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The Six A’s of Quality Education

Harry A. Patrinos's picture

Over the past several decades, developing countries have made remarkable progress in achieving quantitative education targets. Since the turn of the millennium, almost 50 million children around the world have gained access to basic education – and most are reaching completion. But as recent PISA data shows, this is not typically the case for qualitative improvements in education. A persistent learning gap remains for an estimated 250 million children who are unable to read and do math, even after spending three or more years in the classroom.

Education systems reforms are needed in many countries to turn the tide. In a recent article, we propose the following as six necessary components (referred to as the 6A’s) to achieve such reforms:

  1.  Assessment. Benchmarks and benchmark-based assessments are the cornerstone of education planning and reform aiming to improve quality. Countries that are unable to determine where their education system stands currently will find it difficult to make improvements or to reach their goals. One example of success in this area can be found in Jordan, where use of international tests for benchmarking and the use of feedback loops led to impressive gains.  
  2. Autonomy. Empowering schools will determine quality improvements. This includes giving them ownership, resources, and voice while enhancing school competitiveness. Across Australia, Canada, Finland, Japan and Korea – the five OECD countries with both an above-average student performance in science and a below-average impact of socio-economic background on student performance – 80% of 15-year-olds are in schools which report competing with one or more other schools in the area for students. Students in districts with 85% of schools competing with other schools tend to perform better. Autonomy’s potential for transforming education systems depends on whether increased autonomy is accompanied by enhanced accountability mechanisms.
  3.  Accountability. As mentioned, autonomy and accountability are closely related. Accountability increases time on task and academic achievement. As decision-making power is redistributed, local authorities, school principals, teachers, and students are given new responsibilities for resource deployment and school activities. In an autonomy-based structure, school principals are held accountable to municipal authorities for (efficient) use of financial resources. Likewise, school principals are held accountable to both parents and local authorities for improving the learning environment and outcomes.

    An accountability-based system usually entails a shift of decision-making authority from the government to the community, which is represented by school governing boards and integrated by teachers, parents, and community members.

    In the United Kingdom in 1988, the government gave public secondary schools the option of removing local education authority control and becoming autonomous grant-maintained (GM) schools. GM schools were funded by a new agency but were owned and managed by the school governing body, a new 10-15 member entity composed of the head teacher, as well as teacher and parent representatives. Research finds large achievement gains at schools that voted for GM.
  4. Attention to teachers. Studies across the world show that a good teacher–one that adds value to the learning process– can be effective in helping students to improve their learning outcomes. The top-performing school systems recruit their teachers from the top third of each graduate cohort: top 5% in South Korea, top 10% in Finland, and top 30% in Singapore and Hong Kong SAR, China. This screening helps to ensure that teachers possess the skills and knowledge necessary to be effective educators. Additionally, in-service training helps teachers to maintain those skills. 
  5. Attention to early childhood development. Early childhood development (ECD) may be the most cost-effective educational investment. Empirical evidence demonstrates that quality ECD interventions increase educational success and adult productivity, and decrease public expenditures later on. A study in Jamaica found that children in a treatment group, whose mothers were taught ways in which to promote cognitive, physical, and emotional development during their child’s early years, earned on average 42% more as young adults than children in the control group who did not receive these benefits.
  6. Attention to culture. Culture is important and often neglected. The use of the mother tongue as the language of instruction is one cultural area frequently disputed in many countries. For some, the topic has political overtones, for others it can be associated with religious values, and still for others costs are used as an excuse for opposition. In many countries, a significant number of students do not speak the national language in the home, which has practical implications for education. We, and others, have found that schools using mother tongues as the language of instruction have higher attendance and promotion rates, and lower repetition and dropout rates. This trend has specifically been noted in the case of indigenous peoples in Guatemala. Students also better learn their national language by the end of basic education if they first become literate in their mother tongue.
Successful education system reform requires a combination of institutional factors and structural quality elements. In order to improve the quality of education, countries must enable a benchmarking system to determine current learning levels and future learning aims; provide schools and communities with ownership of their systems; and set up mechanisms to ensure and monitor various responsibilities, all while supporting teacher quality, promoting the importance of ECD, and being mindful of context and culture. Policymakers must consider each aspect of the education system in defining an appropriate reform that will provide an inclusive and holistic approach to improving education outcomes.

Follow the World Bank education team on Twitter: @WBG_Education


Submitted by Harry on

Thank you

Submitted by Jalal on

I read six A`s in education like 6 Ps important in Business

It is really comprehensive and concrete for education section


Submitted by Harry on

Thank you

A great and direct piece of information. Hats off to the author for gathering so specific and spot on information.
the applause in the comments do the justice. Great piece of information.

Submitted by Harry on

Thank you

We appreciate all that points put forward for quality education. Though native language is still under rated at top schools, students understand things better and clear in their mother tongue and this fact remains hidden and uncared.

Submitted by Gustavo Arcia on

Excellent summary of the key variables affecting education quality. I downloaded the original paper using the link in the second paragraph; I found it very interesting, especially in the presentation of a new path to education quality. I wish, however, that in the area of assessments the authors had discussed in more detail the use of Early Grade Reading Assessment and Early Grade Math Assessment, which have proven to be extremely effective in promoting the acquisition of basic skills by students in grades 1-3. Paying too much attention to PISA or TIMSS may be too late for many countries where the main problem lies in the early grades. I also would like to recommend paying attention to school leadership, especially the managerial and leadership role of principals. However, these two issues can be easily incorporated into the conceptual framework developed by the authors.

Submitted by Harry Patrinos on

Valid comment. In fact, in our graduate seminars at several universities world-wide (USA, China and Japan), we are including Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) as an important topic. We agree that it is a critical instrument to improve the monitoring of quality of education and eventually accountability in the system. Thank you.

Submitted by Sigamoney on

I think this is a very useful article of offers rich insights into what could be done. Of course the ingredients for success in any education system particularly in developing countries include Assessment, Autonomy (often underestimated), accountability, teachers, Early Childhood Education (ECD) as well as culture. We found in South Africa that accountability, attention to teachers and assessment as yielded positive outcomes in the system. The investment in ECD has been well documented and there is enough evidence to suggest that in disadvantaged contexts school must compensate for poverty. The challenge that faces many developing countries is poverty. Compensatory programmes that increases vocabulary and bridges the class divide is pivotal for the succcess of the education system. If there is no catch up in the formative years of schooling the gulf widens in the intermediate and senior phases of schooling. Research suggests that if a child does not learn to read by the age of 8 they will most likely drop out of schooling. There is no point in spending substantial amounts of money in developing education systems if the issues concerning developmental lags are not addressed in the early years. Most children in a developing country come out of homes where there is a limited or no print culture. These children are not read to sufficiently and traditionally education has had very little value in working class homes since many of the adults have not benefitted from education systems. At a global level we have to focus on they young children that enter schools. Irrespective of the sopthisticated mechanisms that are put into place at a secondary level, little progress will be achieved if oral language developing, reading programmes and self esteem issues are not fast tracked through sound developmental programmes. As an individual who grew up in tough neighourhoods I had to fast track my reading programme, self development programme and a number of other areas to advance. The education discourse that I was exposed to me taught me the value of education from secondary school since I wanted to succeed despite the odds. Unfortunately this is not the case for many children who become victims of class.

Submitted by Harry on

Dear Sigamoney, Thank you for the comments. You are correct to point out that it is imperative indeed to focus on gaps early on and that early reading is a key outcome. Best regards, Harry

While I personally agree the six A's are important, I wonder whether we should think about them as all necessary or more of a menu countries can pick from. In other words, can a country achieve sufficient improvements by prioritizing 2 or 3 A's or is that not possible?

Submitted by Harry on

Ariel, that's a good question. While we believe that all 6 are important, there are different ways to achieve excellent performance and different countries may have different paths. That remains a task for future research. But no system will improve without adequate attention to information -- Assessment. After all, you can't get to where you want to be if you don't know where you are.
Thank you,

Submitted by HMoundiba on

I read these 6 A's with a great interest and I would like to make a little comment on the #4 and #6, which seem to be the key elements for me in education. The key actors are the learners and the teachers. Obviously the latter need quality training to acquire to meet the requirements of good teaching. But once recruited as the best, how many are continually getting trained to update their knowledge? We must bear in mind that our world is undergoing dramatic speed changes with the progress of technologies.So there is a need for adaptation, hence teachers should be trained to follow this trend and feel at ease in their profession of educators.
The other important actor I want to refer to is the learner. The kids who are massively enrolled to comply with the World Bank educational policy in developing countries for example. How effectively can they learn and progress if they are 100 or more (in the worse cases) in the same class with just one or two instructors? When most of them do not speak the teaching language that they have to learn during the 5 first years of school. We can help them learn maybe better if we refer to their first language or their communicative language. Learning make more sense to them because they will feel being part of the process. The experience of Guatemala could be a best practice to extend to other countries sharing the same contextual realities.

Submitted by Harry on

Thank you. Teacher policy is important and we need to continuously support teachers to adapt, stay fresh, and keep focused.

Submitted by shubhangi on

Studies across the world shows that a good teacher can add value to the learning process which can be effective in helping students to improve their learning outcomes and skills

Submitted by Zar Khan Saren - Afghanistan on

These are very important information for the organization and teachers to follow during thier teaching , thanks for sharing with us. We got enough information and we will practically get benefit from your information

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