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Quality Education in Developing Countries

The global community achieved an unprecedented increase in school enrollment in developing countries over the past two decades. More children attend school today than at any other time in human history. Yet assessments of what these children are actually learning have been terribly disappointing. In Uganda and Mali, for example, only one in fifty second graders can read. This failure to teach even basic skills defeats the productivity, health, and wellbeing that education is meant to deliver.

In 2006, the Hewlett Foundation joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch the Quality Education in Developing Countries Initiative, which was designed to move education policy beyond enrollment and to ensure that children in low-income countries learn to read, to do math, and to begin thinking critically by the end of third grade. The Foundation has pursued this objective both globally and in particular nations, including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mali, Senegal, and India.

We have done so through two strategies.

First, we have worked to ensure that governments focus on learning and not just enrollment or attendance. We do this by supporting organizations that track the money that is supposed to be used for education, assess whether students are learning, and make a case for establishing international and national goals defining what students should learn. Grantees like ASER in India, Uwezo in East Africa, and Bèekungo in Mali are helping parents assess whether their school-aged children can read and do basic math. These assessments, in turn, help generate information that can be used to hold governments, schools, and international donors accountable for the results that matter most. We also fund organizations working to develop an international indicator for learning that can provide a new benchmark when the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015.

Second, the Foundation has made grants to identify effective and affordable teaching approaches. From 2007 to 2013, we funded eleven organizations to develop approaches to improve learning in the early grades of primary school. We then funded evaluations to determine the effect of these approaches on student learning. The randomized, controlled studies funded by the Foundation significantly added to the body of evidence on how to improve student learning.

Although the Quality Education in Developing Countries Initiative will draw to a close in November 2014, the Hewlett Foundation will maintain its commitment to improving learning outcomes in developing countries after that date as part of our transparency, accountability, and participation grantmaking. We will, in particular, continue our support for increased accountability for learning in African countries and among international donors. During the Initiative’s final year, we will share what we have learned about how to improve instruction and seek additional support for the successful work of our grantees in this area.

To see a list of evaluations that have been conducted on the Quality Education in Developing Countries Initiative click here.