The Jomtien Declaration in 1990 and the follow-up Framework for Action adopted at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal in April 2000, recognize the quality of education as a crucial component in the broad movement of achieving Education for All. Goal 6 of the Dakar Framework states that all aspects of education quality should be improved “so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills”.
What are learning outcomes?
A learning outcome is the particular knowledge, skill or behavior that a student is expected to exhibit after a period of study. Learning outcomes reflect a nation’s concern with the level of knowledge acquisition among its student population. Measuring learning outcomes provides information on what particular knowledge (cognitive), skill or behavior (affective) students have gained after instruction is completed. They are typically measured by administering assessments at sub-national, national, regional and international levels. Countries decide what the purpose of the assessment is, what population will be assessed, what is to be assessed, how it is to be assessed, and how the measures are to be reported and utilized. Policy makers might decide to focus on a limited amount of domains and grade levels while others will focus on the measurement of student knowledge in a wide range of domains and grade levels.
The Quality of Education, Learning Outcomes and Economic Growth
Education systems across the world are based on the principle that education quality is defined by its contribution to the development of cognitive skills and behavioral traits, attitudes and values that are judged necessary for good citizenship and effective life in the community. Over the last 10 years growth research has been able to demonstrate that the quality of education, has a statistically significant and important positive economic effect and that ignoring the quality of education limits economic growth.
Why focus on learning outcomes?
Researchers can now document that the quality of human resources, as measured by assessment scores, is closely related to individual earnings, productivity and economic growth. This evidence shifts policy makers’ attention increasingly from inputs to outcomes, i.e. what learners should ultimately have learned at the end of a significant educational experience.
While it is important to know how much money is being spent on such issues as teacher education and physical facilities, policy makers recognize that it is equally important to know what children are learning in the classroom: What kind of knowledge, skills and attitudes does the education system develop? How do assessed learning outcomes reflect the stated goals and objectives of national education systems? What factors are associated with student achievement? Do particular sub-groups in the population perform poorly? How well are students being prepared to succeed in an increasingly knowledge-based economy? Policy makers argue that students will need higher levels of knowledge and skills- particularly in the areas of mathematics and science - if they are to participate meaningfully in the world of work.
Ultimately, information on learning outcomes assists countries in making informed decisions about interventions to improve educational quality and help policy makers monitor trends in the nature and quality of student learning over time. National, regional and international assessments allow for the benchmarking of student performance against corresponding standards. In the context of international development assistance, focus on learning outcomes increases stakeholder attention on deliverables and results, and may increase accountability based on performance.
What has the World Bank been doing in this area?
There is broad consensus among the international community that the achievement of the education Millennium Development Goal (MDG) requires improvements in learning outcomes. Thus, the quality of education, as measured in terms of learning outcomes, is a major focus for the institution. As a key partner in the Education for All – Fast Track Initiative (EFA-FTI) the World Bank has increasingly engaged countries in discussions on how to pursue and measure progress based not only on enrollments and inputs, but also on learning outcomes. How countries assess these outcomes and link them with policies, practices, and interventions to improve teaching and learning are growing priorities for the global development community.
The World Bank has also intensified direct support to countries in this area. As a result all primary, secondary, and general education projects approved by the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors in 2007 address education quality and cover student learning assessments.
There has been an increase in research programs and capacity building activities designed to reinforce the efforts of countries and donors to pay more attention to raising learning outcomes. The Bank’s Global Monitoring Report 2007emphasizes the key role of learning outcomes in all education programs, and highlights the importance of measuring and focusing on improving learning outcomes. A key study on Education Quality and Economic Growth demonstrates empirically the causal relationship between cognitive learning outcomes and economic growth. A five-volume tool kit on designing educational assessment systems is being published to help countries with the implementation of sustainable national assessments of student achievement.
The World Bank has been engaged in increasing global attention to assessing learning outcomes and producing evidence on what works to raise learning outcomes in developing countries. Several publications assist developing countries in the design and implementation of effective, large scale education assessment systems. The Latin America and Caribbean Region released a flagship study entitled, Raising Student Learning in Latin America, which documents and disseminates evidence of what has worked to increase learning outcomes of students attending primary and secondary schools in the region. The organization has also been working with some countries wishing to experiment with more accessible low-cost forms of learning outcomes measurement and has helped them implement simple assessments of reading skills and progress in the early years.