01 / 05
Improving Africa's Education System

Blog Post | Education & Literacy

Improving Africa's Education System

Liberia's education system is both increasingly effective and affordable.

Improving educational standards in Africa

Great strides have been made on many fronts when it comes to global education. In 2000 the average child went to school for 7 years. By 2010 it was over 8 years. Literacy rates have gone up from 76 percent to 81 percent over the same period. Millions of children are in school and learning. But, clearly, more progress is needed. Over 617 million children and adolescents are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. Globally, 330 million children are in school, but they are not learning. Some 263 million children are not in school at all.

Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly deficient when it comes to provision of quality education. But innovative policies are spreading throughout the continent, with dramatic effect. Liberia, for example, is the fourth poorest country in the world and has a literacy rate of less than 50 percent. The majority of children are out of school, with a 43 percent net attendance ratio according to UNICEF, indicating the percentage of those eligible to attend primary school, and who actually do so within that group.

So, rather than settle for incremental improvements, the country is trying to leapfrog forward. A few years ago, a public private partnership between the Ministry of Education and non state operators saw the establishment of seven independent school providers, who are running a small number of state elementary schools. These partners are a mix of non-profit and for-profit outfits.

One of the seven school operators helping Liberia is Bridge. Bridge equips local teachers with quality lesson plans via a digital e-reader device. These are given to every teacher working in a school run by Bridge. Teachers are following the digital lesson guides and systematically working their way through the local Liberian national curriculum. The technology enables Bridge staff in Monrovia to monitor the progress of children’s learning, check student and teacher attendance, and give highly accurate reports of what’s happening in the classroom to the Ministry of Education. Parents and teachers up and down the country have been embracing this new approach and are seeing dramatic changes in the speed, quantity and quality of learning.

A gold standard independent evaluation of the program by the Centre for Global Development and Innovations Poverty Action showed that schools being used to trial the new policies had seen learning improvements of 60 percent in a single academic year. That’s the average across all seven school operators. At Bridge public schools, the study showed, students learnt twice as fast as their peers in neighborhood schools. The focus on learning outcomes rather than access as a success benchmark is a notable shift taking place in the global education eco-system and one that resonates in Liberia.

These schools have experienced such an acceleration in learning that the newly elected government has given the go-ahead for the pilot program to continue into the next academic year with a few modifications. As the education minister Professor Ansu D.Sonii says, it will ensure that “the significant learning gains delivered under the program could be maintained.”

More than that, the Liberian Ministry for Education is already starting to roll-out across the whole education system some of the policies that have been tested successfully in the pilot program, like a longer school day. At present, normal government elementary schools only run until noon. But from next academic year they will continue until 3pm, as in the schools run by the program partners. The pilot program has shown that this extended day really is having a positive impact.

So far these improvements to basic education have cost the Liberian government very little – generally having relied on the commitment of generous donors for financing. For example, Bridge’s work in Liberia has cost the government $0 U.S. dollars over the last two years. The Government has an aspiration of providing quality education to every child for $100 a year by 2020 – currently they spend $50 – although not all providers receive this subsidy.

My view is that this innovative approach, integrating the private sector and others, has enabled the rapid improvement to Liberia’s education system and is both increasingly effective and affordable.

Even in the most remote corner of Liberia, children who are refugees from Ivory Coast are getting the same free, high quality learning as those in the capital Monrovia. Because Bridge gives every teacher an e-reader, they are all able to download the lesson guides and they are all supported by local teacher trainers. The remoteness of the school has no impact of the quality of the teaching or the materials. This is good news for Liberia and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa as it shows that it is possible for governments with very small education budgets to make huge learning gains quickly that directly impact children. The combination of brave new education policies plus high quality support through a PPP approach shows that the tide is against the learning crisis in Liberia.

The public in the USA agrees that this novel approach is a great way to quickly improve education in parts of the world that struggle to run enough quality schools. According to the public survey organization ONE Poll, three-quarters of the American public surveyed believe there should be more education public-private partnerships in developing countries. The same proportion of Americans also agree that Bridge International Academies are good for children. 

The current and previous Liberian governments both deserve high praise for their leadership in working to deliver transformative education opportunities for children using non state actors and innovative policies. Other governments across the continent should take note of Liberia’s success story and such a fast, effective and low-cost way to improve education for children who have the potential to change the world.

Blog Post | Human Development

1,000 Bits of Good News You May Have Missed in 2023

A necessary balance to the torrent of negativity.

Reading the news can leave you depressed and misinformed. It’s partisan, shallow, and, above all, hopelessly negative. As Steven Pinker from Harvard University quipped, “The news is a nonrandom sample of the worst events happening on the planet on a given day.”

So, why does Human Progress feature so many news items? And why did I compile them in this giant list? Here are a few reasons:

  • Negative headlines get more clicks. Promoting positive stories provides a necessary balance to the torrent of negativity.
  • Statistics are vital to a proper understanding of the world, but many find anecdotes more compelling.
  • Many people acknowledge humanity’s progress compared to the past but remain unreasonably pessimistic about the present—not to mention the future. Positive news can help improve their state of mind.
  • We have agency to make the world better. It is appropriate to recognize and be grateful for those who do.

Below is a nonrandom sample (n = ~1000) of positive news we collected this year, separated by topic area. Please scroll, skim, and click. Or—to be even more enlightened—read this blog post and then look through our collection of long-term trends and datasets.



Farming robots and drones

Food abundance

Genetic modification

Indoor farming

Lab-grown produce


Other innovations

Conservation and Biodiversity

Big cats




Other comebacks



Rivers and lakes

Surveillance and discovery

Rewilding and conservation


Culture and tolerance

Gender equality

General wellbeing


Treatment of animals

Energy and natural Resources



Fossil fuels

Other energy

Recycling and resource efficiency

Resource abundance

Environment and pollution

Climate change

Disaster resilience

Air pollution

Water pollution

Growth and development


Economic growth

Housing and urbanization

Labor and employment



Disability and assistive technology

Dementia and Alzheimer’s


Heart disease and stroke

Other non-communicable diseases



Other communicable diseases

Maternal care

Fertility and birth control

Mental health and addiction

Weight and nutrition

Longevity and mortality 

Surgery and emergency medicine

Measurement and imaging

Health systems

Other innovations



    Artificial intelligence



    Construction and manufacturing


    Robotics and automation

    Autonomous vehicles


    Other innovations


    AI in science


    Chemistry and materials






      Blog Post | Health & Medical Care

      Why Are We So Gloomy?

      Our evolved instincts are making us more anxious and depressed than we should be.

      Summary: Many young people today are pessimistic about the future of the planet and humanity, believing that environmental degradation, poverty, violence, and inequality are getting worse. However, this gloomy outlook is not supported by the facts, which show remarkable improvements in living standards, health, education, peace, and prosperity over the last century. This article explores why people are so prone to pessimism and how to overcome it by examining the evidence of human progress.

      Do you believe that the world is coming to an end? If so, you are not alone.

      In 2021, researchers at the University of Bath polled 10,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 in Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, Great Britain, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, Portugal, and the United States. The researchers found that, on average, 83 percent of respondents thought that “people have failed to care for the planet.” Seventy-five percent thought that the “future is frightening.” Fifty-six percent thought that “humanity is doomed.” Fifty-five percent thought that they will have “less opportunity than [their] parents.” Finally, 39 percent stated that they were “hesitant to have children.”

      The study remains one of the most comprehensive surveys of young people’s perception of the environmental state of the planet. But is this kind of doom warranted? The following global statistics paint an entirely different picture:

      Between 1950 and 2020, the average inflation-adjusted income per person rose from $4,158 to $16,904, or 307 percent. Between 1960 and 2019, the average life expectancy, rose from 50.9 years to 72.9 years, or 43.2 percent. (Unfortunately, the pandemic reduced that number to 72.2 years.)

      Between 2000 and 2020, the homicide rate fell from 6.85 per 100,000 to 5.77, or 16 percent.

      Deaths from inter-state wars fell from a high of 596,000 in 1950 to a low of 49,000 in 2020, or 92 percent (though the war between Russia and Ukraine is bound to increase that number).

      The rates of extreme poverty have plummeted, with the share of people living on less than $1.90 per day declining from 36 percent in 1990 to 8.7 percent in 2019. Though, once again, the pandemic has temporarily worsened that number somewhat.

      Between 1969 and 2019, the average infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births fell from 89.7 to 20.9, or 77 percent.

      Between 1961 and 2018, the daily supply of calories rose from 2,192 to 2,928, or 34 percent. Today, even in Africa, obesity is a growing concern.

      The gross primary school enrollment rate rose from 89 percent in 1970 to 100 percent in 2018. The gross secondary school enrollment rate rose from 40 percent to 76 percent over the same period. Finally, the gross tertiary school enrollment rate rose from 9.7 percent to 38 percent.

      The literacy rate among men aged 15 and older rose from 74 percent in 1975 to 90 percent in 2018. The literacy rate among women aged 15 and older rose from 56 percent in 1976 to 83 percent in 2018.

      In 2018, 90 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 24 were literate. That number was almost 93 percent among men of the same age. The age-old literacy gap between the sexes has all but disappeared.

      There is plenty of good news on the global environmental front as well:

      The chance of a person dying in a natural catastrophe — earthquake, flood, drought, storm, wildfire, landslide or epidemic — fell by almost 99 percent over the last century.

      Between 1982 and 2016, the global tree canopy cover increased by an area larger than Alaska and Montana combined.

      In 2017, the World Database on Protected Areas reported that 15 percent of the planet’s land surface was covered by protected areas. That’s an area almost double the size of the U.S.

      That year, marine protected areas covered nearly seven percent of the world’s oceans. That’s an area more than twice the size of South America.

      There is more good news for the fish: Since 2012, more than half of all seafood consumed came from aquaculture, as opposed to the fish caught in the wild.

      And while it is true that the total amount of CO2 emitted throughout the world is still rising, CO2 emissions in rich countries are falling both in totality and on a per capita basis.

      With so much good news around us, why are we so gloomy? We have evolved to look out for danger. That was the best way to survive when the world was much more threatening. But, while the world has changed, our genes have not. That’s why the front pages of the newspapers are always filled with the most horrific stories. If it bleeds, it leads.

      To make matters worse, the media compete with one another for a finite number of eyeballs. So, presenting stories in the most dramatic light pays dividends. Or, as one study recently found, for a headline of average length, “each additional negative word increased the click-through rate by 2.3%.” And so, in a race to the bottom, all media coverage got much darker over the last two decades.

      We are literally scaring ourselves to death, with rates of anxiety, depression and even suicide rising in some parts of the world. To maintain your mental composure and to keep matters in perspective, follow the trendlines, not the headlines. You will discover that the world is in a much better shape than it appears. You will be more cheerful and, most importantly, accurately informed.

      This article was originally published at RealClearPolicy on May 31st, 2023.

      Blog Post | Wealth & Poverty

      Low-Cost Private Schools Are a Lifeline for the Poor

      Increasing access to affordable, high-quality education leads to better futures for children in poverty.

      Twenty years ago this week – on Indian Republic Day, 26 January 2000 – I wandered into the slums behind the Charminar, in the Old City of Hyderabad, and my life changed forever.

      Building on my PhD at what is now the UCL Institute of Education, I had become an expert on private education. Twenty years ago, everyone knew that private education was just for the elite and upper middle classes and I was in India doing consultancy work for the International Finance Corporation, the private arm of the World Bank, evaluating the elite private schools in the area. However, for whatever reason I had always felt that my life should be about serving less privileged communities.

      So, on a day off from consultancy, I went into Hyderabad’s slums, down an alleyway and found a small school in a residential building. It wasn’t a state school, but a low-cost private one, charging in those days about $1 a month. Then I found another, and another, and soon I was connected to a federation of 500 of these low-cost private schools, serving poor and low-income communities across the region. I spent as much time as I could in these schools after finishing my daily meetings in the elite colleges that had initially brought me to Hyderabad. I watched lesson after lesson and witnessed young energetic teachers educating classrooms full of children, often in extremely impressive ways.

      I remember going back to my hotel room in an upmarket part of the city and thinking that maybe the different parts of my life could fit together after all. I was an expert in private education, and in India private education seemed as much about the poor and disadvantaged as anyone. My life felt suddenly complete.

      For many years I ploughed a lonely furrow, trying to convince those with power and influence that private education was good for the poor. Now, 20 years later, the extraordinary, disruptive revolution of low-cost private schools that is sweeping across the developing world is increasingly acknowledged, and sometimes even respected.

      In both urban slums and rural villages, poorer parents are abandoning public schools en masse and sending their children to low-cost private schools, typically created by educational entrepreneurs. These private schools are ubiquitous. In Lagos State, Nigeria, for instance, there are 14,000 low-cost private schools, enrolling 2.12 million children, some 70% of preschool and primary aged children. Research from Nairobi (Kenya), Kampala (Uganda) and Accra (Ghana) gives similar results – the highest percentage is in Kampala, where 84% of primary aged children in poor areas are in private education.

      Similarly, in urban India at least 70% of children are in independent private schools, while the comprehensive Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) shows 30% of rural children in private schools, a figure that is growing each year. Extrapolation from recent studies indicates there are roughly 92 million children in India who attend around 450,000 low-cost private schools.

      The private schools are better than the state schools, where there is a lack of accountability; research has shown teachers in state schools typically teach only half of the time they are meant to. It’s no surprise that a review by the Department for International Development found children in low-cost private schools outperforming those in public schools, even after controlling for socio-economic background variables.

      The private schools don’t typically suffer from gender bias and are affordable, even for families on the poverty line. And the majority of low-cost private schools are run as small businesses by educational entrepreneurs (with a minority run by religious organisations and charities), without subsidies from the state or philanthropic organisation. This means that low-cost private schools are already a fully sustainable solution to the problem of improving educational standards for all.

      But there are still difficulties to be overcome. Sometimes governments try to close these schools altogether. More commonly they pass regulations that impose impossible conditions, such as the need for very large playgrounds in areas of urban overcrowding, or the insistence that all teachers must achieve the same level of certification and pay as their government counterparts, even though this would make it impossible for the schools to charge low fees.

      So, the struggle continues. The work that began for me 20 years ago in the slums of India continues to this day. I’m currently building a team at the University of Buckingham to continue to champion the successes of low-cost private schools globally. Providing burdensome government regulation doesn’t get in the way, low-cost private schools and the education they provide for millions of poor children will continue to thrive.

      This originally appeared in CapX.