Education is more than schooling: key messages from the World Bank's latest report

Susy Ndaruhutse

Head of International Development, Susy Ndaruhutse is Education Development Trust's authority on providing technical assistance to low- and middle-income countries and has particular expertise in fragile and conflict-affected states. Here she reflects on the significance of the World Bank's latest report that focuses solely on education.

Education is more than schooling – this is a key message of the World Bank's recently released 2018 World Development Report Learning to realize education's promise. This is the first time since its inaugural report in 1978, that the World Bank has devoted one of its annual development reports to the theme of education. As to be expected from a report produced by a bank, the report takes a strong economic focus looking at education from the perspective of returns on investment which it argues

In line with the wider education and development discourse (see for example the Education Commission's Learning generation report and the World Bank's current education strategy Learning for all: investing in people's knowledge and skills to promote development), the World Bank has been changing its rhetoric in recent years from "education" or "schooling" to "learning" arguing that without learning, children are locked into lives of poverty. come from learning and acquiring skills.

Three main problems

The report outlines three main problems facing the education system globally:

Problem 1: learning outcomes are poor

Although more children are enrolled in and attending school, many children are leaving school without having mastered basic competencies. Early learning deficits are amplified over time and show up in weaknesses in the workplace where employees do not have the requisite skills required by employers

Problem 2: schools are failing learners

The report argues that struggling education systems lack one or more of four key school-level ingredients for learning:

  1. Prepared learners
  2. Effective teaching
  3. Learning-focussed inputs
  4. Skilled management and governance that pulls them all together

Problem 3: education systems are failing schools

Technical complexities (reorienting a system towards learning is hard) and political forces (key stakeholders don't always want to prioritise student learning) are constantly pulling education systems out of alignment with learning.

Three critical actions

Having diagnosed the problems, the report then outlines three critical actions:

Action 1: assess learning with metrics to make it a serious goal

The report stresses that we should use measurement to shine a light on learning arguing that there is too little measurement of learning. It recommends using a range of metrics covering formative and summative assessment (whether through national, regional or international tests; or assessments that are citizen-led, school system led or done through household surveys). While the report recognises that measurement can be hard and take time, it argues that it does not need to detract from broader education objectives; it can support them.

Action 2: act on evidence to make schools work for learning

The report underlines the importance of context and knowing what works while understanding the political and institutional environment in which any intervention is set. It strongly sets out a case for investment in early childhood development and in good nutrition to prepare children and youth for learning. It places teaching and teachers at the heart of effective reform outlining the need for effective pedagogy, targeting teaching to the level of the student, and using both monetary and non-monetary incentives to improve teacher motivation. And it stresses that all other investments (from edtech to school governance and management) should focus on improving teaching and learning.

Action 3: align actors to make the entire system work for learning

The report recommends that technical and political barriers can be addressed by using three broad sets of tools:

  1. Information and metrics
  2. Coalitions and incentives
  3. Innovation and agility

What's new?

So what's new in the key messages of the report? The main thing is the recognition by the World Bank that education reform is both technical and political, as it has traditionally taken a focussed technical approach to education reform. The fact that two of the three main recommendations include specific actions around building change coalitions to ensure reform is more deeply rooted and therefore more likely to be successful, and the recognition that evidence is embedded in a wider political and institutional environment, are to be welcomed. They put a bit more flesh and substance on the World Bank's Education Strategy 2020 which is very technical in focus and then points out, that: