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Podcast: Putting Learning at the Centre of Education

©UNICEF/BANA2013-00438/ Haque
Preschool students learn through play, rhymes, artwork and songs at Shwetpur Government Primary School in Ashashuni, Satkhira, Bangladesh.

This podcast originally appeared on UNICEF's Back on Track site on 20 June 2013.

By Rudina Vojvoda

NEW YORK, United States of America, 20 June 2013 – Recent data show that progress towards universal primary education has slowed, with the poorest and most marginalized children affected most. In 2011, 57 million primary school-age children were out of school. According to the most recent estimates, about 250 million children of primary school age cannot read, write or count well, whether or not they have been to school.

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Why are some education systems failing to transform the lives of children and equip them with the right skills for the future? In this instalment of the Beyond School Books series, podcast moderator Shia Levitt talks to UNICEF Education Senior Adviser Changu Mannathoko and Rukmini Banerji, Director of Programs at Pratham Institute and one of the co-chairs of the Learning Metrics Task Force (LMTF), a project that aims to shift the global conversation on education from a focus on access to a focus on access plus learning.

Gains in enrolment, low level of learning
Over the past 15 years, significant gains have been made in enrolling millions of children worldwide. However, despite progress in getting children into school, learning levels remain unacceptably low. According to Ms. Mannathoko, some of the major factors preventing children from learning are crowded classrooms, unqualified teachers, lack of investment in early childhood education and unsafe learning environments. Ms. Banerji added that, in countries such as India, many parents, themselves, have not been in school and are often unable to help their children study.

But how do we determine what children should be learning and if they are, in fact, learning? According to Ms. Banerji, the learning goals have to be clearly stated, easily measured and set in a way that is achievable. “I think the challenge is to articulate simple goals that everyone can understand and measurements that can be easily done and easily understood. Sophisticated ways of measurement will always be done, but I think that, if you want to take everybody along, things should be straightforward, simple and easy to do,” she said.

Ms. Mannathoko agreed and shared some examples from UNICEF’s work in Argentina and Brazil, where programmes embracing these good practices are yielding results and providing learning opportunities in the early years of childhood or to children who are out of school and have missed enrolment.

Learning at the centre of education
Both guests shared their enthusiasm about the work of the LMTF and its mission. “Right now, the whole world is focusing on post-2015 and what happens when these Millennium Development Goals end,” said Ms. Mannathoko. “One of the great things that is happening is the establishment of the Learning Metrics Task Force because [it] is really putting learning at the centre of education – not just the measurement of learning, but the importance of improving learning.”

Ms. Banerji added, “The work of the LMTF that has involved many people experts, policy-makers, practitioners around the world is really to have a broad-based discussion, even beyond basic reading or basic arithmetic. There are things that children need to be able to do, be able to know, which build their basic foundations. I think that this conversation around 2015 has been a very good opportunity to bring many people together to think about this.”


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