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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.

Challenging conventional wisdom about girl’s schooling

Tricia Koroknay-Palicz's picture

There are many stories about why children fail to enter, attend, or complete schooling, in places like Liberia. As a researcher with the Africa Gender Innovation Lab, I had the opportunity to examine this issue through an impact evaluation of the International Rescue Committee’s Sisters of Success (SOS) program, in Monrovia Liberia.

Our recently released baseline report depicts a different reality than many would expect. Data and findings come from households in Monrovia, Liberia, with 12-15 year old girls who registered for the SOS program.  The extent to which our study results can reasonably represent the results one would expect for other girls in Greater Monrovia depends on how similar girls and households in the study sample are to a representative sample of Greater
Monrovia. Analysis, which can be found in the full report, suggests that they are in fact quite similar.

How we’re fighting conflict and fragility where poverty is deepest

Sri Mulyani Indrawati's picture

View from cave, Mali. © Curt Carnemark/World Bank

For the first time in history, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen below 10%. The world has never been as ambitious about development as it is today. After adopting the Sustainable Development Goals and signing the Paris climate deal at the end of 2015, the global community is now looking into the best and most effective ways of reaching these milestones. In this five-part series I will discuss what the World Bank Group is doing and what we are planning to do in key areas that are critical for ending poverty by 2030:
good governance, gender equality, conflict and fragility, creating jobs, and, finally, preventing and adapting to climate change.
By 2030, more than half of the world’s poorest people will live in very poor countries that are fragile, affected by conflict, or experience high levels of violence
These are places where governments cannot adequately provide even basic services and security, where economic activity is paralyzed and where development is the most difficult.  It is also where poverty is deepest. The problems these countries face don’t respect borders. About half of the world’s 20 million refugees are from poor countries. Many more are displaced within their own country.

Ending poverty means closing the gaps between women and men

Sri Mulyani Indrawati's picture

A woman in a Niger village cooks for her family. Photo © Stephan Gladieu/World Bank

For the first time in history, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen below 10%. The world has never been as ambitious about development as it is today. After adopting the Sustainable Development Goals and signing the Paris climate deal at the end of 2015, the global community is now looking into the best and most effective ways of reaching these milestones. In this five-part series I will discuss what the World Bank Group is doing and what we are planning to do in key areas that are critical for ending poverty by 2030: good governance, gender equality, conflict and fragility, creating jobs, and, finally, preventing and adapting to climate change.

The world is a better place for women and girls in 2016 than even a decade ago. But not for everyone, and definitely not everywhere: This is especially true in the world’s poorest, most fragile countries.
It’s also particularly true regarding women’s economic opportunities. Gender gaps in employment, business, and access to finance hold back not just individuals but whole economies—at a time when we sorely need to boost growth and create new jobs globally.

African countries come together to address gaps in managing digital information for open government

Anne Thurston's picture
While 85 percent of participating OGP countries have digitized their public records, only 16 percent are storing them in secure, professionally managed digital repositories.

On April 22 and April 29, 2016 representatives from Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Sierre Leone, South Africa, and Tanzania came together in a virtual South-South Knowledge exchange hosted by the World Bank in collaboration with the Open Government Partnership to discuss an issue of mounting concern: managing records and information to support open government.  These countries – committed to the goal of open government, and a number with new right to information laws and open data initiatives - were motivated by increasing recognition that their commitments to make information open cannot be fully realized until they increase their capacity to manage records and information, especially the growing amount of information in digital form. 

Why investing in forests is money—and time-- well spent

Tone Skogen's picture
Togo_Andrea Borgarello / World Bank

It is widely acknowledged that reducing emissions from deforestation could bring about one-third of the greenhouse gas emission reductions we need by 2030 to stay on a 2-degrees trajectory. But protecting and managing forests wisely does not only make sense from a climate perspective.  It is also smart for the economy. Forests are key economic resources in tropical countries. Protecting them would increase resilience to climate change, reduce poverty and help preserve invaluable biodiversity.

Here are just a few facts to illustrate why forests are so important. First, forests provide us with ecosystem services like pollination of food crops, water and air filtration, and protection against floods and erosion. Forests are also home for about 1.3 billion people worldwide who depend on forest resources for their livelihood. Locally, forests contribute to the rainfall needed to sustain food production over time. When forests are destroyed, humanity is robbed of these benefits. 

The New Climate Economy report shows us that economic growth and cutting carbon emissions can be mutually reinforcing. We need more innovation and we need more investments in a low carbon direction. This requires some fundamental choices of public policy, and the transformation will not be easy. However, it is possible and indeed the only path to sustained growth and development. If land uses are productive and energy systems are efficient, they will both drive strong economic growth and reduce carbon intensity.

Already, the world's large tropical forest countries are taking action. 

After the Adolescent Girls Initiative: Recommendations for Future Research

Sarah Haddock's picture
The Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) pilots taught us a great deal about how to make skills training more female-friendly and how to improve the quality of skills training broadly. They also highlighted new questions for the next generation of skills training projects to answer.

Five of the eight AGI pilots were able to successfully embed a rigorous impact evaluation design. We also had a centralized research team that ensured standardization of the research objectives and methods as much as possible. You can access the papers from the individual pilots on our website, and you can download useful documents such as our evaluation concept notes, list of core indicators, and survey instrument in our Resource Guide.

Here are some key recommendations for further research:

Unbundle evaluation designs and provide cost-benefit information by project component. AGI evaluations weren’t able to compare the relative impact of technical training versus life skills training or measure the impacts of specific project strategies, such as mentoring or placement assistance. Similarly, we can say very little about disaggregated costs of these components.

Have a cash-only evaluation arm. Youth employment interventions of all kinds are under pressure to demonstrate that their impacts are larger than what could be achieved through giving cash directly. See, for example, this relevant blog post from Chris Blattman. As part of this agenda we also need to understand the differential impacts of cash provision on young men and women.

Determine the optimal composition, intensity, and delivery of different mixes of skills. This is particularly true for life skills training, which tends to be much more heterogeneous across contexts and is far less expensive to implement than technical or business skills. Related questions around the appropriate age to focus on different types of skills and whether training works better in sex-segregated classrooms will aid in designing the next generation of youth employment programs.

Test strategies for job placement. Progress has been made in improving the delivery of skills training and in helping youth start businesses, but much less is known about how to cost-effectively assist youth to find and retain wage jobs. Interventionssome implemented in AGI pilotsthat deserve more testing include:
  • Variations in the length and intensity of job placement support: Most AGI interventions  included three to five months of placement support;
  • Performance-based contracts for the training providers, as used in both the Liberia and Nepal AGI pilots, though these have not been tested rigorously;
  • Wage subsidies, as tested among young female community college graduates in the Jordan AGI, which achieved significant short-term gains but no long-term impact;
  • Partnerships with large firms to create custom training programs.
Find ways to reduce occupational segregation. Few interventions have tackled the issue of occupational segregation head-on. Studies from the World Bank Group Africa Gender Innovation Lab show that lack of information is indeed a constraint that prevents women from crossing over into male-dominated fields, and that having a male mentor seems to help women make this transition. However, the only randomized controlled trial we are aware of, involving an informational intervention in Kenya, was unsuccessful in increasing women’s engagement in male-dominated trades. We need to learn how to break occupational segregation while minimizing women’s exposure to harassment, social isolation, and other risks. One approach to test is the encouragement of women to enter non-traditional trades in groups, as in the Liberia and Rwanda AGIs. Research is also needed on how to induce young women to enter new industries in which no clear gender assignment has yet been made, as in the business process outsourcing industry in India.

Untangle the relationships between young women’s labor and health outcomes. The AGIs in Liberia and Nepal, using a technical and vocational education and training (TVET) model, did not have significant impacts on sexual behaviors or health outcomes, while the Uganda girls' club-based approach dramatically lowered fertility and increased condom use. One distinguishing factor about the Uganda project was that it worked with younger girls, starting at age 14. Another important question to answer is whether there is an optimal age threshold or whether there are other conditions under which skills training projects can affect sexual behaviors.

Why regional integration is so important for resource-driven diversification in Africa

Gözde Isik's picture
Industrial area in Kitwe, Zambia / Photo: Arne Hoel

Natural resources management, particularly in the extractives industry, can make a meaningful contribution to a country’s economic growth when it leads to linkages to the broader economy. To maximize the economic benefits of extractives, the sector needs to broaden its use of non-mining goods and services and policymakers need to ensure that the sectors infrastructure needs are closely aligned with those of the country’s development plans.

In Africa, especially, mining and other companies that handle natural resources traditionally provide their own power, railways, roads, and services to run their operations. This “enclave” approach to infrastructure development is not always aligned with national infrastructure development plans.

In Liberia, mourning the lives lost to Ebola is just beginning

Melanie Mayhew's picture
Liberians visit the grave sites of lost loved ones on Decoration Day at Disco Hill Cemetery,
in Monrovia, Liberia on March 09, 2016. About 3600 suspected Ebola victims are buried
in Disco Hill Cemetery. Photo © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

Tears cascade down her face as she embraces the mound, her cheek pressed to the dirt, a body six feet below. She wails, screams, bends backward and then throws herself back on the grave, again and again. A wreath sheathed in plastic nestles below a simple cross marker with a name and a date: April 24, 2015 -- marking one of the 4,809 lives claimed by Ebola in Liberia.