UPDATE NOTE: The press release has been amended to clarify the scope of the early grade assessments in paragraph 3. A quote by the World Bank Practice Manager for Education in MENA has also been added.
BAGHDAD, May 26, 2022 - The World Bank has approved a new US$10 million project to support Innovations towards Learning in three lagging Iraqi Governorates (Missan, Al-Qadisiya and Muthanna). The project aims to enhance teaching practices of Arabic and Mathematics teachers, and improve literacy and numeracy skills among the most vulnerable primary students in lagging Iraqi governorates.
Human capital development is at the heart of achieving sustainable economic growth. Iraq’s human capital is only 15% of total wealth, one of the lowest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and largely attributable to poor education outcomes. Years of conflict and structural inefficiencies have resulted in an education system that is not adequately conveying foundational skills – the basis for learning and skills development. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school closures have exacerbated challenges faced by the education sector in Iraq
The most recent Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) and Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA) was carried out by USAID in 2012 in 54 primary schools in 6 governorates of Iraq (Anbar, Baghdad, Karbala, Missan, Najaf, and Wasit). A total of 1,153 Grade 2 and 3 students were assessed. These assessments show that by Grade 3, the vast majority of Iraqi students assessed within these governorates had not yet acquired sufficient foundational skills – with 9 out of 10 (or 90%) of Grade 3 students not reading at a pace for comprehension. Moreover, almost one third of Grade 3 students were unable to answer correctly a single question about an age-appropriate text they just read, and 41% of Grade 3 students were unable to answer a single subtraction problem question correctly.
The poor learning outcomes highlight the critical need to focus, as a priority, on the most vulnerable students at the highest risk of being left behind and dropping out of the education system. Student drop-out in primary schools has increased in the recent past, with only half of the poorest students completing it. This new project is geared towards the most vulnerable students to prevent further learning losses among them, and ensure all Iraqi children are learning.
“Boosting learning and productivity of this generation and of future generations in Iraq, and thus securing the economic and social benefits that result from it, requires investments in the foundational skills of the most vulnerable students,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “The new project will help Iraq improve reading and mathematics learning outcomes of more than 300,000 students and improve teaching practices of more than 4,000 Mathematics and Arabic teachers in Iraq’s three poorest governorates.”
The project will be implemented by Iraq’s Ministry of Education in close collaboration with the Ministries of Planning and Finance over a period of two years. The results under this project will inform larger national scale up and reforms needed for improving quality and relevance of education in Iraq. The project will also support the Government of Iraq’s efforts to increase Arabic literacy of students in early grades as well as raise investment in the education sector.
“Regularly measuring learning outcomes of students is the first important step towards improving learning,” said Andreas Blom, World Bank Manager for Education for the Middle East and North Africa. “With funding from this project, the Ministry of Education will build national capacity to assess learning outcomes and, for the first time ever, participate in an international learning assessment, namely the TIMSS assessment in 2023.”
The Innovations towards Learning Project is financed under the Iraq Recovery, Reform, and Reconstruction Fund (I3RF). The I3RF was established in partnership with the Government of Iraq in 2018, and is funded by Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Sweden. It provides a platform for financing and strategic dialogue for development and reconstruction, with a strong focus on targeted reforms and public and private investments in socio-economic recovery.