United Nations development goals have consistently placed a high priority on the quality of education—and of learning. This has led to substantive increases in international development assistance to education, and also to broader attention, worldwide, to the importance of children’s learning. Yet, such goals are mainly normative: they tend to be averages across nations, with relatively limited attention to variations within countries. This review provides an analysis of the scientific tensions in understanding learning among poor and marginalized populations: those at the bottom of the pyramid. While international agencies, such as UNESCO and OECD, often invoke these populations as the “target” of their investments and assessments, serious debates continue around the empirical science involved in both research and policy. The present analysis concludes that the UN post-2015 development goals must take into account the critical need to focus on learning among the poor in order to adequately address social and economic inequalities.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Arnett, J. J. (2008). The neglected 95%: Why American psychology needs to become less American. American Psychologist, 63(7), 602–614.
Babson, A. (2010). The place of English in expanding repertoires of linguistic code, identification and aspiration among recent high school graduates in Limpopo Province, South Africa. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Banerjee, A. V., & Duflo, E. (2011). Poor economics: A radical rethinking of the way to fight poverty. New York: Public Affairs.
Bartlett, L., & Garcia, O. (2011). Additive schooling in subtractive times: Bilingual education and Dominican immigrant youth in the Heights. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
Benavot, A., & Tanner, E. (2007). The growth of national learning assessments in the world, 1995–2006. Background paper prepared for EFA Global Monitoring Report 2008. Paris: UNESCO.
Benedict, M., & Hoag, J. (2004). Seating location in large lectures: Are seating preferences or location related to course performance? The Journal of Economic Education, 35(3), 215–239.
Bhattacharjea, S., Wadhwa, W., & R. Banerji, R. (2011). Inside primary schools: A study of teaching and learning in rural India. New Delhi: ASER. http://img.asercentre.org/docs/Publications/Inside_Primary_School/Report/tl_study_print_ready_version_oct_7_2011.pdf.
Blackledge, A., & Creese, A. (2010). Multilingualism: A critical perspective. London: Continuum.
Bloem, S. (2013). PISA in low and middle income countries. OECD education working papers, no. 93. Paris: OECD.
Braun, H., & Kanjee, A. (2006). Using assessment to improve education in developing nations. In J. E. Cohen, D. E. Bloom, & M. B. Malin (Eds.), Educating all children: A global agenda (pp. 303–353). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Brookings Institution (2013). Toward universal learning: Recommendations from the Learning Metrics Task Force. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Center for Universal Education. http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Research/Files/Reports/2013/09/learning%20metrics%20task%20force%20universal%20learning/LTMF%20RecommendationsReportfinalweb.pdf.
Bruns, B., Filmer, D., & Patrinos, H. A. (2011). Making schools work: New evidence on accountability reforms. Washington, DC: World Bank.
Buchmann, C., & Hannum, E. (2001). Education and stratification in developing countries: A review of theories and research. Annual Review of Sociology, 27, 77–102.
Castillo, N. M., & Wagner, D. A. (2014). Gold standard? The use of randomized controlled trials for international educational policy. Comparative Education Review, 58(1), 166–173.
Cole, M., Gay, J., Glick, J., & Sharp, D. (1971). The cultural context of learning and thinking. New York: Basic Books.
Cortina, R. (Ed.) (2014). The education of indigenous citizens in Latin America. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
DBE [Department of Basic Education], South Africa (2013). Report on the Annual National Assessment of 2013: Grades 1 to 6 & 9. Pretoria: DBE. http://www.education.gov.za/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=Aiw7HW8ccic%3D&tabid=36.
Dudley-Marling, C., & Gurn, A. (Eds.) (2010). The myth of the normal curve. New York: Peter Lang.
Engel, L. C., & Feuer, M. J. (2014). Five myths about international large-scale assessments. Quality Assurance in Education, 22, 18–21.
GEFI [Global Education First Initiative] (2014). Global Education First Initiative: An initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General. http://www.globaleducationfirst.org/files/GEFI_Brochure_ENG.pdf.
Gilmore, A. (2005). The impact of PIRLS (2001) and TIMSS (2003) in low- and middle-income countries: An evaluation of the value of World Bank support for international surveys of reading literacy (PIRLS) and mathematics and science (TIMSS). New Zealand: IEA.
Gove, A., & Wetterberg, A. (2011). The early grade reading assessment: Applications and interventions to improve basic literacy. Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI.
Greaney, V., & Kellaghan, T. (1996). Monitoring the learning outcomes of education systems. Washington, DC: World Bank.
Gurn, A. (2010). Conclusion: Re/visioning the ideological imagination in (special) education. In C. Dudley-Marling & A. Gurn (Eds.), The myth of the normal curve (pp. 241–256). New York: Peter Lang.
Harper, S. R. (2012). Black male student success in higher education: A report from the National Black Male College Achievement Study. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education.
Heinrich, J., Heine, S., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral Brain Science, 33(2–3), 85–135.
ILI [International Literacy Institute] (2002). Towards guidelines for the improvement of literacy assessment in developing countries: Conceptual dimensions based on the LAP project. Philadelphia: ILI/UNESCO.
Kagan, J., Moss, H. A., & Sigel, I. E. (1963). Psychological significance of styles of conceptualization. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 28(4), 73–112.
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Macmillan.
Korinek, K., & Punpuing, S. (2012). The effect of household and community on school attrition: An analysis of Thai youth. Comparative Education Review, 56(3), 474–510.
Kremer, M., & Holla, A. (2009). Improving education in the developing world: What have we learned from randomized evaluations? Annual Review of Economics, 1, 513–542.
Li, J. (2003). U.S. and Chinese cultural beliefs about learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 258–267.
Lu, Y., & Treiman, D. J. (2011). Migration, remittances and educational stratification among Blacks in Apartheid and Post-Apartheid South Africa. Social Forces, 89(4), 1119–1143.
Meyer, H.-D., & Benavot, A. (Eds.) (2013). PISA, power and policy: The emergence of global educational governance. Oxford: Symposium Books.
Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory Into Practice, 31(2), 132–141.
OECD (2014). PISA for development. Paris: OECD. http://www.oecd.org/pisa/aboutpisa/pisafordevelopment.htm.
Pigozzi, M. J., Carrol, B., Hayden, J., & Ndaruhutse, S. (2014). Fragile and conflict-affected situations. In D. A. Wagner (Ed.), Learning and education in developing countries: Research and policy for the post-2015 UN development goals (pp. 58–73). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Piper, B., & Korda, M. (2010). Early grade reading assessment (EGRA) plus: Liberia. Program evaluation report: Prepared for USAID/Liberia. Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI International.
Prahalad, C. K. (2006). The fortune at the bottom of the pyramid: Eradicating poverty through profits. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.
Saito, M. (2011). Gender equality in education: Looking beyond parity. Paris: UNESCO IIEP. http://www.sacmeq.org/sites/default/files/sacmeq/publications/7_1_1_5_mioko_saito_eng_version_2012_02_15.pdf.
Sjoberg, S. (2007). PISA and ‘real life challenges’: Mission impossible? In S. T. Hopmann, G. Brinek, & M. Retzl (Eds.), PISA according to PISA: Does PISA keep what it promises? (pp. 203–224). Vienna: LIT Verlag. http://folk.uio.no/sveinsj/Sjoberg-PISA-book-2007.pdf.
Stevenson, H. W., & Stigler, J. W. (1982). The learning gap: Why our schools are failing and what we can learn from Japanese and Chinese education. New York: Summit.
UNESCO (2003). Education for All Global Monitoring Report: Gender and Education for All—The leap to equality. Paris: UNESCO.
UNESCO (2010). Education for All Global Monitoring Report: Reaching the marginalized. Paris: UNESCO.
United Nations (2000). United Nations Millennium Declaration. Resolution adopted by the General Assembly. United Nations A/RES/55/2. http://www.un.org/millennium/declaration/ares552e.htm.
Wagner, D. A. (1983). Rediscovering ‘rote’: Some cognitive and pedagogical preliminaries. In S. Irvine & J. W. Berry (Eds.), Human assessment and cultural factors (pp. 179–190). New York: Plenum.
Wagner, D. A. (1993). Literacy, culture and development: Becoming literate in Morocco. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Wagner, D. A. (2010). Quality of education, comparability, and assessment choice in developing countries. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 40(6), 741–760.
Wagner, D. A. (2011a). What happened to literacy? Historical and conceptual perspectives on literacy in UNESCO. International Journal of Educational Development, 31, 319–323.
Wagner, D. A. (2011b). Smaller, quicker, cheaper: Improving learning assessments in developing countries. Paris & Washington, DC: UNESCO IIEP and EFA Fast Track Initiative of Global Partnership for Education.
Wagner, D. A. (Ed.) (2014). Learning and education in developing countries: Research and policy for the post-2015 UN Development Goals. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Wagner, D. A., Murphy, K. M., & de Korne, H. (2012). Learning first: A research agenda for improving learning in low-income countries. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
Witkin, H. A., Moore, C. A., Goodenough, D. R., & Cox, P. W. (1977). Field-dependent and field-independent cognitive styles and their educational implications. Review of Educational Research, 47, 1–64.
About this article
Cite this article
Wagner, D.A., Castillo, N.M. Learning at the bottom of the pyramid: Constraints, comparability and policy in developing countries. Prospects 44, 627–638 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-014-9328-8
- Low- and middle-income countries
- Poor and marginalized populations
- Learning outcomes
- Education policy