"In some parts of the world, students are going to school every day. It's their normal life. But in other parts of the world, we are starving for education... it's like a precious gift. It's like a diamond…"
The voices of children in Time for School: 2003 – 2016, a documentary following five youth over 12 years in India, Brazil, Kenya, Afghanistan, and Benin as they strive to attain a basic education, is clear. The stories of these young people remind us that achieving learning for all is not only a global commitment but also a deeply personal struggle faced by millions of children around the world.
“Although the quantity of schooling has expanded rapidly, quality is often abysmal.” (Kremer et al.)
“Between 1999 and 2009, an extra 52 million children enrolled in primary school…Yet the quality of education in many schools is unacceptably poor.” (Krishnaratne et al.)
“Progress over the last decade in regards to school access and enrollment has been promising.” But “current learning levels for primary as well as secondary school students are extremely low in much of Sub-Saharan Africa” (Conn)
“The most consistent focus of investment has been on increasing primary and secondary school enrollment rates… More recently, however, attention has begun to swing toward the quality of schools and the achievement of students—and here the evidence on outcomes is decidedly more mixed.” (Glewwe et al.)
“Over the past decade, low- and middle-income countries have made considerable progress in increasing the number of children and youth who enroll in school and stay long enough to learn basic skills… Learning in many low- and middle-income countries remains appallingly low.” (Murnane & Ganimian)
Again and again, we hear the refrain: access is improving, but learning lags. Thankfully, an increasing number of studies reveal interventions that work – and those that don’t – to improve learning around the world.
Every year, the World Bank generates a wealth of useful information about education systems across the globe, from project-driven appraisal documents and results stories to country-specific data and news to impact evaluations and everything in between. Through the Smarter Education Systems tool, this information, which can often be overwhelming to navigate and curate, is becoming more easily accessible, digestible, and searchable. The Smarter Education Systems tool demonstrates how the World Bank helps countries ensure "Learning for All" through support to countries on both the financing (loans, grants, and more) and knowledge (research, publications, and more) fronts.
Providing quality early learning to children is one of the most important investments a country can make. Evidence has linked investments in the early years to better outcomes in school, improved work prospects and higher wages in adulthood, and even better health. Inequities in education start in early childhood, with consequences that ripple through later stages in life. We also know that quality counts: poor-quality early learning environments can be unhelpful or even detrimental for a child’s future.
Less well understood, however, is how countries can deliver high-quality early learning services equitably and at scale. How do countries get from a small-scale, well monitored pilot—which is where a lot of our evidence comes from—to a national program, without diluting quality too much or leaving behind the most disadvantaged children? How can countries build a motivated, well-trained workforce that understands and can serve the distinctive developmental needs of children before the primary years? What are effective models to work with private providers?
The Early Learning Partnership (ELP) is embarking on a new research program to generate some answers to these questions. ELP is a multi-donor trust fund at the World Bank which provides analytic and operational support to World Bank teams and client countries who want to invest in early childhood. With support from the UK Department for International Development, we are launching the ELP Systems Research Program, with an initial focus on Ethiopia, Liberia, the Punjab province in Pakistan, and Tanzania.