To understand is to perceive patterns.
This paper highlights patterns in school enrollment indicators that affect the efficiency and effectiveness of education systems in a set of low-income countries: those that have expanded access quickly in the last decade or two, but have not yet absorbed that expansion efficiently. Although the patterns in these indicators are observable in the first few years of schooling, they could constitute a cause of low learning outcomes at the end of primary school. The data show strong empirical relationships between an early primary enrollment bulge, low levels of pre-primary participation, and poor performance on early grade cognitive skills. This work does not attribute causal precedence to these patterns but instead argues that the indicators are reflections of each other, constituting a “knot” of issues undermining the foundations of the affected education systems. The article presents some of the cost implications and suggests that many countries are already paying for pre-primary education without realizing it.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Barnett, S. W., & Nores, M. (2012). Investment and productivity arguments for ECCE. In P. T. M. Marope & Y. Kaga (Eds.), Investing against evidence: The global state of early childhood care and education (pp. 73–90). Paris: UNESCO. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002335/233558E.pdf.
Bernard, J.-M., Simon, O., & Vianou, K. (2007). Repeating: An African school mirage? Prepared for the Conference of Ministers of Education in Countries Sharing the French Language (CONFEMEN), Programme for the Analysis of Education Systems (PASEC). Dakar: CONFEMEN Permanent Technical Secretariat.
Black, M. M., Walker, S. P., Fernald, L. C. H., Andersen, C. T., DiGirolamo, A. M., Lu, C., McCoy, D. C., et al. & Grantham-McGregor, D. (2016). Early childhood development coming of age: Science through the life course. Prepared for the Lancet Early Childhood Development Series Steering Committee. The Lancet. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(16)31389-7.
Burundi Institut de Statistiques et d’Études Économiques [Burundi Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies] (2008). Enquête Nationale d’Évaluation des Conditions de vie de l’Enfant et de la Femme au Burundi-2005 [National survey of children’s and women’s living conditions in Burundi—2005]. Bujumbura: Institut de Statistiques et d’Études Économiques.
Chapman, D. W. (2002). A review of evaluations of UNICEF education activities, 1994–2000. UNICEF working paper prepared for the Office of Evaluation and Programme Planning. New York, NY: UNICEF. http://www.unicef.org/spanish/evaldatabase/index_14356.html.
Chapman, D. W., & Quijada, J. J. (2009). An analysis of USAID assistance to basic education in the developing world, 1990–2005. International Journal of Educational Development, 29(3), 268–280. doi:10.1016/j.ijedudev.2008.08.005.
Crouch, L. (1991). A simplified linear programming approach to the estimation of enrollment transition rates: Estimating rates with minimal data availability. Economics of Education Review, 10(3), 259–269. doi:10.1016/0272-7757(91)90049-U.
Crouch, L. (2011). Gap analysis: Education information and education policy and planning in Mozambique. Final report. Prepared under the Education Data for Decision Making (EdData II) project, Task Order No. EHC-E-11-04-00004 (RTI Task 11). Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI International.
Crouch, L., & Gove, A. (2011). Leaps or one step at a time: Skirting or helping engage the debate? The case of reading. In J. Hawkins & J. Jacob (Eds.), Policy debates in comparative, international and development education (pp. 155–174). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.1057/9780230339361_9.
Dubeck, M. M., & Gove, A. (2015). The Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA): Its theoretical foundation, purpose, and limitations. International Journal of Educational Development, 40, 315–322. doi:10.1016/j.ijedudev.2014.11.004.
Engle, P. L., Fernald, L. C. H., Alderman, H., Behrman, J., O’Gara, C., Yousafzai, A., et al. (2011). Strategies for reducing inequalities and improving developmental outcomes for young children in low-income and middle-income countries. Lancet, 378(9799), 1339–1353. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60889-1.
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (2010). Education sector development plan 2010/2011–2014/2015. Addis Ababa: Federal Ministry of Education.
Filmer, D., Hasan, A., & Pritchett, L. (2006). A millennium learning goal: Measuring real progress in education. Working paper 97. Washington, DC: Center for Global Development, World Bank.
Fuller, B., & Heyneman, S. P. (1989). Third World school quality: Current collapse, future potential. Educational Researcher, 18(2), 12–19. doi:10.2307/1175250.
GPE [Global Partnership for Education] (2012). Results for learning report 2012: Fostering evidence-based dialogue to monitor access and quality in education. Washington, DC: GPE. http://www.dmeforpeace.org/educateforpeace/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/06022014_FOSTERING-EVIDENCE-BASED-DIALOGUE-TO_Global-Partnership-for-Education.pdf.
Hanushek, E. A., & Woessmann, L. (2008). The role of cognitive skills in economic development. Journal of Economic Literature, 46(3), 607–668. doi:10.1257/jel.46.3.607.
Hungi, N. (2010). What are the levels and trends in grade repetition? Policy Issues Series 5. Paris: Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ)/UNESCO IIEP.
Klein, R., & Costa, S. (1991). O censo educational e o modelo de fluxo: O problema da repetencia [The education census and the flow model: The problem of repetition]. Revista Brasileira de Estatística, 57(197), 5–45.
Lao Ministry of Health & Lao Statistics Bureau (2012). Lao social indicator survey 2011–2012. http://dhsprogram.com/publications/publication-fr268-other-final-reports.cfm.
Malawi National Statistical Office & UNICEF (2008). Malawi multiple indicator cluster survey 2006, final report. Lilongwe, Malawi: National Statistical Office and UNICEF.
Mosteller, F. (1995). The Tennessee study of class size in the early school grades. The Future of Children, 5(2), 113–127. doi:10.2307/1602360.
Mozambique Instituto Nacional de Estatísticas (2009). Inquérito de indicadores múltiplos 2008 [Multiple indicator survey 2008]. Maputo: Instituto Nacional de Estatísticas.
Mozambique Ministry of Education (2012). Education strategic plan 2012–2016. Maputo: Ministry of Education.
Nielsen, H. D. (2006). From schooling access to learning outcomes: An unfinished agenda. Washington, DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-0-8213-6792-6.
N’tchougan-Sonou, C. (2001). Automatic promotion or large-scale repetition: Which path to quality? International Journal of Educational Development, 21(2), 149–162. doi:10.1016/S0738-0593(00)00016-X.
OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] (2014). PISA 2012 results in focus: What 15-year-olds know and what they can do with what they know. Paris: PISA, OECD. https://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results-overview.pdf.
Pratham [Pratham Education Foundation] (2013). The national picture. New Delhi: ASER Centre. http://img.asercentre.org/docs/Publications/ASER%20Reports/ASER_2013/ASER2013_report%20sections/thenationalpicture.pdf.
Pratham (2014). Annual status of education report 2013, rural. Provisional report. New Delhi: ASER Centre. http://img.asercentre.org/docs/Publications/ASER%20Reports/ASER_2013/ASER2013_reports%20sections/aser2013fullreportenglish.pdf.
Pritchett, L. (2001). Where has all the education gone? The World Bank Economic Review, 15(3), 367–391. doi:10.1093/wber/15.3.367.
Pritchett, L. (2013). The rebirth of education: Schooling ain’t learning. Washington, DC: CGD Books.
Rao, N., Sun, J., Wong, J. M. S., Weekes, B., Ip, P., Shaeffer, S., et al. (2014). Early childhood development and cognitive development in developing countries: A rigorous literature review. Hong Kong: Department for International Development.
Schiefelbein, E., & Wolff, L. (1993). Repetition and inadequate achievement in primary schools in Latin America: Magnitudes, causes, relationships and strategies. Santiago, Chile: UNESCO Bulletin of the Principal Project in Education.
South Africa Department of Education (2005). Education statistics in South Africa at a glance in 2003. http://www.dhet.gov.za/DHET%20Statistics%20Publication/DoE%20Stats%20at%20a%20Glance%202003.pdf.
South Africa Ministerial Committee (South Africa Ministerial Committee on Learner Retention in the South African Schooling System) (2008). No title. Pretoria: Department of Education.
Statistics South Africa (2003). General household survey 2003. Database.
Uganda Ministry of Education (2011). Uganda education statistical abstract 2011. Kampala: Ministry of Education. http://www.education.go.ug/files/downloads/Education%20Abstract%202011.pdf.
UNESCO (2014). Teaching and learning: Achieving quality for all. Education for All Global Monitoring Report. Paris: UNESCO. http://www.uis.unesco.org/Library/Documents/gmr-2013-14-teaching-and-learning-education-for-all-2014-en.pdf.
UNESCO (2015). Education for all 2000–2015: Achievements and challenges. Education for All Global Monitoring Report. Paris: UNESCO. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002322/232205e.pdf.
Uwezo (n.d.). Uwezo East Africa 2012 report findings. http://www.uwezo.net/uwezo-east-africa-2012-report-findings.
Uwezo and Hivos/Twaweza, East Africa (2012). Are our children learning? Literacy and numeracy across East Africa. Nairobi: Uwezo East Africa at Twaweza. http://www.uwezo.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/RO_2012_UwezoEastAfricaReport.pdf.
Uwezo and Hivos/Twaweza, East Africa (2013). Are our children learning? Literacy and numeracy across East Africa. Nairobi: Uwezo East Africa at Twaweza. http://www.uwezo.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/2013-Annual-Report-Final-Web-version.pdf.
Uwezo and Hivos/Twaweza, East Africa (n.d.). Are our children learning? Literacy and numeracy across East Africa 2013. Nairobi: Uwezo East Africa at Twaweza. http://www.uwezo.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/2013-Uwezo-East-Africa-Report-Summary.pdf.
What Works Clearinghouse (2015). Procedures and standards handbook, version 3.0. Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education. http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/referenceresources/wwc_procedures_v3_0_standards_handbook.pdf.
Yoshikawa, H., & Kabay, S. (2015). The evidence base on early childhood care and education in global contexts. Background paper for UNESCO 2015 Education for All Global Monitoring Report. New York: UNESCO. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002324/232456e.pdf.
Young, M. E. (2014). Addressing and mitigating vulnerability across the life cycle: The case for investing in early childhood. UNDP Human Development Office Occasional Paper. New York, NY: UNDP.
About this article
Cite this article
Crouch, L., Merseth, K.A. Stumbling at the first step: Efficiency implications of poor performance in the foundational first five years. Prospects 47, 175–196 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-017-9401-1
- Early childhood
- Primary school completion