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Education Year in Review 2012



Brochure (pdf) | Historical Lending | 2012 Publications 
For a hard copy of the brochure and accompanying CD-Rom containing full text access to all World Bank publications and reports produced this past year please contact the Education Advisory Service at

Education and the World Bank

Education is fundamental to development. It contributes strongly to economic growth. It also holds substantial, proven benefits for people—in terms of higher earnings, better health, and greater resilience to shocks.

In 1962, the World Bank provided education finance for the first time—to Tunisia. The milestone signaled the Bank’s commitment, going forward, to helping young learners worldwide acquire the skills needed to prosper.

Today, amid a growing urgency prompted by widespread joblessness on the one hand and serious skills shortages on the other, the Bank is more committed than ever to expanding opportunities for children and youth and nations alike, through education. In many low-income countries, workers are in very low-productivity activities, often self-employed or unpaid. There are also many of working age, particularly women in the Middle East and North Africa, who do not participate in the labor market—representing a loss of human capital. In addition, prolonged unemployment for youth can threaten social stability. In Africa and South Asia, large youth “bulges” could add further pressures on labor markets.

For those managing education and training systems, critical questions arise. What are the skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow? How can a country best prepare its workers for those jobs? Which skills will matter most? How can the existing skills of the workforce be gauged? What is the right entry point for skills development?

Learning for All, the Bank’s education strategy, goes to the heart of the matter. It recognizes that skills development begins early, and that a solid foundation of learning in pre-primary and primary schooling is vital for success in later years. It recognizes that, after a decade of success in getting children into school, attention must shift to the classroom. For many children, time in school has not led to expected learning levels; and the empty diplomas acquired are leaving employees far short of the skills they need to thrive in today’s global markets.

Learning for All recognizes that the benefits of education materialize only when children learn. It commits the Bank to supporting countries’ efforts to “invest early, invest smartly, and invest for all”—and to strengthening education systems in ways that will improve learning and labor market outcomes for all children.

The strategy also places great emphasis on knowledge to inform policy reforms and programs. Evidence of what works, knowledge of good practices, and increasing attention to data and information are key aspects of Bank assistance to improve education outcomes, be it toward better learning in the classroom or greater readiness to participate in dynamic job markets.

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2012 At a Glance

Top Priority: Learning for All
Globally, last year unemployment and other development challenges heightened the urgency of ensuring that all young people have an opportunity to learn and acquire skills relevant to labor markets. The Bank intensified support for Learning for All—helping countries to reach the education MDGs, ensure that children learn, and develop skills relevant for jobs. Basic skills learned in the classroom are the foundation for skills development.

Stepping up financial support
New commitments for education rose to $3 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2012, up sharply from $1.8 billion in 2011 and boosted by increased support for primary and lower secondary education. South Asian countries, home to 21% of the world’s out-of-school children, received the largest amounts. The majority of new projects support activities to improve equal access to education; collect data on student learning; and carry out research to inform policy.

IDA support for basic education in 2012 exceeded 2009 and 2010 highs and brought the Bank more than halfway toward meeting its pledge to help lagging countries advance on the education MDGs. The pledge, made in 2010, was to top up its average annual IDA financing for basic education since the MDGs were announced, with an addition $750 million over five years.

Generating, sharing, and applying knowledge to steer progress
In 2012 major contributions were regional flagship reports on skills for jobs, feeding into the Bank’s 2013 WDR on Jobs; a companion piece to the 2012 WDR, Getting to Equal: Promoting Gender Equality through Human Development; and impact evaluations (in which the education sector leads the Bank) to inform policymaking and better understand what works in improving learning outcomes.

Working smarter: education systems for results
The Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) initiative was applied worldwide in 2012, to help countries strengthen their education systems by providing a framework and analytical tools to assess the institutional structure and policy environment of those systems. For the first time ever, data comparable across countries, on teachers, student assessment, school governance, and other key dimensions of an education system are being collected systematically, helping to set baselines in order for countries to monitor their progress on education reforms.

Collaborating with partners 
The Bank continued to work closely with a range of partners to mobilize resources for education at the country and global level to improve policymaking within countries, and share knowledge widely. The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is a key partner—the only partnership supporting basic education and one in which the Bank plays multiple roles, including Supervising Entity for most GPE-funded projects. Support from bilateral agencies, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Korea and Russia, is helping the Bank expand the global knowledge base on education. 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.


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Reaching the Education MDGs

Several countries have made good progress on the education MDGs. Globally, the average primary completion rate (PCR) reached 90 percent in 2010; the gender parity ratio in primary and secondary education reached 97 percent. But the number of out-of-school children remains high (more than 60 million children), with PCRs still under 80% for many African countries. The Bank is focusing effort on countries with low PCRs and finding opportunities to combine IDA (the Bank’s fund for the poorest countries) and GPE financing. Several measures are bringing countries closer to the goal.

Incentives to expand access for vulnerable children 
Support to Bangladesh, for example, will increase access to primary education for disadvantaged children through targeted stipends. In Sri Lanka, incentives to marginalized students include free textbooks and uniforms, transport subsidies, scholarships and free school meals.

Traditional and innovative efforts to improve access for girls
In Nigeria, more female teachers in rural schools will help lower dropout rates; in addition, an information systems component will help monitor and publish performance on gender targets. In a different approach, progress on rural girls’ enrollment was a trigger for releasing funds to Morocco.

IDA funding for fragile and conflict-affected settings 
Haiti is putting in place tuition waivers in rural schools and grants to communities for community schools, and deploying more teachers to remote areas. Support to Sierra Leone is aiding recovery through school-rebuilding efforts. The Bank is also developing an evidence-based approach to improve education outcomes in fragile contexts; pilots are underway in West Bank, Gaza, South Sudan, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Support for more, and more qualified, teachers
Major assistance to India, the Bank’s largest borrower for education in 2012, will increase enrollment in lower secondary education and help recruit secondary teachers with a focus on math, science and language. In Pakistan, advisory support to teachers in low-achieving schools and better pay for learning gains are expected to enhance teacher performance.

Early child development (ECD) to boost readiness for learning
In Mozambique, the Bank is targeting investments in ECD that can decrease disparities in school readiness in response to an impact evaluation that showed improved performance for children who participated in a community-based program.

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Ensuring Learning for All

Improving learning, for all students, is the Bank’s highest priority in education today. Studies show that many children cannot read a simple sentence after several years of schooling. Our 2020 education strategy has placed a fresh emphasis on investing in ECD, assessing learning, focusing on the classroom, and evaluating projects’ impacts on learning. Key support for this strategy comes from SABER, the Bank’s new knowledge platform promoting Learning for All.

Jump-starting learning through ECD
Bank support for ECD has increased, as more countries seek the large payoffs of ECD for learning and the future well-being of poor children. A project in Mongolia, for example, is supplying learning materials and other equipment to kindergartens that will enroll 4,000 additional children. Brazil’s government has made ECD a key area of focus; efforts to expand coverage will rehabilitate centers, promote multi-sectoral ECD, and train teachers. In Tanzania an extensive mapping of ECD interventions will identify approaches to scale up nationally and help strengthen ECD programs.

Measuring learning
Assessing learning is critical for knowing who is learning, what is being learned, what influences learning, and how to improve it. Country progress on assessment is now recognized in the Bank’s Corporate Scorecard. Most new education operations include support for student assessment. Nicaragua is focusing classroom, national, and regional learning assessments on the poorest communities—who benefit most from improved learning. In Mexico, assessment data will be shared widely and help continuously update the curriculum and teaching.

Focusing on the classroom
Several projects zeroed in on the classroom—where learning happens. An impact evaluation of a school-based teacher bonus program in Brazil found that setting and rewarding specific results can lead to significant learning gains. In Nigeria, intensive teacher training and other measures are already helping boost test scores. Indonesia’s ongoing project is enhancing teacher knowledge of subject matter and pedagogical skills in the classroom.

Evaluating projects to understand what improves learning
Impact evaluations increasingly help break down the factors that drive learning. Recent studies in Liberia showed higher early grade reading outcomes when teachers received intensive training on reading instruction. An evaluation in India found that providing information effectively to parents improved school accountability and learning outcomes.

Transforming assessment systems
For gains in student achievement, systematic—rather than ad hoc—assessment is vital. Several countries* are building strong assessment systems by taking concrete actions informed by SABER-Student Assessment:

  • clearly articulating policy

  • putting in place sustainable institutional
    and funding arrangements

  • building capacity of assessment and
    teaching staff

  • ensuring systematic dissemination and
    use of assessment results to improve

*Angola, Armenia, Ethiopia, Kyrgyz Republic, Mozambique, Tajikistan, Vietnam, Zambia—countries funded by the Russia Education Aid for Development (READ) Trust Fund in collaboration with the World Bank.

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Developing Relevant Skills for Jobs

Skilled workers are more likely to have jobs, earn higher incomes, and are better able to take advantage of economic opportunities. Research shows that the level of skills in the workforce is a better predictor of growth than years of schooling. But skills levels, particularly in poorer countries and among disadvantaged groups, are inadequate, and skills mismatches persist. With widespread concerns about jobs and employability, the Bank worked hard in 2012 to provide knowledge and financing to inform and support skills development efforts.

Generating new research and evidence to inform skills strategies
Flagship reports on skills and labor markets covering each of the Bank’s regions are shedding light on how countries may respond to the shortage of labor market-relevant skills and reform education systems, from pre-primary level through tertiary and including vocational education. Several country-specific reports also focus on skills. A Botswana report envisions new economy skills to support diversification beyond the diamond industry, while Ethiopia’s secondary education review highlights the challenges for education as the country aspires for middle-income country status. In addition, pilot studies under SABER-Workforce Development (WfD) of Chile, Ireland, Korea, Singapore, and Uganda are deepening understanding of what matters in building workforce development systems.

Creating tools to measure skills
Very little information exists on skills, in most countries. An exciting 2012 initiative is the Skills toward Employment and Productivity (STEP) measurement survey which will generate new, internationally comparable data on adult workers’ skills. The survey is being piloted in 8 countries and will shed light on skills gaps and mismatches, covering cognitive and technical skills as well as behavioral and social skills.

Supporting country efforts to expand access to training and improve its relevance
Several projects addressed skills development in 2012. Support to Montenegro is reforming higher education finance and quality assurance. The Bank is also strengthening tertiary education in Chile through improved teacher training and curriculum for technical vocational education, in partnership with the private sector. Such training is also the focus of new assistance to China (Yunnan province) as well as to Mozambique, where the Bank is helping establish standards, train teachers, improve relevance, and reach underserved groups. In Cote d’Ivoire, where armed conflict has just ended and an estimated 60 percent of the 15–35 aged population is unemployed or underemployed, an emergency skills development project is building peace and economic stability by placing youth in paid internships with local companies. Competitiveness and employment are the first of two pillars of the Bank’s Africa Region strategy.

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By the Numbers

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Strengthening Education Systems   

Helping countries reform their education systems to promote learning for all is a central thrust of the Bank’s Education Strategy. The concept is broad, recognizing that it takes multiple actors and reforms to realize progress.

Why Systems?
Because a systems approach focuses on education outcomes, and how inputs contribute best. In other words, results depend not only on having enough classrooms, teachers and textbooks but also on having the policy environment, resources, and accountability mechanisms that can promote—and not obstruct—education results.

What is SABER? 
SABER (Systems Approach for Better Education Results) 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.

How does SABER help countries? 

  • By collecting data on policies and institutions that matter for success (according to evidence) and producing an objective snapshot of how well the system is performing in relation to global good practice (and other countries)
  • By providing metrics to measure and monitor progress
  • By promoting cross-country learning


Education Year in Review: 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008

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