12/18/2013 11:12 am ET Updated Feb 17, 2014

Listen Up World Leaders! Parents Have Something to Say

As soon as we get home each weekday evening, I check in with my daughter, who is in the 8th grade, about how her day was and ask if she has any questions about her homework. She excels at English and math, but sometimes needs a bit of encouragement when it comes to history.

As an advocate for smart global education policy, I know that parents don't always have it so easy. I send my daughter to an excellent public school in Montgomery County, Maryland where the vast majority of teachers are well trained, well paid, and highly motivated to be effective educators.

In much of the developing world, teachers have very limited training, are not well paid, may not receive salaries for months at a time, and therefore may need to get a second job just to make ends meet within their own household.

Today, more girls and boys are in school than ever before in history -- an enormous feat. And yet, UNESCO reports that a staggering 40 percent of primary school age children across the globe are unable to read, write, or demonstrate basic numeracy by the end of fourth grade.

Too many students aren't learning what they'll need to reach their aspirations as adults. This is not an education crisis. It is a learning crisis that threatens whole countries' futures.

Parents from India to Zimbabwe to Brazil are rightfully concerned, and their message to global policymakers is clear: It's time to listen up!

Last week, Women Thrive was honored to help launch Save the Children's new report, "The Right to Learn", at a special event on Global South Perspectives on Learning and Equity at the United Nations. The report examines parent attitudes in developing countries to see what is working for their children -- and what is not.

Around the world, parents reported "high teacher absenteeism, overcrowded classrooms, poor facilities, lack of books, and more", according to a Save The Children press release.

The event and report come at an important moment. The Millennium Development Goals--an effort by donors and donor countries around the world to alleviate poverty--will expire in December 2015. The global community is beginning to shape the world's next major anti-poverty effort.

World leaders involved in the "post-2015 development process" must listen to parents and advocates in developing countries, who were largely excluded from helping shape the expiring Millennium Development Goals.

Those goals helped significantly increase the number of students in classrooms, but now the focus must shift to what's next: helping kids learn while in school, and redoubling efforts to increase access for marginalized groups such as rural girls and students who are disabled, nomadic, or from ethnic minorities.

Dr. Baela Raza Jamil, a colleague from Aser Pakistan and contributor to the report, told me that in Pakistan, the situation is especially dire. She and her team travel the country to create household levels data on learning outcomes that can hold schools and the government accountable for the quality of children's education.

Last year, Baela's team visited an astounding 82,521 households in order to be able to disaggregate data across households, villages, districts and provinces. The data they have gathered reflects student learning levels, enrollment, attendance, teachers, facilities, multi-grade classrooms, and grants to government schools.

Extensive, country-wide data on learning outcomes is an important tool for informing and empowering communities to hold their officials accountable for improving children's learning outcomes. Schools must be responsive to parents' and students' needs, and involve the community in the education process.

Now is the time to make these decisions, and for global leaders to heed the wishes of those most impacted by their decisions.

Children in developing countries deserve better than we've been providing for them. Just as we care about our own children's education, so too must we all be invested in ensuring that children everywhere have the resources, trained teachers, and support that they need to thrive.

The future of our globalized world relies on it.