NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Poverty and Educational Opportunity Abroad

March 20, 2015

Few would argue the many positive consequences of education, but across the world, it is exceedingly apparent those opportunities are much more available to the wealthy. When trying to measure just how economically disadvantaged many students are — and how it relates to their level of education — social scientists have designed household asset surveys.

By asking children about appliances and utilities available to them at home, researchers use their answers to estimate household income. Household asset surveys place different weights on having different kinds of assets in certain countries, since they are indicative of different levels of wealth (i.e. a household with a washing machine in Ethiopia may vary greatly in relative wealth to one in France).  Once a child's household income has been estimated, researchers then simply compare income to student achievement.

Surprisingly, research has found that Kenya is an educational haven compared to many other developing countries:

  • 24 percent of Kenyan students living on less than $2 per day were found to be proficient or skilled in math.
  • Mexico, Peru and Brazil fail to achieve Kenya's same level of educational ability with the countries having 21, 16 and 10 percent mathematics proficiency among poor students.
  • African countries trail even further behind with Uganda, Mozambique, South Africa and Malawi classifying 6, 5, 2 and 1 percent of poor students as mathematically qualified.

These studies have succeeded in showing the quality of each country's schooling system at the lowest level. The emphasis of future studies should be finding the differences between their teaching methods and reasons for failure or success.

Source: Servaas Van Der Berg, "How does the rich-poor learning gap vary across countries?" Brookings Institute, March 9, 2015.


Browse more articles on Education Issues