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Brief on Education in South Asia

Recent Achievements
Challenges Ahead
World Bank Response


Education is a key need, along with other basics, in today’s world for anyone, anywhere to have a good quality of life. In developing countries particularly, such as those in the South Asia region, basic education is crucial to alleviating poverty, reducing inequality and driving economic growth.

Increased access to education.

Between 2002 and 2005 the number of out-of-school children of primary school age in the South Asia region declined from about 43 to 26 million – an impressive achievement for such a short period of time.

• Available data indicate that in this period, the number of out-of-school children of primary school age decreased by about 11.5 million in India, 3 million in Afghanistan, 2 million in Pakistan, and 1 million in Bangladesh.

• There was also a substantial increase in enrollment rates at the secondary level though the overall numbers are still low.

• At the tertiary level, enrollment rates in the region increased to 10 percent.

More on access to education and training in South Asia (PDF). 


Progress towards achieving gender parity

• At the primary school level, gender parity has been achieved in the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh and India. Progress is being made in Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan.

• In Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives gender parity has also been achieved at the secondary level.


Partnerships with non-government providers

Partnerships with non-government providers – NGOs, communities, and the private sector – help to expand education opportunities.

• In Nepal, the government has transferred about 2,000 schools to communities for management.

• In Bangladesh, the government subsidizes a privately-managed secondary education system.

• In India, 7 percent of primary and 40 percent of secondary schools receive government aid. 


Use of incentives to promote education

Governments are increasingly using incentives to enhance access to education for the poor and girls.

• Bangladesh relies on conditional cash transfer programs (giving money to the poor to encourage them to enroll their children in school) at the primary and secondary levels.  More...

• In Pakistan, the recent introduction of stipends for girls who enroll in school has had a clear impact on both girls’ and boys’ enrollment in targeted districts.  More...

Challenges Ahead

Providing universal quality education

Despite impressive achievements, many issues still need to be addressed:

• An estimated 26 million children, mostly from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds, still remain out of school. An estimated 10 percent have disabilities.

• Girls account for just 34 percent of total enrollment in Afghanistan and 41 percent in Pakistan. Within Afghanistan, wide regional disparities persist, with girls representing less than 15 percent in the southern provinces.

• In countries where gender parity has been achieved at the primary level, the challenge is now to repeat this achievement at higher levels of education

• A large proportion of children do not master basic numeric and literacy skills by the time they complete primary education. A sample study in India found that 44 percent of children in grades 2-5 cannot read a simple paragraph and close to 62 percent are unable to read a short story.  More on learning achievements in Rajasthan (PDF) and Orissa (PDF). 

• Owing to high dropout and repetition rates, primary completion rates in the region are among the lowest in the world. Out of every 100 students that enter the primary education cycle, fewer than 10 graduate out of secondary education.


Improving governance

Governments are paying increased attention to issues of governance and accountability, but little is known about the impact of these initiatives.


Improving quality of vocational training, private-sector education and higher education

• Most private-sector institutions in South Asia are unable to provide education and training of even minimally adequate quality.

• Insufficient investment results in dilapidated, ill-equipped classrooms and workshops.

• Technological change, globalization, and the need to develop a competitive workforce make modernization and improvements of higher levels education an urgent priority.  

More on education and the knowledge economy in South Asia (PDF). 


Providing links to labor markets.

• Employers commonly complain that education services are not responsive to demand in labor markets, and fail to cultivate the skills required.
• Unemployment of educated youth has become an area of serious concern in the region.


Increasing public spending on education

• Public spending on education in South Asia currently averages about 4.1 percent of GDP – one of the lowest levels of any region.

• A large share of this very limited spending is earmarked for teachers' salaries, leaving few resources for learning materials or other expenditures.

World Bank Response

From 2003 to 2007, the World Bank invested US$ 2,470 million in education in South Asia. The investments produced strong results with noticeable improvements in the education of poor people. The World Bank’s support to South Asia is centered on four action pillars:


Focus on the Millennium Development Goals in Collaboration with Development Partners.

• Over the past four years, new support has been provided to elementary education in all South Asian countries. For example, there are projects in Afghanistan, BangladeshBhutanIndia and Nepal.   

• The Bank provides support to country-led programs to foster maximum government ownership, build institutions and skills, and improve donor coordination.

• The Bank’s programs encourage participating governments to move away from emphasizing inputs and towards emphasizing outcomes – girls’ education and reducing social disparities in particular.  Some examples are projects in Nepal and Pakistan


Supporting systemic reforms in governance

Bank assistance to country-led and other programs stresses systemic reforms that increase accountability, reduce corruption among government officials, and increase cost-effectiveness.


Emphasis on monitoring and evaluation

• All Bank projects support strong monitoring and evaluation systems.

• Studies have been launched to evaluate the impact of innovative approaches (such as the introduction of school-based committees and of stipend programs) and provide solid evidence to inform policy decision

Responding to the demands of governments for a broader agenda

Economic growth is strong in many South Asian countries. This spurs demand for secondary and tertiary education. Governments are now requesting assistance in developing strategies to improve the quality, relevance, and cost-effectiveness of education at all levels, including vocational education and training.

• Analytical work is underway in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

• The Bank finances (or is preparing) vocational education and training projects in India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

• Higher education improvement projects are approved or being prepared for the governments of AfghanistanIndiaNepal and Sri Lanka.


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