What in the world is going on in education?
Earlier this fall I spoke with a senior executive at a large NGO focused on children, health and poverty alleviation. Every year her organization spends hundreds of millions of dollars on education in the developing world. At the end of our engaging conversation she said to me in a hushed tone, “Gates, you know the work of NGOs, the UN and governments in the developing world over the last several decades has been so focused on providing access to education that we have totally failed to improve educational outcomes.”
Earlier this week I was thumbing through the Stanford Social Innovation Review and came across “Redefining Education in the Developing World”. The authors, Professors Epstein and Yuthas, captured the problem: “The UNESCO program Education for All, which as part of the Millenium Development Goals aims to provide free, universal access to primary schooling, has been successful in dramatically increasing enrollment. But according to annual Education for All reports, many kids drop out before finishing school. Why don’t they stay?”
Why don’t they stay? There are so many challenges that children in the developing world face. For the most part, schools in the developing world have adopted traditional Western models of education. They continue to focus on high levels of academic skill development at the expense of life skills: entrepreneurship, financial literacy and health. To this list, we would also add: Christian character development. When the opportunity cost of staying in school increases with age, the value of the academic skills learned in school decreases. If the school struggles with high teacher absenteeism or inadequate learning materials or weak leadership, you can understand why the student might ask, “Why should I stay?”
Epstein and Yuthas advocate for a new educational model “that combines traditional content with critically important financial, health, and administrative skills,” requiring significant changes in content and pedagogy.” This is very similar to where we would like to see our schools move but with two important differences. First, we are inspired to work from the perspective that all truth is God’s truth – whether academic learning or life skills. Second, we believe that accountability should rest with a strong relationship between a school’s proprietor and the parents. With these two additional pillars, we hope that students will ask, “Why would I leave?”