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Africa Economic Brief - Volume 8 Issue 8 - Cognitive Achievement in Madagascar


The rise in enrollment rates experienced by most developing countries over the previous decade has shifted the policy debate from the quantity of education to issues of quality, in terms of the objective of improving human capital outcomes.2 Despite the paucity of test score data, a direct measure of academic achievement, the little evidence available from developing countries suggests that the gain in cognitive ability from schooling is quite limited (Pritchett 2013; Jones et al. 2014). The viewpoint that schools are ineffective in imparting skills and knowledge has led some to argue this as an explanation for economic returns to education. Thus, more attention needs to be given to the role of cognitive skills, rather than educational attainment per se, in determining and improving labor market outcomes (Boissiere, Knight, and Sabot 1985).

Similarly, Hanushek and Woessmann (2008) pointed out that focusing on grade attainment (instead of skills) distorts our understanding of the relation between education and economic development. Indeed, the number of years of schooling is an imperfect measure of human capital that only reflects the quantity of schooling, neglecting how school quality and family background affect learning and cognition.

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