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The Negative Consequences of Overambitious Curricula in Developing Countries


  • Pritchett, Lant

    (Center for Global Development, Washington, DC and Harvard University)

  • Beatty, Amanda

    (Innovations for Poverty Action)


Learning profiles that track changes in student skills per year of schooling often find shockingly low learning gains. Using data from three recent studies in South Asia and Africa, we show that a majority of students spend years of instruction with no progress on basics. We argue shallow learning profiles are in part the result of curricular paces moving much faster than the pace of learning. To demonstrate the consequences of a gap between the curriculum and student mastery, we construct a simple, formal model, which portrays learning as the result of a match between student skill and instructional levels, rather than the standard (if implicit) assumption that all children learn the same from the same instruction. A simulation shows that two countries with exactly the same potential learning could have massively divergent learning outcomes, just because of a gap between curricular and actual pace--and the country which goes faster has much lower cumulative learning. We also show that our simple simulation model of curricular gaps can replicate existing experimental findings, many of which are otherwise puzzling. Paradoxically, learning could go faster if curricula and teachers were to slow down.

Suggested Citation

  • Pritchett, Lant & Beatty, Amanda, 2012. "The Negative Consequences of Overambitious Curricula in Developing Countries," Working Paper Series rwp12-035, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp12-035

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    Cited by:

    1. Jones, Sam, 2016. "How does classroom composition affect learning outcomes in Ugandan primary schools?," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 66-78.
    2. Lee, Melissa M. & Izama, Melina Platas, 2015. "Aid Externalities: Evidence from PEPFAR in Africa," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 67(C), pages 281-294.
    3. Nadel, Sara & Pritchett, Lant, 2016. "Searching for the Devil in the Details: Learning about Development Program Design," Working Paper Series rwp16-041, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    4. Masooma Habib, 2013. "Education in Pakistan’s Punjab: Outcomes and Interventions," Lahore Journal of Economics, Department of Economics, The Lahore School of Economics, vol. 18(Special E), pages 21-48, September.
    5. Atuhurra, Julius & Alinda, Violet, 2017. "Basic Education curriculum effectiveness analysis in East Africa: Using the ‘Surveys of Enacted Curriculum’ framework to describe primary mathematics and English content in Uganda," MPRA Paper 79017, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 08 May 2017.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • I25 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Economic Development
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration

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