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New Job Skills, Better Learning Vital for Students to Succeed in Global Economy

Available in: Français, русский, العربية, Português, Español, 中文
Press Release No:2011/414/HDN

WASHINGTON, April 12, 2011—With a record 210 million people out-of-work worldwide and employers reporting too few workers to hire with the right skills, the World Bank Group today appealed to governments, donors, community leaders, and employers to focus more on education that prepares young people for the jobs market rather than on the time they spend in school.   


Launching its education strategy for the next decade, the Bank Group said that better learning for all students worldwide is vital because economic growth, better development, and significantly less poverty depend on the knowledge and skills that people gain, not the years spent in a classroom. According to the strategy, while a diploma may open doors to employment, it is a worker‘s skills that determine his or her productivity and ability to adapt to new technologies and opportunities. Knowledge and skills also contribute to an individual’s ability to have a healthy, fulfilling life, an educated family, and be involved in their community as citizens and voters.”


The last decade brought remarkable progress in education, with millions more children now in school as a result of more effective education and development policies and sustained national investments. The number of out-of-school children of primary school age fell from 106 million in 1999 to 68 million in 2008. Even in the poorest countries, average primary school enrollment rates surged above 80 percent and completion rates above 60 percent. In the new strategy, the Bank reaffirms its commitment to helping countries get all children into school by the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But with conditions in the world changing rapidly—from a record surge of young people at the secondary and tertiary levels in the Middle East and many emerging economies, to the rise of new middle-income countries anxious to boost their economic competitiveness by training more skilled, adaptable workforces—developing countries must transform gains in schooling into improved learning outcomes.  


A successful driver of development is what people learn, both in and out of school, from their very first years of life all the way through school, into the jobs market, and throughout their working lives," says Robert B. Zoellick, President of the World Bank Group. "For developing countries to fully reap the benefits of education—both by learning from ideas and through innovation—they need to unleash the potential of the human mind. And there is no better tool for doing so than education."    


Student Learning Remains Poor in Many Countries


Skill levels in the workforce predict economic growth rates far better than average schooling levels, yet too often the skills young people acquire in school are, at best, inadequate, according to the Bank Group. Recent studies found that more than 30 percent of young people ages 15–19 who completed six years of schooling in Mali could not read a simple sentence; the same was true of more than 50 percent of Kenyan young people. And apart from the impressive performance of Shanghai-China in the 2009 results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the scores of almost every other low- and middle-income country or region were in the bottom half of results, and many lagged far behind the OECD average.


The bottom line of the Bank’s new education vision for 2020 is: invest early, invest smartly, and invest for all,” says Elizabeth King, the World Bank’s Education Director and lead author of the new strategy. “In today’s competitive global economy, getting maximum value for each education dollar demands smart investments that are proven to contribute to learning. Learning quality needs to be front and center of these education investments, and ‘Learning for All,’ the title of our new strategy, means ensuring that all students, not just the most privileged or clever, gain the knowledge and skills that they need to get jobs and succeed in life.”


U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan applauds the strategy and said he believes that the U.S. Government and the Bank share a similar education vision: “Our vision of reform has a great deal in common with the World Bank’s Education Strategy for 2020. We share your commitment to results—to accelerating the acquisition of skills and knowledge. We share your commitment to cradle-to-career reform for students. I love your credo—“Invest early. Invest smartly. Invest for all.”—and we share your commitment to systematic reform …to drive innovation.”


Stronger Education Systems


The new strategy calls for stronger systems to improve the quality and reach of education in three areas:


First, the Bank Group will prioritize and finance reform of countries’ education systems as a whole to improve the quality of student learning. The Bank Group will focus on increasing accountability and results as a complement to providing school buildings, teacher training, and textbooks. Strengthening education systems means aligning their teacher policies, governance, management, financing, and incentive mechanisms with the goal of learning for all.


Second, the Bank Group will match new education financing with results. The strategy highlights examples of recent innovative projects in Bangladesh, Jamaica, and Vietnam, which have used results-based financing and other incentives to improve student and school performance, and can serve as models for other countries.


Third, the Bank Group will build a leading knowledge base for education reform of what works and what doesn’t in education reform, using impact evaluations, learning assessments, and new system assessment and benchmarking tools that are being developed. By benchmarking education reform progress against international best practices, the Bank Group will help countries diagnose the strengths and weaknesses in their reform efforts and better target future investments.  


“I strongly endorse the key messages of the World Bank’s new education strategy,” says Prof. Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufai, Nigeria’s Minister of Education. “ For my country, Nigeria, ‘Learning for All’ is our goal—to ensure that all our children, girls and boys, poor and well-to-do, north and south, can go to a good school and can learn what they need to have successful and happy lives.” 


Education and the World Bank Group―During the last 48 years, the World Bank Group has substantially contributed to educational development around the world. Since launching its first education project in 1962 to build secondary schools in Tunisia, the Bank has invested $69 billion in education via more than 1,500 projects. Using zero-interest financing from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries, the Bank has helped recruit and/or train more than 3 million teachers, and build or refurbish more than 2 million classrooms, which helped more than 105 million children a year. Through IDA-supported projects in India, 20 million more school-age children are now attending school, and 98 percent now have a school within walking distance. Around 300 million textbooks have been purchased and/or distributed. The Bank‘s financial support for education has risen in the decade since the MDGs were established, surging to more than $5 billion in 2010.



In Washington: Phil Hay, (202) 473-1796, Mobile: (202) 409-2909,

Melanie Mayhew, (202) 458-7891, Mobile: (202) 406-0504,


To read the strategy, please visit: 

For more on the World Bank Group’s work in education, please visit:


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