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The Evidence on Education Reforms

It is almost universally agreed that more education is good for society. But it turns out that some popular educational policies achieve very little, while others that are often overlooked can make a huge difference.

DHAKA – It is almost universally agreed that more education is good for society. But it turns out that some popular educational policies achieve very little, while others that are often overlooked can make a huge difference.

Reducing class sizes would seem to be an obvious improvement; but by itself, smaller class size has not been shown to boost educational performance. Likewise, extending the school day seems an easy way to ensure that pupils learn more; but research finds that time spent in school matters considerably less than what happens there.

And new research for the Copenhagen Consensus Center, the think tank I direct, highlights the counter-intuitive fact that equipping classrooms with additional textbooks or computers is no educational silver bullet, either. As part of a project seeking the smartest policy choices for Bangladesh, Atonu Rabbani of the University of Dhaka shows that technology-aided teaching has a mixed record. Providing pupils with computers made some impact in India, but little in Colombia. In the United States, introducing computers has even been detrimental when not backed by parental supervision and teacher guidance.

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