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Nine takeaways from the 2015 Trends in International Math and Science Study Results

Marguerite Clarke's picture
The highest performing countries are paying extra attention to the quality of their teachers. (Photo: Dominic Chavez / World Bank)

The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) released the results of its latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) yesterday, November 29. TIMSS 2015 assessed more than 600,000 students in grades four, eight, and the final year of secondary school across 60 education systems.

How to use evidence to improve student learning

David Evans's picture
Access to education is improving but so must the quality of learning. (Arne Hoel/World Bank)

See if you can spot the pattern:
  • “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.

Six ways to turn education spending into investments with high returns

Harry A. Patrinos's picture
Education is an investment: every year of schooling raises earnings by ten percent. Photo: Maxim Zolotukhin / World Bank

Last month, I joined a group of former education ministers and experts for a consultation on the key challenges facing ministries of education and how to formulate an appropriate curriculum.

¿Los maestros excelentes nacen o se hacen?

Claudia Costin's picture
Also available in: English | Français


¿Tuviste un maestro favorito en la escuela? ¿Qué hizo a ese maestro tan especial? Los docentes son el recurso más importante que tenemos que garantizar que los niños aprendan. Pero la realidad es que muchos niños en el mundo no reciben una educación de calidad. 

On naît enseignant(e) ou on le devient ?

Claudia Costin's picture
Also available in: English | Español


Vous souvenez-vous d’avoir eu, élève, un(e) enseignant(e) préféré(e) ? Sauriez-vous dire pourquoi cette personne vous a marqué(e) plutôt qu’une autre ?  Parmi toutes les ressources dont dispose l'élève pour avancer dans son apprentissage, l'enseignant est sans nul doute la plus déterminante. Or, on constate malheureusement que beaucoup d’élèves à travers le monde n’ont pas la chance d’accéder à une éducation de qualité.

Are Great Teachers Born or Made?

Claudia Costin's picture
Also available in: Français | Español



Did you have a favorite teacher at school? What made that teacher so special? Teachers are the single most important resource we have to ensure that children learn. But the reality is that many kids across the world don’t get a good quality education.

Empowering Parents to Improve Schooling: Powerful Evidence from Rural Mexico

Harry A. Patrinos's picture

In a bid to provide quality education for all, several programs to increase accountability in schools have been piloted. So far the evidence is sparse. Recent evaluations suggest that even in rural settings, school autonomy and accountability can help improve learning outcomes. This is further supported by a series of evaluations of programs that attempt to alter the power balance between consumers (parents) and providers of schooling services. Recent studies show that autonomy and accountability can improve education outcomes.

Should developing countries shift from focusing on improving schools to improving parents?

Emiliana Vegas's picture

I travel to many developing countries in the context of my work for The World Bank. I visit schools that receive financial support and technical assistance from the Bank to improve the learning experiences and outcomes of students. Each time, I ask teachers in these schools what they think would make the biggest difference in the learning outcomes of their students. The most common answer is “better parents.” I often wonder if this response is, in some conscious or unconscious way, an excuse to help teachers explain the poor outcomes of their students (especially those from the poorest households) and their low expectations of what their students can achieve. However, both common sense and solid research indicate that parents matter.

Are Alternative Pathways into Teaching Bad for Students?

Emiliana Vegas's picture

In the vast majority of education systems, there is a well-defined path to become a teacher. In most cases, this path begins early on in an individual’s career choices. At the time of graduation from high school or entrance into higher education, individuals enter initial teacher training programs. When the profession is attractive (based on not just salary but also working conditions and career opportunities), competition into these programs can be very intense, such as in Finland, Korea and Singapore.  In these cases, systems can be selective in who they admit into teaching, and new teachers are among the brightest, best educated, hardest working, and most motivated workers in society.

But the profession is very attractive in only a few countries. In most other nations, the number of teacher applicants does not exceed the number of teacher positions by much, and when it does (as in India), selection processes to assign the teacher positions are seldom set up to choose the very best. As a result, in many countries around the world, the best and the brightest are entering professions other than teaching. This is troubling because a substantial body of research convincingly shows that teacher quality is the most important school-based predictor of student learning. Indeed, several consecutive years of outstanding teaching can even offset the learning gaps between advantaged (socio-economically, racially or ethnically, by gender) and disadvantaged students. 

Working Together, Governments and Unions of Top-Performing Countries Show that it is Possible to Improve the Teaching Profession

Emiliana Vegas's picture

Last week, I traveled to New York City to attend the first International Summit on the Teaching Profession hosted by the US Department of Education, the OECD, and Education International, a global teachers union.  Of the 16 countries represented, all were top-performers in the international PISA tests, or rapid improvers, such as Poland and Brazil.  U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the meeting to learn from what other countries are doing to improve teaching and learning, a sign that not only is this task complex and challenging, but that it is critical to countries at all levels of development.

So how do these top-performers and rapid-improvers manage their teaching forces to achieve high learning outcomes? The goal of the Summit was to have frank and open discussions about what works. Each country’s delegation included both government and teacher representatives, thus recognizing from the start the need for collaboration in the design and implementation of teacher policy reforms.

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