Policies and programs to improve secondary education in developing countries: a review of the evidence

Author(s): Null, Clair; Cosentino, Clemencia; Sridharan, Swetha; Meyer, Laura

Organisation(s): Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education (USA)

Date: 2017

Pages: 26 p.

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Secondary education systems in developing countries are under pressure to serve more students and to do so more effectively. The Education for All movement and the adoption of free primary education in many countries resulted in remarkable progress in boosting enrollment at the primary level. In contrast, secondary enrollment rates remain stubbornly low. However, this is likely to change rapidly in the coming years as today’s primary school students become old enough for secondary school and as countries strive to meet the targets set forth under the Sustainable Development Goals spearheaded by the United Nations and supported by more than 190 countries. At the same time, secondary schools need to do a better job of preparing students for adulthood - making sure that they actually learn while they are in school and equipping them with the soft skills they will need to become productive workers and full participants in their societies. Policymakers, program implementers, and donors need evidence on effective strategies for increasing participation in secondary education, improving learning, and enhancing the relevance of secondary education in developing countries. This review summarizes the findings from a growing body literature, focusing on rigorous studies that quantify the magnitude of the impacts by using a credible comparison group to isolate the effects of an intervention from (1) other changes in the prevailing environment that occurred over time and (2) pre-existing differences between groups. Drawing on previous systematic reviews, updated with recent additions, it highlights what is known and identifies the gaps that remain.

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