Click here for search results
Online Media Briefing Cntr
Embargoed news for accredited journalists only.
Login / Register

Education: Sector Results Profile

Available in: Français, 中文, العربية, Español
Achieving Learning For All

World Bank Support to Education: Learning for All, Skills for Jobs


Education is fundamental to development and growth. From encouraging higher enrolment through to training teachers or bringing more girls into schools for the first time, the World Bank Group has been playing a significant role in education globally. Considerably more work needs to be done to help children complete primary school and develop the skills they need to find worthwhile employment, and the Bank Group is working with a range of partners nationally and globally to achieve these and many other education-related aims.

Full Brief—5 Pages
World Bank Support to Education: Learning for All, Skills for Jobs—PDF, April 2012


The challenge in education is ensuring equitable access to schooling that results in not only diplomas but learning, and that ultimately helps children develop labor market-relevant skills. Yet learning levels in many countries are alarmingly low, especially among disadvantaged populations. More schooling has not resulted in more learning. Even when children complete school, they often do so without acquiring basic skills, which is particularly detrimental when unemployment is high and labor markets are demanding more skilled and agile workforces than ever before. Youth are leaving school and entering the workforce without competitive competencies, and there is a wide gulf in test scores among students from different income levels. To begin to improve learning involves systematically measuring learning and using these data to improve classroom learning and hold educators accountable.
Major challenges in accessing meaningful education remain for the most disadvantaged populations, and there is an urgent need for increased financing to close these gaps. Among International Development Association (IDA) countries, as of January 2012, 45 were off track (36 of them seriously off track) to meet the goal of universal primary completion, while 18 countries had no data. For the goal of gender equality in primary and secondary schooling, 30 countries were off track (and 19 of them seriously). As of 2009, 67 million primary school age children were still out of school (even after a drop of 38 million since 1999); almost half these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and around a quarter in South Asia. About 42 percent live in poor countries affected by conflict. While early child education can contribute to better learning outcomes, less than half the world’s pre-primary age students were enrolled in pre-primary education in 2009, and the rates for Sub-Saharan Africa and Middle East and North Africa lagged far behind other regions. Regarding higher levels of education, the demand for secondary and tertiary education has grown sharply. Nearly 60 percent of secondary school age students were enrolled in 2009 (an 8 percent improvement over 1999); however, Sub-Saharan Africa lagged far behind other regions. The global tertiary gross enrollment rate was 27 percent in 2009.


The World Bank is the largest external education financier for developing countries, managing a portfolio of US$11 billion, with operations in 78 countries as of April 2012. The Bank helps countries achieve their education goals through finance and knowledge services in the form of analytic work, policy advice, and technical assistance. This support includes working with countries to help identify the role and contribution of education to their overall development strategies. It also means understanding countries’ priorities, needs, and constraints, and jointly designing programs in response, while collaborating with other donors. In 2011, as part of its long-standing support to countries for education, the World Bank unveiled its “Learning for All” education strategy, and introduced Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER), an important new initiative that helps countries assess their education performance and map out ways to improve their performance.
Education Strategy. In 2011, the Bank launched a new Education Sector Strategy 2020, entitled “Learning for All”. The strategy recognizes that learning drives development and encourages countries to invest early (because foundational skills acquired early benefit lifelong learning), smartly (in efforts proven to improve learning), and for all (focusing not only on privileged but on all students). To achieve learning for all, the Bank Group is promoting country-level reforms of education systems, and building a global knowledge base to guide reform. The Bank will measure the success of its strategy in terms of the share of countries that have: Applied SABER tools and collected and used system data; Undertaken learning assessments; Shown measurable improvement in at least one SABER area, and; Taken new steps to attain the MDGs.
SABER. SABER helps countries move toward learning for all through tools that assess education system performance and guide reform. It fills a critical gap in worldwide policy data and knowledge on what matters most in improving education quality. The Bank is working with partners to develop and deploy SABER diagnostic tools based on data it is collecting regarding countries’ education policies. Countries can use these data to objectively assess performance, compare their education policies against evidence-based global standards and policies of comparator countries, and identify policy and institutional changes needed to improve learning. SABER covers several policy domains: Early child development, Education technology/ information communications technology; Engaging the private sector; Equity and inclusion; Finance; Education management information systems; Resilience (for fragile/conflict-affected states); School autonomy and accountability; School health and nutrition; Student assessment, Teachers; Tertiary education, and; Workforce development.
Support for Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In September 2010, the Bank pledged to increase its support of countries not on track to reach the education MDGs, committing to “top up” US$750 million over five years. The commitment is significant; nearly 60 percent of Bank support to education already goes to basic education (compared with 38 percent for bilateral donors). In 2011, the Bank reaffirmed this commitment at the pledging conference for the Global Partnership for Education in Copenhagen. By the end of fiscal year 2012, the Bank will be nearly halfway toward meeting this pledge.
World Development Report on Gender Equality. The Bank’s new World Development Report, entitled Gender Equality and Development, notes progress but highlights the gaps that remain in many areas, including education, and particularly for marginalized populations. In countries participating in the Global Partnership for Education initiative, girls have accounted for 60 percent of new enrollments, but the real payoff (in terms of health, income, and employability) for investment in girls’ education will come only when learning levels improve. During the past five years, more than 60 percent of Bank education lending has promoted gender equality in education.


Bank assistance has helped contribute to the following global achievements in education:

  • Many countries are on track to meet gender parity in primary education (89) and secondary education (82), and 32 IDA-eligible countries have achieved this goal and another seven are on track to do so;
  • A total of 55 countries are on track to attain universal primary completion. Fifteen IDA-eligible countries have achieved this goal and another two are on track:
  • Between 1999 and 2009, the total number of out-of-school children worldwide declined from 105 million to 67 million, 36 million of whom are girls; the total fell by more than half in South Asia;
  • All regions increased pre-primary enrollments during 1999-2009, and South Asia more than doubled its gross enrollment rate from 21.6 percent to 47 percent;
  • Net primary enrollment increased from 82 percent in 1999 to 88 percent in 2009;
  • In terms of Primary Completion Rates, South Asia had a large gender disparity in 1999 (14.5 percentage points) but decreased the difference to 3.2 percentage points in 2009;
  • In the last decade, IDA-financed projects helped recruit or train 3 million additional teachers and build more than 2 million new classrooms, benefitting more than 100 million children every year.

Additionally, IDA support to national education initiatives has contributed the following country-level results:

  • In Ethiopia, the net primary enrollment rate increased from 69 percent in 2005 to 88 percent in 2010;
  • In Mozambique, net primary enrollment more than doubled between 1998 and 2010 to 95 percent. The primary completion rate for grade 7 increased from 34 percent in 2004 to 48 percent in 2009;
  • In Bangladesh, gross primary enrollment rose from 76 percent in 1991 to 108 percent in 2010, while the gross secondary enrollment of 57 percent in 2008 was three times higher than in 1980;
  • In Pakistan’s Sindh province, the female-male primary net enrollment in rural areas rose in 2006/7 from 61 percent to 72 percent as of June 2010, while primary net enrollment increased from 48 percent in 2004/5 to 53 percent as of May 2011;
  • In the Philippines, 2 million poor households benefited from a program providing cash to chronically poor households with children, provided that the children were sent to school.

Bank Contributions

The World Bank contributes to results in low- and middle-income countries through its country-level operations as well as analytic services and technical assistance, funded by IBRD, IDA, and trust funds. It supports education through an average of US$2.2 billion in new financing a year, with more than 50 percent of new commitments made through IDA (which channels about 12 percent of its financing to education). In 2011, for example, the Bank invested US$1.8 billion in education.
In the 2011 fiscal year, Africa and South Asia received the lion’s share of IDA funding for education (US$1.2 billion), while Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe and Central Asia together accounted for 80 percent of IBRD’s US$700 million for education. The Bank also produced 130 education publications, research papers, and knowledge products in FY11 and was active in generating new knowledge in the form of policy papers and tools, including SABER tools.
Many Bank operations are focused on workforce skills. Sixteen out of 19 education sector-managed projects approved in FY11 had activities related to labor markets and employment, and in many cases, skills development was the central objective. Several projects also supported tertiary education. These operations are helping countries expand the supply of skilled and employable labor, reduce short-term skills gaps, strengthen institutional aspects, and raise the relevance and efficiency of technical and vocational education.
Analytical work on skills was also important in 2011. Regional flagship reports highlighted the shortage of labor market-relevant skills as a key constraint to company hiring, the role of higher education in delivering the skills needed to produce a competitive labor force, and the need for reforms to focus on improving education quality and systematically measuring learning.
SABER has begun to influence policy dialogue and the design of Bank operations. SABER has to date been applied to inform work in one or more policy domains in over a hundred countries. In Cambodia, the government is using the SABER-Teachers framework to design a comprehensive teacher policy reform program and in Chile, SABER tools helped benchmark governance arrangements in top-performing education systems and inform education legal reforms. In Nigeria, a state-level project used SABER tools across four policy domains including student assessment and teachers.
A policy paper produced in FY11 highlights the government’s vigorous and sustained reform following the “alarming” results of the first international tests taken by the country’s 13-year olds. Noting Jordan’s consecutive and comprehensive reforms, the paper shows how assessment results can provide significant returns and make the cost of assessment worthwhile.
Support to Sri Lanka led to institutional progress in undergraduate education. The project introduced information technology (IT) centers, English/IT programs, and quality assurance accreditation, as well as new concepts such as competitive funding based on proposals. A project impact evaluation showed a sizeable drop in graduates’ average waiting time for the first job, significant improvements in undergraduate learning during the project period, and an increase in graduates’ employment.


The World Bank collaborates with United Nations (UN) agencies and development partners to support countries’ education goals, including progress toward the MDGs. The Global Partnership for Education (formerly the Education for All-Fast Track Initiative) has been a critical partner in basic education since 2002. The Bank was instrumental in creating this multi-donor partnership – involving over 30 bilateral and multilateral partners – and in its funding since inception of around US$2 billion.
The Bank also partners with bilateral donors, including Russia. The Russia Education Aid for Development trust fund supports SABER-Assessment as well as learning assessment in eight countries. The World Bank also collaborates on operations or knowledge work through trust funds backed by Australia, the European Commission, Ireland, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Japan, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Moving Forward

The Bank will continue moving toward increasing IDA assistance for education and meeting its US$750-million commitment, ultimately supporting innovative interventions that reach the most underserved populations. Bank assistance to low- and middle-income countries will continue to focus on learning for all, skills development, and the transition from schooling to jobs.


An evaluation of a teacher incentives pilot within the Kyrgyz Republic Rural Education Project has helped to better understand project impact. The pilot aimed to increase teacher motivation, improve teaching practices, and ultimately boost student learning achievement by providing monetary incentives to teachers for improved performance. The evaluation has shown that the pilot improved teachers’ motivation and skills and that teachers used what they had learned to improve their teaching. Principals rated the program positively for increasing teacher motivation and improving school quality. Teachers found the program effective for motivating them to change teaching practices, take professional development courses, continue to work as teachers, and refine their skills to improve student learning.

Permanent URL for this page: