Learning to realize Education’s Promise

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.”



And the time is right: education has long been critical to human welfare, but it is even more so in a time of rapid economic and social change. The best way to equip children and youth for the future is to make their learning the center of all efforts to promote education.


Four main themes can be explored:


First, education’s promise: education is a powerful instrument for eradicating poverty and promoting shared prosperity, but fulfilling its potential requires better policies—both within and outside the education system.


Second, the need to shine a light on learning: despite gains in access to education, recent learning assessments reveal that many young people around the world, especially those who are poor or marginalized, are leaving school unequipped with even the foundational skills they need for life. At the same time, internationally comparable learning assessments show that skills in many middle-income countries lag far behind what those countries aspire to. And too often these shortcomings are hidden—so as a first step to tackling this learning crisis, it is essential to shine a light on it by assessing student learning better.


Third, how to make schools work for all learners: research on areas such as brain science, pedagogical innovations, and school management has identified interventions that promote learning by ensuring that learners are prepared, teachers are both skilled and motivated, and other inputs support the teacher-learner relationship.


Fourth, how to make systems work for learning: achieving learning throughout an education system requires more than just scaling up effective interventions. Countries must also overcome technical and political barriers by deploying salient metrics for mobilizing actors and tracking progress, building coalitions for learning, and taking an adaptive approach to reform.


Education and learning raise aspirations, set values, and ultimately enrich lives. Mauritius is a good example of how education can play these important roles. After Independence, the population was largely illiterate and deeply impoverished.


Mauritius understood that education was the best way to pull itself out of economic misery, so it focused on overhauling schools and committed itself to educating every child—and educating them well. Coupled with smart, innovative government policies and a vibrant private sector, the focus on education paid off. 


Mauritius is a particularly striking example, but we can see the salutary effects of education in many countries. Delivered well, education—and the human capital it creates—has many benefits for economies, and for societies as a whole. For individuals, education promotes employment, earnings, and health. It raises pride and opens new horizons. For societies, it drives long-term economic growth, reduces poverty, spurs innovation, strengthens institutions, and fosters social cohesion.

In short, education powerfully advances the  twin strategic goals of Mauritius: ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. Given that today’s students will be tomorrow’s citizens, leaders, workers, and parents, a good education is an investment with enduring benefits.


But providing education is not enough. What is important, and what generates a real return on investment, is learning and acquiring skills. This is what truly builds human capital. In many countries and communities learning isn’t happening. Schooling without learning is a terrible waste of precious resources and of human potential.


Worse, it is an injustice. Without learning, students will be locked into lives of poverty and exclusion, and the children whom societies fail the most are those most in need of a good education to succeed in life. Learning conditions are almost always much worse for the disadvantaged, and so are learning outcomes. Moreover, far too many children still aren’t even attending school. This is a moral and economic crisis that must be addressed immediately.


The human capital lost because of these shortcomings threatens development and jeopardizes the future of people and their societies. At the same time, rapid technological change raises the stakes: to compete in the economy of the future, workers need strong basic skills and foundations for adaptability, creativity, and lifelong learning.


To realize education’s promise, we need to prioritize learning, not just schooling. It can be argued that achieving learning for all will require three complementary strategies:


First, assess learning to make it a serious goal. Information itself creates incentives for reform, but many countries lack the right metrics to measure learning.


Second, act on evidence to make schools work for learning. Great schools build strong teacher-learner relationships in classrooms. As brain science has advanced and educators have innovated, the knowledge of how students learn most effectively has greatly expanded. But the way many countries, communities, and schools approach education often differs greatly from the most promising, evidence-based approaches.


Third, align actors to make the entire system work for learning. Innovation in classrooms won’t have much impact if technical and political barriers at the system level prevent a focus on learning at the school level. This is the case in many countries stuck in low-learning traps; extricating them requires focused attention on the deeper causes.


Labour Party continues to seek new ways to scale up our commitment to education and apply our knowledge to serve those children whose untapped potential is wasted. For example, we are developing more useful measures of learning and its determinants. We are ensuring that evidence guides operational practice to improve learning in areas such as early-years interventions, teacher training, and educational technology. We are making sure that our project analysis and strategic country diagnoses take into account the full range of system-level opportunities and limitations—including political constraints. And we will continue to emphasize operational approaches that allow greater innovation and agility.


Underlying these efforts is the Labour Party’s commitment to ensuring that all of the Mauritian’s students have the opportunity to learn. Realizing education’s promise means giving them the chance not only to compete in tomorrow’s economy, but also to improve their communities, build stronger countries, and move closer to a world that is finally free of poverty.


By Rooben Armoogum