The Negative Consequences of Overambitious Curricula in Developing Countries

“If the curriculum were radically simplified, if the teacher’s mission were squarely defined as making everyone master every bit of it, and if children were allowed to learn at their own pace, by repeating if necessary, the vast majority of children would get something from the years they spend in school.”  (Banerjee and Duflo, Poor Economics, 2011).

When watching the video in the last blog post, my curiosity was sparked when I heard about an article that I wanted to further research:

The Negative Consequences of Overambitious Curricula in Developing Countries

Is that first quote really possible? Are there really all of these problems by having a curriculum that not only expects teachers to teach the basics, but also so many other skills and concepts?   The authors of this article argue that despite a worldwide increase in education, when we track actual increase in skills, we find shockingly low gains.  Many students around the world spend years of time being instructed (taught) at school, with no progress on the basics.   This article argues that the countries that move slower through their curriculum (and perhaps have ‘less to cover’) are the countries that have much higher cumulative learning.  Could it really be true that learning could go faster if curricula and teachers were to slow down?

Although the article by Pritchett & Beatty was long, a brief scan of the research done in 3 countries was shocking.  They showed that if the curricular pace (the level and material teachers are expected to teach) moves faster than actual student learning, this alone can generate enormous differences in cumulative learning.  This article again brought about that uncomfortable feeling that is so necessary for a teacher.  Over the past year I underwent a performance review (normal procedure in the school where I was), which involved many observations, reflections and meetings with the administration team.  One of the biggest pieces of feedback I received was that I needed to slow down… perhaps not in my actual teaching, but just in how quick I transition and speak in my class.  I am glad to have become aware of this flaw in my teaching, and combined with this articles findings, I now have been given even more reason to slow down and be more conscious of whether my speed as a teacher matches the speed that my students need in order to truly be learning.


Pritchett, L. & Beatty, A. (2012)  The Negative Consequences of Overambitious Curricula in Developing Countries. Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Research Working Paper.


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