in secondary schools.

This low learning outcome has not only an impact on the children’s personal development. It also undermines the whole region’s competitiveness, economic growth, and any efforts to reduce poverty.

5. Why is the quality of education so poor?

Clearly, the educational methods are not effective. In South Asia, pupils are asked to rote learn rather than to reason or think for themselves. This is not to say that rote learning is useless. Still, children also need to be taught how to be analytical, solve problems, and write meaningful sentences.

But how could it be otherwise? Teachers have insufficient skills and are hardly trained. What is more, a majority skips class one day in five, and this has pervasive consequences. In general, the teachers’ knowledge and commitment are critical to the students’ learning. But in South Asia, this is even more important. Most children are the first ones in their family to ever go to school, and they cannot rely on their parents to help them.

6. What could these countries do?

For the World Bank, the priority is to invest in early childhood nutrition. It may sound irrelevant, and yet, the impact on learning outcomes would be massive, as malnutrition damages the children’s ability to learn. Another priority is to improve the teachers’ effectiveness. Governments should appoint them based on merit, train them, and reward their performances. This could increase the motivation of the good ones and persuade them to keep teaching.

7. What about ICTs?

Surprisingly the World Bank does not mention them in its report, and yet, ICTs provide incredibly useful tools to educators. There are many examples of successful initiatives. For instance, Shilpa Sayura in Sri Lanka, Deaf Reach in Pakistan, and eVidyaloka in India have helped thousands of rural, disadvantaged, and disabled children break the learning barriers and overcome school failure.

All these projects have proven to be both innovative and efficient, with few resources. So, why not take inspiration from them?

Apply Now for the Digital Youth Fellowship Programme

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The Digital Youth Fellowship Programme (DYFP) of the Digital Empowerment Foundation seeks to engage willing youths in India and South Asia, who are keen to have development and grassroots experience in working with communities in any parts in India. The fellowship period is for minimum 90 days duration, and fellows get travel, accommodation, and living expenses during their fellowship.

Over 100 selected fellows will be guided to work with communities under various Digital Empowerment Foundation programmes that have Information Communication Technology (ICT) applications, usage and utility. Fellows will be expected to engage in:

  • Community mobilization and engagement
  • Skill development & capacity building
  • Reporting and documentation
  • Information and content aggregation
  • Research inputs including data capturing and mining

Willing applicants can write to Ms. Ritu Srivastava, Programme Manager at ritu@defindia.net with a formal communication along with updated curriculum vitae. Application shall accompany with a 500 words note on why the applicant is interested in one of the various flagship programmes of Digital Empowerment Foundation as briefly outlined below:

Digital Panchayat
Under this initiative, fellows are ought to travel and work with a cluster of Panchayats at a district level. The tasks of the fellows are cut out to make elected members digitally literate and collect content of the Panchayats and put them online through dedicated Digital Panchayat website. Check out online Panchayats at http://epanchayat.in.

Wireless for Communities (W4C)
The Wireless for Communities (W4C) initiative establishes wireless based broadband internet cluster and provides connectivity in remote areas denied of connectivity and access. Using the free spectrum for wireless connectivity, W4C program has so far established 8 community networks in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Meghalaya, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand. If you are keen to experience the W4C journey, as a Digital Wireless Fellow, you can join the program for a minimum 3 months period and explore on the ground how to connect rural and remote locations and feel empowered. More details at http://wforc.in

Chanderiyaan
The Chanderiyaan project was initiated by DEF as a part of digital cluster development flagship programme. As a fellow you can join the Digital Fellowship of the Loom programme and contribute in textile and apparel designing and making entrepreneurs out of the weavers and contribute in overall cluster development.  Check out the Chanderiyaan project at http://chanderiyaan.chanderi.org/, the Chanderiyaan e-commerce platform at http://chanderiyaan.net  and the Chanderi heritage town at http://chanderiheritage.in

Community Information Resource Centres (CIRC)
Digital Empowerment Foundation has established more than 30 CIRCs across India, which are digitally enabled and Internet connected for information services delivery and access, digital literacy, ICT Skills, citizen services and livelihood opportunities. The mission at DEF continues to establish one CIRC in each district of India. As CIRC resource persons, selected fellows are supposed to work with a particular CIRC, can join a 3-6 months stationed programme and contribute in making one person per household digitally literate and information empowered. Check out for more details at http://defindia.org.

Digital Library Programme (DLP)
As a fellow of the DLP programme, selected fellows are invited to work with district public libraries in Kanpur Rural District (Uttar Pradesh) and Betiah in West Champaran District of Bihar. Selected fellows shall contribute in implementing and running various programme activities in the libraries with the support of ICTs.

eNGO
Fellows are invited to join the eNGO programme to empower grassroots NGOs and development agencies with ICT support. Fellows shall provide support in having NGOs their own web platforms; provide content, training and capacity building support of NGOs and their functionaries to make them ICT enabled. Details at http://pirengo.org