Access to education is one of the highest priorities on the development agenda. High-profile international commitment to progress—such as the second Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education—has helped galvanize policy-makers into action. Significant results have already been achieved in school enrollment. Yet care must be taken that the need for simple, measurable goals does not lead to ignoring the fact that it ultimately is the degree to which schooling fosters cognitive skills and facilitates the acquisition
of professional skills that matters for development.
As shown in this report, differences in learning achievements matter more in explaining cross-country differences in productivity growth than differences in the average number of years of schooling or in enrollment rates. A development-effective educational strategy should thus focus not only on sending more children to school, as the second Millennium Development Goal is often interpreted, but also on maintaining or enhancing the quality of schooling. The task at hand is imposing. As shown by the PISA survey, disparities in secondary education between developing countries and OECD countries are even larger when one considers not only access but also learning achievements. Things are not much better at the primary level. In recent surveys in Ghana and Zambia, it turned out that fewer than 60 percent of young women who complete six years of primary school could read a sentence in their own language.