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World Bank Education Financing Hits Record High as Consultations for New 10-Year Strategy Get Underway

March 15, 2010

Next week, the World Bank’s Board is scheduled to consider two new education projects for India that could mobilize US$1.05 billion in zero-interest lending to boost children’s elementary school enrollments, and strengthen engineering education institutions across the country.

The new operations will mark the Bank’s largest investment in education since 1962, when it first started investing in the sector with a US$5 million loan to Tunisia to build a few schools.

Although India has made significant progress in meeting its education goals, especially at the primary level, its enrollment rates in higher education stand at 11 percent. This has led to a severe skills shortage, especially in the information technology, infrastructure, power, and water sectors.

The Bank has supported India’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) program, which aims to provide quality elementary education to all children, with two International Development Association credits totaling US1.1 billion since 2003. SSA, now the largest ongoing Education for All program in the world, has been remarkably successful, particularly in achieving greater access to elementary education: Between 2003 and 2009 the number of out of school children declined from 25 million to 8.1 million.

At current projections, Bank financing for education in the latest financial year is on track to reach approximately US$4.4 billion, which would represent another high-water mark for the institution. US$2 billion will be in zero-interest concessional lending to the world’s poorest countries in Africa, South Asia, and other regions; the remaining US$2.4 billion will be to middle-income client countries worldwide.

While managing its expanding portfolio, the Bank has also been asking its client countries and partners about where they want their education programs to be in 10 years, and how to get there starting in 2010. The Bank’s education sector has embarked on regional and country consultations to canvas the views of clients and stakeholders alike to authoritatively shape the Bank’s new Education Sector Strategy 2020.

As many countries inch closer to an eventual recovery from the world’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the Bank believes that there is no better time to plan for the next decade—and invest significantly in education.

"A country’s winning development prospects depend on the skills and creativity of its citizens and workers, the wisdom and humanity of its leaders, and the ability of its parents to raise healthy, educated, and happy children," says Elizabeth (Beth) King, the Bank’s Director of Education. "Investing in education is the best way to achieve these prospects."

With the 2015 Millennium Development Goals just five years away, and their promise of transforming people’s human and economic well-being still hanging in the balance, the Bank believes that education lies at the heart of reducing poverty and helping countries master the acquisition of cutting-edge knowledge and innovation that will underwrite the potential for broad-based, long-term growth for all.

The new education strategy, which will offer the Bank’s education vision for the next decade, builds on lessons learned from implementing its previous education strategies. It will chart progress toward the education MDGs, including the sharp increase in primary education completion rates and the growing demand for relevant secondary and tertiary education, while describing the challenge of helping secure learning opportunities for the most disadvantaged children and workforce competencies for youth, including those living in post-conflict and fragile-country settings.

New development evidence suggests that regional education plans, a hallmark of earlier strategies, may need to make way for strategies that are differentiated for categories of countries at different stages of development, facilitating a smoother path to country-specific plans.

King and her team are meeting with hundreds of education advocates—including governments, academics, civil society organizations, and donors—to take stock of current trends, discuss and debate future challenges, build consensus on strategic directions, develop a framework with indicators of success, and identify gaps in analytical work and investments. Additionally, the strategy team will review how best to realize the strategy within the Bank.

The globe-trotting team will meet with stakeholders in two dozen cities before finalizing the strategy in November 2010. This series of education consultations will explore key issues facing the education sector, such as:

How should investment be prioritized to have maximum impact?

How do we make sure that every schoolchild is learning?

What should be happening before, after, and outside of the classroom to support young people’s learning and development?

"A new World Bank education strategy will capture the current and emerging state of education," King said, "and position us for the next decade."

By Melanie Mayhew, HDN