GPE / Tara E. O'Connell

Heeding the wake up call on educational outcomes through collective leadership

By Wendy Kopp, Teach for All

Ensuring every child has access to quality education is imperative if we hope to build thriving, equitable societies. Yet the 2024 SDG 4 Scorecard reveals that we have considerable work ahead. While most high-income countries are on track to meet their own 2025 benchmarks for minimum proficiency levels in reading, we are not anywhere near achieving the necessary progress in learning outcomes globally. In fact, nearly two thirds of countries lack data to measure progress on minimum proficiency levels. This status report reveals the vast distance we must travel to guarantee equitable education for learners everywhere. Reaching this goal will require a complete reset.

Assessment of country progress towards their national 2025 targets of minimum proficiency level in reading at the end of primary school

The 2024 SDG Scorecard comes after the publication of the latest OECD PISA report – an assessment of 15-year-olds’ learning achievement in mathematics, reading, and science, which is one of the sources informing the global SDG 4 indicator on minimum proficiency level at the end of lower secondary school. The report revealed a continuing downward trend in average outcomes, beginning about ten years ago. Together, these reports should be a wake-up call.

Given the immense challenges facing our global society—from conflict to climate change to public health crises and growing inequality—we need the next generation of students to develop as leaders who can navigate uncertainty and tackle complex, multidimensional problems. This means we need to equip them with an education that grows their agency, awareness, connectedness to people and planet, well-being, and problem-solving and critical thinking skills. They will need foundational literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional skills, as well as higher-order learning.

Taking stock of this imperative, communities and countries all over the world must embrace an urgent purpose: developing students who can tackle today’s unpredictable challenges and contribute positively to shaping a just, peaceful, and sustainable future. The recent reports on education outcomes show just how far we are from realizing this goal and we need to recognize that equipping students to reshape our world will mean fundamentally reassessing both the priority we are placing on education as well as how we are approaching the effort to improve outcomes.

The recently completed RISE project (Research on Improving Systems of Education), a research program that surfaced insights about what fosters system change in education in developing countries, concluded that “the systems that change are the ones that want to change.” By this, they meant that we would see progress only when everyone from policymakers to educators to advocates and innovators to parents and students themselves are on the same mission towards student learning. The implication is that the technical reforms that usually consume most energy in education—from curriculum development to new technologies—will not be sufficient to put outcomes on a different trajectory. Rather, we will need to develop a critical mass of leaders working throughout our education systems, policy, and beyond, who share a passionate commitment to ensuring students fulfill their potential.

In Sobral, Brazil, a dramatic increase in student literacy, from 52% in 2000 to 91% in 2005, was sparked by a bold commitment to 100% literacy for all students in the municipality by the end of second grade—with teachers, parents, and officials enlisting in a shared mission to transform children’s life chances. By 2017, Sobral ranked first out of 5,570 Brazilian municipalities for the quality of its primary education.

In Delhi, India, public schools serving 1.5 million students have benefitted since 2015 from spending increases, new infrastructure, a happiness curriculum, and better teacher training as students’ foundational learning became the region’s top priority. While only 25% of grade 6-9 students could read their textbooks and only 33% could do simple division in 2016, 63% of grade 6-9 students were able to read their textbooks and 73% could solve a grade-level math problem by 2019. While the Delhi government played a critical role, the transformation was also enabled by a supportive network of civil society partners including Pratham, Dream a Dream, Teach For India, and Indus Action. This effort required political will and seeding and rewarding of demonstrated commitment throughout the system.

Through our work across the Teach For All network, we have seen that, through intentional cultivation, it is possible to develop this collective leadership committed to ensuring all students can thrive, one of the forms of leadership to be covered in the 2024/5 GEM Report. One important dimension of the effort is enlisting the most creative, courageous recent graduates of diverse backgrounds and academic majors to channel their energy into classrooms and schools to collaborate, create, and contribute to transforming the system. These young people can help to catalyze the development of new mindsets and ideas, just as young people have effected transformation through the course of history—in everything from human rights to technological advancement.

Reversing the downward trends in student outcomes will require unprecedented commitment. So let’s step up from our day-to-day and think together about how to put ourselves on a very different trajectory—one that will enable today’s students to fulfill their potential and improve our collective welfare. We’ve seen that transformative education is achievable where stakeholders throughout the system—government, communities, educators, young people—share a deep commitment to cultivating the development of today’s students. Progress comes from committing wholeheartedly to the critical purpose of ensuring that all students have the opportunity to develop the skills and mindsets necessary to shape a better future, and developing the collective leadership necessary to achieve it.



1 comment

  1. The time these timelines were established it appeared far but now it’s too close to think about anything new capable of changing this trends overnight. Developing countries have tried to reduce learner walking distance to school and supply of food in schools but we still have low numbers and high drop out. The question or the current focus should be on how to reduce or stop dropout. Drop out is still very high despite all the efforts therefore, it’s time to understand the drives behind the ever rising drop out. How do we make education attractive more than short distance and food? The high drop out may be due to lack of motivation or learning challenges. After learners fail to move to next level they just leave. Therefore the institutional leadership and classroom leadership should wake up.

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