Social services

Background

Learning to Realize Education’s Promise: World Development Report 2018

18 April 2017 | Minutes

Chair:
Varun Gauri, Co-Director, World Development Report 2015 (Mind, Behavior and Society), World Bank Group

Presentation:
Halsey Rogers, Co-Director, World Development Report 2018 (Education), World Bank Group

Panellists:
Katie Malouf Bous, Policy Advisor Oxfam International
Linda Hiebert, Senior Director – Education and Life Skills Development, World Vision International
Karen Mundy, Chief Technical Officer, Global Partnership for Education
Linda Odour Noah, Research Consultant, East African Centre for Human Rights

Presentation
The 2018 World Development Report, “Realizing the Promise for Education for Development”, is an opportunity to take stock of what we know and to provide guidance on expanding the scope and quality of education. Please find the WDR 18 Concept Note here. The WDR 18 will have four main themes:

  1. Promise of Education
    Education is a powerful instrument for eradicating poverty and promoting shared prosperity, but fulfilling its potential requires better policies and delivery — both within and outside the education system. Widespread quality education promotes both of the twin development goals targeted by the World Bank: eliminating poverty and promoting shared prosperity.Giving someone an education is the surest way to extricate him or her from poverty: one of the most robust results in microeconomics is that schooling typically leads to an earnings gain of some 6 to 12 percent for each year of education. Education’s benefits extend beyond that into other pecuniary and non-pecuniary benefits, for both individuals and societies. Among other benefits, educated individuals lead healthier lives and are more engaged citizens, and their families end up healthier and better educated—reducing the intergenerational transmission of poverty. At the societal level, education spurs productivity and economic growth, and it also appears to increase social capital and improve the functioning of institutions. Finally, education multiplies the effects of other interventions and policies, such as agricultural extension, provision of health care, or improvements in infrastructure.But as the Report will also emphasize, education is no panacea. The full returns to educating a child take years to materialize, so it isn’t a quick fix. Sometimes the highest-return investment in learning will be outside the education system, for example in nutrition and other ways to prepare children for school. Nor can education do it alone, even when it does produce learning: For example, a poor investment climate or barriers to women’s employment may constrain the returns to education. Moreover, education can yield social “bads” as well as social goods if schooling is delivered in ways that deepen social inequalities, for example by reserving better access or quality for favoured groups. Finally, schooling that does not lead to learning undermines the promise. A public economics lens provides guidance on role and responsibility of government for overseeing, financing, and delivering education, taking into account the many private and social benefits of education, as well as its limitations.
  1. The learning crisis and learning metrics to guide reformDespite gains in access to education, recent assessments of student learning have highlighted that many children and youth are leaving school unequipped with the skills they need for life and work, and often without even the most foundational literacy and numeracy skills. Measuring learning provides a metric to monitor progress. Low-and middle-income countries have made great progress in getting children and youth to enter and stay in school: many countries are approaching universal primary completion, gender gaps have been narrowed and in some cases closed completely, and secondary and tertiary enrolment have surged. But evidence is mounting that students are learning far too little in many countries, relative both to the countries’ own learning standards and to common-sense expectations about what schooling should deliver—as well as to the demands from the labour market. Deficits in learning and skills are especially large among the poorest and other excluded groups, with the result that schooling exacerbates social inequity. The WDR will present this evidence, together with evidence on the proximate causes of the learning crisis—such as poor readiness to learn, shortcomings in teacher preparation, inputs that never reach the classroom, and education and training systems that do not link well to societal or economic needs. The costs of these learning and skills deficits will grow as markets continue to globalize and technology transforms the world of work.The Report will discuss how to design and deploy different metrics (classroom, national, regional, and global) so that they can effectively guide reform—including the technical and political challenges of doing so.
  1. Promising approaches to improve learningRecent developments in brain science and in the evaluation of education innovations have identified interventions that promote learning in certain contexts. These findings cannot be translated directly to other settings, but they help identify areas and principles for context-specific experimentation. Advances in cognitive neuroscience have shed light on cognitive processes and how to stimulate them. Schools and systems around the world are constantly innovating, and evidence on the value of different school-and community-level interventions to improve education and learning has exploded over the past 15 years. The Report will summarize this burgeoning evidence base.To identify which results show most promise, the WDR will focus on
    (1) why interventions work, rather than just whether they work, and
    (2) areas with the greatest potential for improving learning, compared to current practice.

    The team tentatively plans to present these opportunities around four key elements in the “production function” for learning and skills: prepared learners, effective teaching, classroom-focused inputs, and relevant and responsive post-basic education programs.

  1. Learning at scaleReforming systems will require tackling technical complexity and political challenges, and deploying metrics for identifying effective combinations of investments and policies.Systems are complex entities, with many components, and achieving system-level change requires these various components to be coherent with each other and aligned toward student learning. For example, if a new curriculum emphasizes higher-order analytical skills but teacher training and student assessment do not adjust too, students are not going to acquire those skills; or if financing levels and structures are not linked to roles, responsibilities, and accountability for learning, then learning is unlikely to improve. In addition, education systems have multiple social and political objectives beyond access and learning, and multiple actors are involved. Strategies for change that do not take those objectives and actors into account and approach the challenge only from a technical perspective—treating the “production function” as a static engineering problem—are doomed to fail. This is especially true in cases where the system is locked in a low-quality, low-accountability equilibrium. The WDR will describe these technical and political challenges, and it will also present strategies for taking them on. Breaking out of a low-level equilibrium will require:

    (1) Deploying politically salient and actionable information (including learning metrics and indicators of service delivery) on how well the system is delivering
    (2) Building coalitions to support reform
    (3) Experimenting with combinations of investments and policies in an agile way, with feedback loops based on whether these improve the learning metrics.

Linda Odour Noah:
I commend the work of the group so far and am very happy to see education being featured for the first time as the theme of the WDR. However, I would have a few areas for improvement.

First, access to education is not featured enough in the current concept note. Barriers to access to education are not being talked about in this presentation, but issues like high education fees that restrain access are actually some of the biggest issues in education today.

Second, the issue of government financing of education is not sufficiently highlighted in the report. The recognition that sufficient government financing is crucial in providing education to the poorest needs to be included in the report, as the so-called low-fee providers are not helping the poor in any way.

These issues are crucial because we have seen a global decrease in public education budgets in the last years and this has major consequences.

Finally, I just want to bring up the issue of standardised testing. Although the report does recognise some of its controversies, in my own experience I have seen what happens when there is no focus on the learning process and too much focus on measuring results. I understand we need to measure progress but we have to continually ask how it will help children.

Katie Malouf Bous

I also want to congratulate the team for the work done so far and we welcome the fact that this topic will finally be covered by a WDR. Please find our formal response here: We at Oxfam do have four main concerns however:

  1. Unacceptable silence on the importance of increased financing for education.

The WDR should highlight sustainable financing as a key pre-requisite for quality education and learning, and unequivocally call for increased investment in education. The concept note considers the ‘learning crisis’ in isolation and ignores the role of inadequate financing in creating the real quality challenges facing many education systems. The World Bank through the WDR has a unique responsibility to relay this message clearly to governments. The WDR should consider the tools available to governments and donors to increase funding allocations to education.

  1. Insufficient focus on equity

The WDR should devote far greater attention to policies and financing to address equity. The WDR should take a clear position that school fees and other household payments are harmful to equity, including gender equity, and are a barrier to access for poor and marginalized children. There is robust evidence of the exclusionary impact of fees, including on gender equity. In line with the expanded SDG agenda, the WDR should champion school fee abolition, including for secondary education. The WDR should tread cautiously in promoting Results-Based Financing (RBF) approaches.

  1. Silence on the crucial role of public education in achieving the education SDGs.

The WDR should focus explicitly on how to improve the quality and equity of public schools. The WDR should reject for-profit, low-fee private schools. The WDR should use extreme caution in considering the potential of PPPs and school “choice.”

  1. Narrow focus on learning, defined by narrow metrics

The WDR should adopt a broader understanding of learning, based on holistic, quality education. The WDR should look more comprehensively at the causes of the learning crisis. The report must put a professional teacher workforce at the center of its approach to learning. Data and metrics are critically important, but should focus more on tracking equity of service delivery.

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