IFI governance


Evaluation of World Bank support for education says enrolment up, learning down

19 July 2006

The Bank’s evaluation unit has released a report giving the Bank passing grades on increasing primary school enrolment and access for the disadvantaged, but failing grades on learning outcomes and educational management. Members of the report’s external advisory panel say the report failed to address teachers, the impact of HIV/AIDS, and the role of IMF macroeconomic constraints.

The evaluation of the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) focused on Bank support for over 700 primary education projects in 12 nations in the period between 1990 and 2005. Total Bank lending for primary education during the period was $14 billion. The start of the period was determined by the Education for All conference held in 1990 in Jomtien, Thailand, where countries committed to meeting basic learning needs of children and adults.

Explosive growth in enrolment…

Where increased enrolment was an objective, the Bank has been very successful. The IEG described growth rates in some countries as “nothing short of explosive”. Eighty per cent of ongoing projects had equity objectives, the main target of which have been girls and the poor, “but rural and indigenous children are also target groups”.

the report should have been unequivocal in calling for abolition of all costs that prevent poor children from going to school

The evaluation is equivocal however in its assessment of some of the more controversial steps taken to address access:

  • On the hiring of contract or ‘para’ teachers, the IEG says more research is needed to show whether it “is cost-effective, equitable and sustainable”.
  • Pilot programmes of conditional cash transfers (payments to poor households provided they enrol their children in school), need to be “carefully evaluated against alternative strategies for achieving educational outcomes”.
  • On the increasing popularity of private schools, the IEG says only that there has been “little information or policy discussion, either within the Bank or in the countries, about the growth and effectiveness of such schools”.
  • External advisor David Archer, head of international education at UK NGO ActionAid, said the report ignored the Bank’s role in education user fees, and “should have been unequivocal in calling for abolition of all costs that prevent poor children from going to school.”

Archer also finds it “shocking” that, despite being in the terms of reference, country reports did not touch on HIV/AIDS: “There is enough ignoring of HIV/AIDS in the education sector already, without the Bank adding to the deafening silence”.

…but are they learning?

The Bank comes in for the heaviest criticism from the IEG for failing to include specific objectives to improve learning outcomes. Only one in five projects had an explicit learning outcomes objective. Among the specific critiques are the failures to: incorporate learning outcomes in Bank lending instruments, such as Poverty Reduction Support Credits; sufficiently support improved reading skills in early grades; and include learning outcomes in teachers’ performance incentives. External advisers said the report did not go far enough in criticising the Bank’s lack of attention to issues of teacher recruitment, training, retention or deployment.

In its response to the evaluation, Bank management conceded that learning outcomes should be prioritised, but argued that the report “does not adequately capture the changing emphasis in the sector”. Management will report annually on the degree to which new programmes measure outcomes, and publish a series of impact evaluations, guidelines and toolkits to promote, measure and report on learning outcomes.

On management of the education sector, the IEG finds objectives “have been overambitious and not sufficiently grounded”. The use of parallel project implementation units has “created animosity between relatively well-paid unit staff and government education officials”. Management capacity building is described as “fragmented and largely ineffective”. Many Bank programmes “failed to pre-assess the strength of political forces against the change agenda”, instead there was “a widespread presumption that decisions are made on the basis of rational planning and technical merits”. Monitoring and evaluation is not outcome or results oriented, and where systems have been established, “rarely have results been used in decision-making”.

On the thorny issue of decentralisation of education management, the IEG has yet to make up its mind, calling for “a more nuanced and evidence-based” position. It describes the existing evidence about the effectiveness of community management as “thin”.

And who will foot the bill?

The IEG recommends that education sector management and the Education for All Fast-Track Initiative (the FTI was agreed in 2002 to accelerate progress towards universal primary school completion by 2015) should have a greater focus on improving learning outcomes. Improving low achievement levels, cautions the IEG, will raise the unit costs of primary education.

The report claims that there does not have to be a trade-off between access and quality. External advisor Archer is not reassured: “When 100 million of the poorest children remain out of school, shifting our focus from access to outcomes would have serious implications for equity.” This will put all the more pressure on donors to ensure increased, predictable aid, and on the IMF to address the impact of macroeconomic constraints on governments’ education spending.