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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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A Q&A with Lynn Murphy, Program Officer, Global Development and Population, 200612
William & Flora Hewlett Foundation

December, 2012

Q&As are a series of informal interviews with Hewlett Foundation staff. Lynn Murphy has just concluded eight years with the Foundation, first as a Senior Fellow and then as a program officer in what is now the Global Development and Population Program. Since 2007, she has made grants to improve the quality of primary school education in the developing world. That work is intended to focus new attention on ensuring that children learn while in school, and not just attend. Before joining the Foundation, Murphy served as a consultant and education advisor for several international organizations, including Save the Children, UNESCO, and the Commonwealth Education Fund. She holds a Ph.D. in international and comparative education from Stanford University.

What do you mean by “quality education,” and why have so many students in the developing world not been learning?

In 2007, when we first started looking at big trends in primary education in the developing world, we saw tremendous progress in getting kids into school, but also emerging evidence that they weren’t learning once there. Education donors and governments, focused on students’ access, had achieved massive increases in enrollment in a short time. However, while these unprecedented gains constituted a major advance, they were only part of the story.

Unlike many other assessments of progress, our research looked at children’s reading—and revealed troubling findings. When a nonprofit educational organization, Pratham, started collecting data on a large scale to measure the extent of children’s learning in India, it found very low levels of mastery. We suspected that the same would be true in sub-Saharan Africa. Some other small studies confirmed the same problem: kids who had attended school for seven or eight years were still completely illiterate.

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