Step into a typical classroom in rural Latin America, Africa, or Asia, and you’re likely to see a teacher standing before a large group of students, all sitting upright in rows of neatly arrayed desks, reciting in unison a lesson they have just memorized.

Step into an Escuela Nueva school and the scene is very different. Students are typically scattered around the room at various learning centers, each working diligently on a personalized learning program, while the teacher moves from one...

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