The World Bank has supported education in developing countries since 1963 during which period it has transferred more than US$41 billion in loans and credits for education. The Bank’s strategic thrust is to help countries integrate education into national economic strategies and policies and develop holistic and balanced education systems which are responsive to the socio-economic needs of countries. The World Bank is a major supporter of Education for All, an international effort to provide every boy and girl in the developing world with a full, good-quality, free and compulsory primary school education. Together with country and global partners, the World Bank has vigorously worked to map out the path to reach the Millennium Development Goal for education by 2015. Through the Fast Track Initiative (FTI), the Bank along with all major donors for education—more than 30 bilateral, regional and international agencies and development banks—works to accelerate progress toward meeting the education development goals.
The World Bank’s support for education has a dual focus: to help countries achieve universal primary education and to help countries build the higher-level and flexible skills needed to compete in today's global, knowledge-driven markets, what we call Education for the Knowledge Economy. As with all World Bank assistance, lending is only one part of a broader package of services. Lending in the education sector is complimented with policy advice and analysis, sharing of global knowledge and good practices, technical assistance and capacity building, and support for consensus-building. These non-financial services are crucial to ensure that countries make effective use of aid.
In terms of lending, in fiscal year 2008, World Bank education lending is projected to reach US$1.9 billion, with about ½ of it being in support of basic education. The South Asia Region accounts for the largest volume of education lending (US$695 million), followed by the Latin America and Caribbean Region (US$525 million), and the Africa Region (US$373 million). About 1/3 of education lending is multi-sector—meaning that it not only addresses education issues, but rather looks at development in a more holistic manner with focus on areas such as social funds, urban development, poverty reduction and public sector governance.
Knowledge generation and dissemination is an equally important element of Bank work in education. This type of work includes research in key areas of education such as lifelong learning, teacher training, education quality, tertiary education, school-based management, bilingual education, labor market outcomes, private sector participation, girls’ education and economics of education. The Development Economics group (DEC), has undertaken several major research programs with direct relevance for education. These include several World Development Reports, Making Services Work for Poor People (2004), Equity and Development (2006) and the Next Generation (2007). The World Bank Institute (WBI) helps countries share and apply global and local knowledge to meet development challenges. The WBI Education Program, consisting of more than 16 education courses, explores topics such as education reform, enhancing education quality and equity, economics and financing of education, and evaluation and performance monitoring.
The World Bank increases its horsepower through several strategic partnerships in the education sector. These include more than 32 partners in the EFA Fast Track Initiative (EFA/FTI) and several multilateral and bilateral partners who support flagship global programs on a wide range of activities such as girls’ education, HIV/AIDs, statistics and assessment of student learning. The Bank also provides more than $10 million a year in grants to support several regional and global partnership programs in education. Additionally, through the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank supports the development of private education activities in member countries.
Global Challenges faced by the Education Sector
Access to Education: Despite significant progress in the last two decades about 75 million primary school age children still do not attend school; 41 million of these children are girls. Some 264 million adolescents of secondary school age are not currently enrolled. Additionally, over 800 million adolescents and adults lack literacy skills which could equip them with the skills needed to work their way out of poverty; they represent some of the poorest in their societies, and 2/3 of them are women. Demographic projections suggest that developing countries will have an additional 80 million children of primary and secondary school age by the year 2025.
Equity in Education: Access to education is particularly constrained for girls and poor or rural children. There is tremendous variation in access and enrollment in school within and across countries. In the developing world, the richest 20 percent of the population is almost three times as likely to be enrolled in school as the poorest 20 percent of the population. Children from rich households in Latin America and Africa, on average, have 4 to 7 more years of education than their poor counterparts. Indigenous students in Latin America have considerably less access to education: in Bolivia, indigenous people have almost 4 years less schooling than non-indigenous people. Across countries the same type of discrepancies exist with average educational attainment in sub-Saharan African countries at 3.5 years while in industrialized countries it is nearly 10 years. Such variances in the years of educational attainment between developing and developed countries, greatly affects the widening digital and knowledge divide.
Education quality and learning outcomes: In many developing countries less than 60 percent of primary school pupils who enroll in first grade reach the last grade of schooling. Additionally, pupil teacher ratios in some countries are in excess of 40:1 and many primary teachers lack adequate qualifications. Recent learning assessment initiatives in the Africa region and the Latin America and the Caribbean region show there is a large learning gap between industrial and developing countries. Within countries, low as well as middle-income, learning gaps are observed between rich and poor students as well as male and female students. Most middle income countries that participated in the international student assessment PISA, performed below average in 2000 and 2003.
Social Cohesion and the Construction of Democratic Traditions: Education systems are rarely neutral in terms of social cohesion and the building of democratic traditions. They can contribute positively through specific strategies such as peace education and general curricular initiatives such as attention to the language of instruction or curricular content. Conversely, they may also contribute negatively, actually increasing social conflict and reversing momentum towards democratic reforms. Unequal access to quality education often reflects a national heritage of social inequality and ethnic or religious divisions.
Financing of education: Eight years after the pledge by world leaders that "no country seriously committed to Education for All will be thwarted in its achievement of universal primary education due to a lack of resources," Official Development Aid for education has increased only modestly. Current levels of external funding commitments are low, and not sufficiently predictable to enable low income countries make to medium to long-term plans that will sustain the development of their primary education systems. If the goal of universal primary completion is to be achieved by 2015, low income countries would need at least US $3.7 billion a year of support.
Global competitiveness: Political and macroeconomic factors being equal, what seems to distinguish the well performing countries from the less successful ones is their total factor productivity, which is driven largely by the quality of their human capital and their capacity to obtain, apply and generate knowledge. In the successful countries, skills, technology, education and the economy interact in important ways to create a virtuous cycle of productivity each feeding on the other. Today, there are tremendous disparities in tertiary education enrollment between developed and developing countries even despite the recognized impact of tertiary education on national productivity, competitiveness, and economic growth. Tertiary enrollment is 93.2 percent in Finland, 17.0 percent in Indonesia, 10.2 percent in Nigeria, and 1.5 percent in Mozambique.
Threats to education systems: Armed conflict and HIV/AIDS continue to ravage education systems and to compound existing challenges. Zambia loses about 1,000 teachers to HIV/AIDS each year. About 1/3 of the countries in Africa are engaged in some form of civil conflict. Poor health and malnutrition prevent children from attending school and from learning while in school. Education needs a growing economy to provide the necessary revenues and to create jobs. Likewise, a growing economy needs education to provide a skilled labor force and scientific and technological leadership.