Click here for search results


Education: Overview

Available in: Français, Español


Education is a powerful driver of development and one of the strongest instruments for reducing poverty and improving health, gender equality, peace, and stability. Although there has been great progress in the last decade—many more children attend schools and girls’ education has markedly improved—many low-income countries still remain off track to meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for education. Even when children complete school, they often do so without acquiring basic skills and this is particularly detrimental when unemployment is high and labor markets are demanding more skilled and agile workforces than ever before.

Today, amid a growing urgency prompted by widespread joblessness on the one hand and serious skills shortages on the other, the World Bank is more committed than ever to expanding opportunities for children and youth and nations alike, through education. In fiscal year 2012, the Bank’s new support for education rose to $3 billion, up sharply from $1.8 billion last year and boosted by increased support for primary and lower secondary education.

The Bank is the largest external education financier for developing countries, managing a portfolio of $9 billion, with operations in 73 countries at the end of fiscal year 2012. The Bank supports education through an average of $2.6 billion a year in new financing for the poorest countries as well as for middle-income countries. The Bank helps countries achieve their education goals through finance and knowledge services in the forms 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 and poverty reduction. This means understanding countries’ individual priorities, needs, and constraints, and collaborating with governments, donors and development partners to design programs in response to countries’ respective needs.


In 2011, the Bank launched a new Education Sector Strategy 2020, “Learning for All.” The strategy recognizes that the knowledge and skills that children and youth gain, through learning, help lift them out of poverty and drive development. The Strategy encourages countries to “invest early” because foundational skills acquired early help lifelong learning, “invest smartly” in efforts proven to improve learning, and “invest for all” focusing not only on privileged but on all students. To achieve learning for all, the Bank is promoting reforms of education systems and is helping to build a robust evidence base to guide these reforms. In almost 100 countries, the Bank is beginning to use a systems approach to achieve better education results, with support from analytical tools developed under the Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) initiative. SABER is a global knowledge platform that is helping countries assess their education policies and identify actionable priorities to help education systems achieve learning for all. Policy areas covered by SABER include early child development, student assessment, teachers, and workforce development.

Better evidence and knowledge are the levers that make effective reform possible. The Bank conducts and supports rigorous impact evaluations to generate stronger evidence about what works in education under different country conditions. Recent regional skills reports focus on increasing labor market productivity and examine how education can play a role in addressing the skills mismatch present in many countries around the world. For example, Putting Higher Education to Work addresses ‘disconnects’ between higher education and the labor market in East Asia and the Pacific whereas Skills, Not Just Diplomas, identifies problem areas in the education system in Europe and Central Asia and suggests key reforms. Other new reports include the recently launched Education in the Republic of South Sudan: Status and Challenges for a New System, which provides a comprehensive snapshot of the education sector in this fragile state and points to key issues related to rebuilding the education system in that country.

The Bank collaborates with United Nations agencies (namely UNICEF and UNESCO) and development partners to support countries’ education goals, including progress toward the MDGs. The Global Partnership for Education has been a critical partner in basic education since 2002, when the Bank was instrumental in creating this multi-donor partnership; today, the Bank is the Supervising Entity for most GPE-funded projects. Efforts to better coordinate financing for education from GPE and the International Development Association (IDA), the Bank’s fund for the poorest countries, are underway. The Bank partners with a number of bilateral donors as well, including Russia, through the Russia Education Aid for Development (READ) trust fund, which supports activities in eight countries to strengthen their student assessment systems. Several other trust funds support the Bank’s operational and knowledge work in education, reflecting collaboration with Australia, the European Commission, Ireland, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Japan, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The Bank is also working with new partners including Teach for All, the Arab World Initiative, and the Early Childhood Consultative Group, to help these learning-focused programs have a global impact.


Bank assistance has contributed to global achievements in education:

  • Between 1999 and 2010, the total number of out-of-school children worldwide declined from 105 million to 61 million; South Asia lowered its total of out-of-school children by two thirds.
  • Between 1999 and 2010, the global primary completion rate increased from 81% to 90%; Sub-Saharan Africa increased its primary completion rate from 53% to 70%.
  • All regions increased pre-primary enrollments during 1999-2009; South Asia doubled its gross enrollment rate to 48%.
  • Almost a hundred countries are beginning to apply a systems approach to education reform using the analytical tools that the Bank has been developing as part of its new education strategy.

IDA support to countries has contributed the following country-level results:

  • In Ethiopia, the net primary enrollment rate increased from 69% in 2005 to 88% in 2010.
    result story
  • In Malawi, 98% of the 5,086 primary schools in the country benefitted from a program that enabled schools to procure required learning and teaching materials at the local level.
    result story
  • In Afghanistan, girls’ enrollment increased to 2.7 million in 2011 from less than 200,000 in 2002, and boys’ attendance increased to about 4.4 million from less than a million.
    result story
  • In Bangladesh, between 2004 and the end of 2011, “second chance” primary education was provided for more than 750,000 out of school children (more than half of them girls) from the 90 poorest sub-districts of the country.
    result story
  • In Nicaragua, approximately 609,000 preschool and primary school children in the most vulnerable areas benefited from school lunches with schools seeing improvements in attendance and retention.
    result story
  • In India, the employment rate of graduates from industrial training institutes increased from 32 percent after a year of graduation in 2006 to above 60 percent in 2011.
    result story

Last updated: 2012-09-21

Permanent URL for this page: