Experts uncover evidence of global learning crisis

Despite record enrollments in school worldwide, learning is limited

Cambridge, Massachusetts, Feb. 08, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- More young children are enrolled in primary school today than any other time in history. Yet achievement data shows that student learning has remained nearly flat over the last two decades in all regions of the world, Noam Angrist (University of Oxford), Simeon Djankov (Peterson Institute for International Economics), Pinelopi Goldberg (Peterson Institute for International Economics), and Harry Patrinos (World Bank) report in a new article for Education Next.

And even wealthy countries, like the United States, are not immune to what international organizations have termed the global “learning crisis.”

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Among the key findings:

  • A new database of detailed student-achievement data from 164 countries suggests that greater school enrollments have been followed by little to no growth in learning in most parts of the world. The Harmonized Learning Outcomes database includes student-achievement data from 164 countries, allowing the authors to compare student performance in regions that are typically excluded from international comparisons, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, to that of more affluent students in Europe and North America. The data cover 98 percent of the global population and track student-learning outcomes from 2000 to 2017.
  • A strong link between student learning and economic growth. Levels of student learning, as measured by performance on standardized tests, have a stronger and more positive relationship to economic growth than the number of years students attend school.
  • An imperfect relationship between learning and per-capita income. Many countries, such as the United States, perform about as well on standardized measures of achievement as their relative income levels would predict. But others, like Singapore and Poland, perform far better, while countries like South Africa and Kuwait have lower than predicted scores.

“Expansion in access to school may provide more opportunities to learn and may have other benefits as well, but schooling does not guarantee learning, and the relationship is not one to one,” the authors write.

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About the Authors: Noam Angrist is a fellow at the University of Oxford, cofounder of Young 1ove, and a consultant with the World Bank, where Harry Patrinos is practice manager. Simeon Djankov and Pinelopi Goldberg, both for­merly of the World Bank, are senior fellows at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Goldberg is also the Elihu Professor of Economics at Yale University.

About Education Next: Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Education Next Institute and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit


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