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Book: Learning at the Bottom of the Pyramid


On March 2-3, 2017, University of Pennsylvania held an international conference in Philadelphia on

"Learning at the bottom of the pyramid", with a focus understanding learning among poor and marginalized populations in low-income countries. Surprisingly little is known about how children learn in low-income countries, and particularly among the disadvantaged populations. International agencies often invoke these populations as the target of their investments and assessments, but serious debates continue around science, measurement, and policy related to learning. The conference was supported by the Hilton Foundation, Ford Foundation, UNESCO and the University of Pennsylvania. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) give high priority to raising the quality of education and learning. About 60 conference participants came from more than a dozen countries to analyze and debated the scientific, measurement and policy tensions in understanding learning among very poor populations. Learning assessments were a key aspect of the debates that ensued. A book of major findings will be published in later 2017 or early 2018, published by UNESCO.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals place a high priority on the quality of education and on learning. Though a welcome development. the growing support for children's learning raises acute challenges, especially with respect to poor and marginalized children - those at the bottom of the pyramid. To date, insufficient effort has been made to understand learning differences among poor children in disadvantaged communities in low-income countries.

This book seeks to expand this conversation. Its premise is that focusing on average country-level performance often leaves out those who face the greatest barriers to accessing education and learning. The aim here is to bring greater attention to reducing learning inequalities within countries as a way to increase equity, as well as to raise national learning levels. A range of international experts analyse the tensions implicit in understanding and supporting learning among children at the bottom of the pyramid.

Daniel A Wagner is UNESCO Chair in Learning and Literacy, and Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Founding Director of the International Literacy Institute and Director of Penn's International Educational Development Program, and a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Anthropological Association.

Sharon Wolf is an Assistant Professor of Human Development in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and a Jacobs Foundation Research Fellow.

Robert F Baruch, University Trustee Chair Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Statistical Association, the American Educational Research Association, and the Academy for Experimental Criminology.

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