1818 H St NW Washington DC 20433

This page in:

Education Overview

Education is a powerful driver of development and one of the strongest instruments for reducing poverty and improving health, gender equality, peace, and stability. Although there has been great progress in the last decade—many more children attend schools and girls’ education has markedly improved—57 million children are still out of school. Even when children complete school, they often do so without acquiring basic skills necessary for work and life. This is particularly detrimental when unemployment is high and labor markets are demanding more skilled and agile workforces than ever before.

Last Updated: Mar 25, 2014

Today, amid a growing urgency prompted by widespread joblessness on the one hand and serious skills shortages on the other, the World Bank is more committed than ever to expanding opportunities for children and youth and nations alike, through education. In fiscal year 2013, the World Bank’s new support for education totaled US$2.9 billion, up sharply from US$1.8 billion in 2011 and boosted by increased support for basic education.

The World Bank is one of the largest external education financiers for developing countries, managing a portfolio of US$9.5 billion, with operations in 72 countries as of February 2014. The World Bank supports education through an average of US$2.6 billion a year in new financing for the poorest countries as well as for middle-income countries. The World Bank helps countries achieve their education goals through finance and knowledge services in the forms of analytic work, policy advice, and technical assistance. This support includes working with countries to help identify the role and contribution of education to their overall development and poverty reduction strategies. This means understanding countries’ individual priorities, needs, and constraints, and collaborating with governments, donors and development partners to design programs in response to countries’ respective needs. 

In 2011, the World Bank launched its Education Sector Strategy 2020, “Learning for All.” The strategy recognizes that the knowledge and skills that children and youth gain through learning help lift them out of poverty and drive development. The strategy encourages countries to “invest early” because foundational skills acquired early help lifelong learning, “invest smartly” in efforts proven to improve learning, and “invest for all” children and youth, not just the most privileged or gifted.

To achieve learning for all, the World Bank is promoting reforms of education systems and is helping to build a robust evidence base to guide these reforms. In over 100 countries, the World Bank is using a systems approach to achieve better education results, with support from analytical tools developed under the Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) initiative. SABER is a global knowledge platform that is helping countries assess their education policies and identify actionable priorities to help education systems achieve learning for all. Policy areas covered by SABER include early child development, student assessment, teachers, and workforce development, to name a few.

Better evidence and knowledge are the levers that make effective reform possible. The World Bank conducts and supports rigorous impact evaluations to generate stronger evidence about what works in education under different conditions. In Africa, for example, the Service Delivery Indicator (SDI) surveys track performance and quality of service delivery in education and health across countries and over time. At a global level, the EdStats website features more than 2,500 internationally comparable education indicators on access, completion, learning outcomes, expenditures, and more.

From getting children off to the right start with effective Early Childhood Development (ECD) programs through facilitating labor mobility and job matching, it is imperative that education systems provide students at all levels with the skills necessary to promote productivity and growth. The Labor Market Returns to Early Childhood Stimulation in Jamaica report concentrates on the critical need to invest early in order to ensure good outcomes later in life. Several recent initiatives focus on increasing labor market productivity and examine how education can play a role in addressing the skills mismatch present in many countries around the world, such as the new Skills Toward Employment and Productivity (STEP) skills measurement survey, which is shedding light on skills gaps and mismatches by generating new, internationally comparable data on adult workers’ skills, and several regional skills reports, including Developing Skills for Innovative Growth in the Russian Federation and the Vietnam Development Report 2014.

The World Bank collaborates with United Nations (UN) agencies and development partners to support countries’ education goals, including progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Most recently, the World Bank joined the UN Secretary-General as a member of the Global Education First Initiative to help put every child in school, improve the quality of learning, and foster global citizenship. As an important contribution to this initiative, the World Bank has convened and co-hosted several Learning for All events, in April, September, and October 2013 that brought together global development leaders and other partners with ministers of education and finance for a discussion that focused on accelerating progress toward ensuring that all children can go to school and learn.

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) has been a critical partner in basic education since 2002, when the World Bank was instrumental in creating this multi-donor partnership. Efforts to better coordinate financing for education from GPE and the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries, are underway.

The World Bank partners with a number of bilateral donors as well, including Russia, through the Russia Education Aid for Development (READ) trust fund, which supports activities to strengthen student assessment systems. Several other trust funds support the World Bank’s operational and knowledge work in education, reflecting collaboration with Australia, the European Commission, Ireland, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Japan, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The World Bank is also working with new partners including Teach for All, the Arab World Initiative, the Early Childhood Consultative Group, the Building Evidence in Education (BE²) Group, and the Global Compact on Learning Donor Network to help these learning-focused programs have a global impact.

Last Updated: Mar 25, 2014

World Bank assistance has contributed to global achievements in education:

  • Between 1999 and 2011, the total number of out-of-school children worldwide declined from 108 million to 57 million; South Asia lowered its total of out-of-school children by more than two thirds.
  • Between 1999 and 2011, the global primary completion rate increased from 81% to 91%; Sub-Saharan Africa increased its primary completion rate from 53% to 69%.
  • All regions increased pre-primary enrollments during 1999-2011; South Asia more than doubled pre-primary enrollment from 22% to 50% during the same period.
  • The World Bank’s SABER analytical tools are being used in over 100 countries and are informing investments in education at all levels. 

IDA support to countries has contributed the following country-level results:

  • In Indonesia, more than 500,000 children aged 0-6 in poor, hard-to-reach districts are receiving early childhood education.
  • In Haiti, 1,000 adolescent girls will receive training in non-technical and soft-skills to facilitate their school-to-work transition and improve their employment and earnings potential.
  • In Afghanistan, girls’ enrollment increased to 2.7 million in 2012 from less than 200,000 in 2002, and boys’ attendance increased to about 4.4 million from less than a million.
  • In Nigeria, over 6,400 teachers across the states were trained through a professional development program.
  • In Djibouti, over 100 new classrooms in both urban and rural areas increased access to primary education for more than 7,000 children, including 3,300 girls.
  • In Mexico, support to tertiary education has increased the share of poor students enrolled in tertiary education from 6% in 2005 to 21% in 2011. And the share of indigenous students in tertiary education increased from 5% to 13% in the same period.
  • In Bangladesh, between 2004 and 2012, “second chance” primary education was provided for more than 790,000 out of school children (more than half of them girls) from the 90 poorest sub-districts of the country.
  • In Timor-L’Este, more children are completing primary school with completion rates increasing from 73% in 2009 to over 83% in 2012. 

Last Updated: Mar 25, 2014

Around The Bank Group

Find out what the Bank Group's branches are doing on this education.