Publication: Learning Essentials for International Education: A Compendium of Summaries

Thumbnail Image
Files in English
English PDF (1.96 MB)

English Text (128.96 KB)
Abadzi, Helen
The sound of children's voices reciting in unison could be heard from afar, as our mission approached a school in rural Cambodia. Inside a second-grade classroom, students took turns at the blackboard. One pointed with a stick at a list of words written by the teacher, while the rest recited. A colleague approached, wrote on the blackboard the same words in a different order, and asked the children to read. Suddenly, there was silence. Most kids had merely memorized the sequence of the words and could not even identify single letters. This scene is frequent. In the poorer schools of low-income countries, many students remain illiterate for years, until they finally drop out. With some care, the process is observable. Typically the teacher writes on the board some letters or words and asks students to repeat them. The letters may be scribbled, the children often sit at a distance, textbooks may be insufficient, and children may not have anyone at home to help them read. But they do repeat the words in unison, getting cues from a few knowledgeable classmates. The teachers stand by the blackboard, address students at large, and call on the few who perform well. How come this issue has not attracted attention? One reason is that in the middle-class schools of capitals students perform much better. Soon after our rural observations, we observed second graders in a middleclass school of Pnom Penh fluently handling the extremely complex Khmer script. However, the schools of the poor have less time for their students. There is teacher absenteeism, a lack of textbooks to take home, parental inability to make up for school weaknesses, no specific curricular time for reading. The result has been chronic illiteracy, high dropout and high repetition rates. To reduce repetition and maximize enrollments, some donors advise governments to promote students automatically.
Abadzi, Helen. 2010. Learning Essentials for International Education: A Compendium of Summaries. GPE Working Paper Series on Learning;No. 10. © World Bank, Washington, DC. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.
Report Series
Other publications in this report series
Journal Volume
Journal Issue
Associated URLs
Associated content