Despite advances in student enrollment and technology, schools and educational systems in the developing world are still far behind their developed counterparts in terms of performance and retention – a full century behind, in fact.
According to research from the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, the current average level of education in poorer countries is about 100 years behind that of developed nations, meaning the average level of education in these countries is equal to what was attained in many developed countries in the early 1900s.
For the purpose of this report, “developed” countries aligned with the United Nations definition, which encompasses Europe, North America, Japan and Australia.
The gap starts in early childhood, and then widens as students age – or drop out. Adults in developed countries complete an average of 12 years of school, while those in developing nations have, on average, finished just 6.5 years of school. Given current trends in education and enrollment, experts project that at least 65 years are needed for the average amount of school years for adults in developing countries to attain 12 full years, while those in low-income countries will need 85 years to catch up.
The same issue arises when it comes to the disparity in learning levels between the two groups of countries. At the current rate of progression, students in developing countries need more than 100 years to reach the learning levels of students in developed countries now.
The article’s author, Rebecca Winthrop, points to rising global rates of primary school enrolment as one step in the right direction. Over the last 50 years, the emphasis on increasing child enrolment, spurred in part by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has led to 90 percent of children being enrolled in primary school. Still, the learning gap shows that starting at the same age simply isn’t enough to erase the many advantages afforded to children in wealthy countries.
Of course, education gaps are nothing new – and not restricted to the international level. In England, the achievement gap between rich and poor students is significant, and seems to be widening in most areas outside of London.
According to the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), it will take more than 20 years to close the achievement gap between students living in poverty and their peers. A 2014 report suggested, encouragingly, that the gap was beginning to close, but that it was happening – if at all – at a “very slow rate.”
The United States is infamous for its stark contrasts in education achievement, defined not only by socioeconomic level but also by the students’ race. There, as well, evidence suggests that the gap is widening, with one researcher finding that the gap between children from high- and low-income families is between 30 and 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than the group born 25 years earlier. In these cases, it is not only children from poor families, but specifically black and Hispanic children, that are disproportionately being left behind – despite strong evidence that closing the gap would be extremely beneficial to the US economy.