Welcome Plenary: Education: The Foundation of Social and Economic Transformation
August 22, 2011 — 10:15 a.m.
||Wendy Abt, USAID Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade
Hilda “Bambi” Arellano, USAID Office of the Administrator
Eric Hanushek , Hoover Institute, Stanford University
||Richard W. Whelden, USAID Office of Education
Richard Whelden of USAID’s Office of Education welcomed participants to the 2011 Global Workshop on Education and Development: From Evidence to Action. He noted that the workshop was designed to support implementation of the new USAID Education Strategy and that USAID leadership was actively seeking input from the participants. Describing education as the “unsung hero” of development, he noted its contributions to outcomes in other sectors such as health, democracy and governance, and economic growth.
Wendy Abt, who joined USAID in 2010 as the Deputy Administrator of EGAT, began her presentation by stating, “We all understand that acquiring basic skills is important. The collective success we have had in dramatically increasing access to education is testimony to the breadth and depth of understanding shared by parents, communities, countries and donors that demonstrates that education matters.” However, despite donor efforts, individual sacrifices by families, and government efforts, most pupils in low-income countries leave school without being able to read, write, or do basic math, leaving them poorly equipped to support themselves and their families even as their economies grow. The new USAID Education Strategy is a response to this crisis, focusing on selectivity and helping to better outcomes, to increase capacity building, to measure impact using cost-benefit analyses, and to use rigorous application of best practices, including evaluation.
Hilda Arellano remarked that the new Education Strategy has the objective of keeping USAID at the cutting edge of education programming. As it approaches its 50th anniversary, USAID still faces the same challenge of low public support for foreign assistance that President Kennedy noted at its outset. Nonetheless, Arellano stated that USAID is integral to the United State’s commitment to a better world. USAID FORWARD is the agency-wide effort to reform its practices whose overall goal is to increase local partnerships, accountability, and fiscal responsibility. This agency transformation has also spurred talent recruitment: by next summer, 70 percent of field officers will have joined USAID within the last three years.
Eric Hanushek from the Hoover Institute discussed his current research on education and economic growth. Using Latin America as an example, he explained that there is no correlation between years in school and economic growth rates. Rather, it is the knowledge gained and the skills developed through schooling that lead to economic growth. He also noted that it is not necessarily greater resources that lead to higher student achievement, but rather teacher quality. According to Hanushek, attaining higher teacher quality requires institutional reforms, including centralized examinations, accountability for results, decentralization and autonomy, and direct performance incentives.
Key take away points The new Education Strategy and USAID FORWARD stress the importance of monitoring, evaluation, and measurable outcomes. Teacher quality is a main factor in achieving the types of development outcomes needed. Unless learning takes place in the classroom, access to education is insufficient for economic growth.