Educational Opportunities

SDG 4: Quality Education

In fact, the goal of achieving a quality education for all is not only a catalyst for improving gender equality, it is also a gateway to many other UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the words of UNESCO, “Every goal in the 2030 Agenda requires education to empower people with the knowledge, skills and values to live in dignity, build their lives and contribute to their societies.”[1]

Over the past decade, major progress has been made towards increasing access to education and school enrolment rates at all levels, particularly for girls.

Nevertheless, around 260 million children were out of school in 2018[2] – nearly one fifth of the global population in that age group. In addition, more than half of all children and young people worldwide were not meeting minimum proficiency standards in reading and mathematics[3], and 750 million adults were illiterate, fueling poverty and marginalization.[4]

As the pandemic spread across the globe, more than 188 countries imposed countrywide school closures, affecting more than 1.6 billion children and young people, or 91% of students worldwide[5]. Nearly 369 million children who rely on school meals needed to look to other sources for daily nutrition[6].

SDG4 infographic

More than two-thirds of countries have introduced a national distance learning platform, but among low-income countries the share is only 30%. Before this crisis, almost one-third of the world’s young people were already digitally excluded[7].

Never before have so many children been out of school at the same time, disrupting learning and upending lives, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized. The consequences are far-reaching and, combined with the pandemic, may jeopardize many of the gains made in recent years in improving global education.

Society-wide benefits

The benefits of achieving SDG 4, and realizing its integral contribution to the other 16 goals, do not only apply to children and young people. Adults also benefit enormously from quality education and learning opportunities.

The UN’s 3 rd Global Report on Adult Learning and Education [8] showed that adult learning and education produces significant benefits across a range of policy areas. Countries reported a positive impact on health and well-being, employment and the labor market, and social, civic and community life. Adult learning and education led to improved health behaviors and attitudes, higher life expectancy and a reduction in lifestyle diseases, with a similar reduction in health care costs.

The report also highlighted the significant benefits of investment in adult education for individuals in the labor market, for employers and for the economy more generally. In addition, it showed how adult learning and education increases social cohesion, integration, and inclusion, boosts social capital and improves participation in social, civic and community activities.

Achievement Testing


Exceptional Children

Fuchs et al. (1987) conducted an extensive study of the 27 most well-known and commonly used tests in special education in order to determine the degree of participation of children with handicaps in the creation of test norms, and item selection, and in the establishment of their reliability and validity. Fourteen of these tests were measures of achievement classified as either screening (battery) or diagnostic (content specific). The user manual and/or technical supplement of each test was then analyzed in terms of (a) norms, (b) item development, (c) internal and test-retest reliability, and (d) concurrent and predictive validity. In only two of the achievement measures were children with handicaps included in the norming process and on only one measure were they included in item development. Otherwise, no other information was available. Such findings led the authors to state: “[I]f, in fact, test constructors have not validated their instruments for use with handicapped people, they ‘should issue cautionary statements in manuals and elsewhere regarding confidence in the interpretation’ based on these tests” (p. 269. Note: The quotation in Fuchs is taken from Standard 14.2, p. 79, the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, 1985).

Numerous studies have analyzed the performance on standardized tests of academic achievement of students with learning disabilities ( Caskey, 1986 ; Estes, Hallock, & Bray, 1985 ; McGue, Shinn, & Ysseldyke, 1982 ; Shinn, Algozzine, Marston, & Ysseldyke, 1982 ; Webster, 1985 ), behavioral disturbances ( Altrows, Maunula, & LaLonde, 1986 ; Eaves & Simpson, 1984 ), and hearing impairments ( Allen, White, & Karchmer, 1983 ; Karchmer, Milone, & Wolk, 1979 ; Trybus & Karchmer, 1977 ), as well as students who are gifted ( Karnes, Edwards, & McCallum, 1986 ). The findings from these studies and others demonstrate empirically (a) the variability in test results across achievement measures; (b) particular item biases where low socio-economic status (SES) is a factor; (c) the influence of the examiner on the testing process; (d) the differential effect of diagnosis and (e) the roles of time pressure, anxiety, and sex ( Doolittle, 1986; Plass & Hill, 1986 ). It is critical that the professionals who utilize these tests be aware of the significant validity issues involved when assessing persons with disabilities or other areas of exceptionality.

Minority Children

Cautionary comments have been made also by those persons concerned with the standardized testing of minority students. Critics of the testing movement assert that tests which purport to measure achievement, among other things, are biased against certain ethnic/racial groups. Those in favor of testing regard test misuse as the real problem. Underlying the debate is the belief by the critics that the model used to assess performance and competence in society is monocultural. “A main criticism is that the model ignores the relevance of culturally different experiences that foster other equally important competencies essential to the survival of the group or individual” ( Williams, 1983 , p. 192). Similarly, Green and Griffore (1980) report that in one study 46 percent of the errors made on the Gray Oral Reading Test by minority children were due to dialect differences. Others have suggested that lack of “test-wiseness” ( Millman, Bishop, & Ebel, 1965 ) may serve to lower the scores of minority students on tests of aptitude and achievement. Johnson (1979) , commenting about the variables that may invalidate test scores for African-Americans and other minorities, wrote:

Many factors operate to attenuate or lower test scores, and these factors tend to have their greatest effects on Blacks and other minority applicants. These include factors which affect the actual performance of individuals on the test, such as socioeconomic status, differences in educational opportunity, motivation, narrowness of content of the tests, atmosphere of the testing situation, and the perceived relevance of the test to success. They also include factors that affect the test score more directly such as the composition of the group used for item tryouts and item selection and analysis which precede the actual standardization, composition of the standardization or normative group, and the techniques and procedures employed in item construction. Also, the validity or appropriateness of tests often differ for Black and white applicants, in relation to the same future performance of criterion. (p.3)

In addition, it has been substantiated that minority and white children are exposed to different curricula through the practice of ability tracking ( Coleman, 1966; Findley, 1974; Green & Griffore, 1980; McPartland, 1969 ). Reviewers of the hundreds of ability grouping studies conducted since the 1920s have concluded that while superior students may benefit from this method of curricular offering, students with lower class ranking may not. The primary areas of concern are exposure to undemanding curricula and the social stigma attached to students in low-ability groups.

Social-Emotional Learning Opportunities in Online Games for Preschoolers

Systematic Coding of Online Preschool Games

The expected overall outcome of the Self and Social Development scale assessment (desired result) is evidence that the child is personally and socially competent. The scale consists of 12 measures assessing various aspects of social-emotional development. For the purpose of the study, we adapted the measures to represent opportunities for a player to exercise 12 different skills. The skills are: (1) Identity of self; (2) Recognition of own skills and accomplishments; (3) Expressions of empathy; (4) impulse control; (5) taking turns; (6) awareness of diversity; (7) relationships with adults; (8) cooperative play with peers; (9) socio-dramatic play; (10) friendships with peers; (11) conflict negotiation; (12) shared use of space and materials.

Adapting the DRDP to assess preschool games necessitated consideration of how these domains are represented in digital space. For many games, there are opportunities for children to demonstrate and work on developing specific skills. Additionally, many online games include non-player characters (NPCs) who can model specific skills for the user. Further, preschool games often offer ways to bypass game features. Thus, opportunities for demonstrating or developing specific skills may be present in games but optional. Therefore, in adapting the DRDP to this context, special attention was paid to the education delivery method: whether educational opportunities required active play, offered optional play, and/or provided modeled behavior.

Thus, rather than observe and score the demonstrated skills of a child playing the online games, we used the DRDP to code the educational affordances of the game itself. As in the original instrument, every measure was presented in the form of a developmental continuum or progression towards the mastery of the measure: exploring, developing, building, and integrating. Thus, the adapted version of DRDP assessed the levels of task complexity as exploring (usually the most basic task), developing, building, and integrating (usually the most challenging). For instance, for Measure (3): Expression of empathy, the most basic level of exploring would involve allowing the player to move next to or away from a character in distress, while integrating could involve having the user or NPC actively engage or be friendly with a character who appears to be lonely.

Linda Darling-Hammond

Even within urban school districts, schools with high concentrations of low-income and minority students receive fewer instructional resources than others. And tracking systems exacerbate these inequalities by segregating many low-income and minority students within schools. In combination, these policies leave minority students with fewer and lower-quality books, curriculum materials, laboratories, and computers; significantly larger class sizes; less qualified and experienced teachers; and less access to high-quality curriculum. Many schools serving low-income and minority students do not even offer the math and science courses needed for college, and they provide lower-quality teaching in the classes they do offer. It all adds up.

Since the 1966 Coleman report, Equality of Educational Opportunity, another debate has waged as to whether money makes a difference to educational outcomes. It is certainly possible to spend money ineffectively; however, studies that have developed more sophisticated measures of schooling show how money, properly spent, makes a difference. Over the past 30 years, a large body of research has shown that four factors consistently influence student achievement: all else equal, students perform better if they are educated in smaller schools where they are well known (300 to 500 students is optimal), have smaller class sizes (especially at the elementary level), receive a challenging curriculum, and have more highly qualified teachers.

Minority students are much less likely than white children to have any of these resources. In predominantly minority schools, which most students of color attend, schools are large (on average, more than twice as large as predominantly white schools and reaching 3,000 students or more in most cities); on average, class sizes are 15 percent larger overall (80 percent larger for non-special education classes); curriculum offerings and materials are lower in quality; and teachers are much less qualified in terms of levels of education, certification, and training in the fields they teach. And in integrated schools, as UCLA professor Jeannie Oakes described in the 1980s and Harvard professor Gary Orfield’s research has recently confirmed, most minority students are segregated in lower-track classes with larger class sizes, less qualified teachers, and lower-quality curriculum.

Research shows that teachers’ preparation makes a tremendous difference to children’s learning. In an analysis of 900 Texas school districts, Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson found that teachers’ expertise—as measured by scores on a licensing examination, master’s degrees, and experienc—was the single most important determinant of student achievement, accounting for roughly 40 percent of the measured variance in students’ reading and math achievement gains in grades 1-12. After controlling for socioeconomic status, the large disparities in achievement between black and white students were almost entirely due to differences in the qualifications of their teachers. In combination, differences in teacher expertise and class sizes accounted for as much of the measured variance in achievement as did student and family background (figure 1).

Ferguson and Duke economist Helen Ladd repeated this analysis in Alabama and again found sizable influences of teacher qualifications and smaller class sizes on achievement gains in math and reading. They found that more of the difference between the high- and low-scoring districts was explained by teacher qualifications and class sizes than by poverty, race, and parent education.

Meanwhile, a Tennessee study found that elementary school students who are assigned to ineffective teachers for three years in a row score nearly 50 percentile points lower on achievement tests than those assigned to highly effective teachers over the same period. Strikingly, minority students are about half as likely to be assigned to the most effective teachers and twice as likely to be assigned to the least effective.

Minority students are put at greatest risk by the American tradition of allowing enormous variation in the qualifications of teachers. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future found that new teachers hired without meeting certification standards (25 percent of all new teachers) are usually assigned to teach the most disadvantaged students in low-income and high-minority schools, while the most highly educated new teachers are hired largely by wealthier schools (figure 2). Students in poor or predominantly minority schools are much less likely to have teachers who are fully qualified or hold higher-level degrees. In schools with the highest minority enrollments, for example, students have less than a 50 percent chance of getting a math or science teacher with a license and a degree in the field. In 1994, fully one-third of teachers in high-poverty schools taught without a minor in their main field and nearly 70 percent taught without a minor in their secondary teaching field.


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