Education: Sector Results Profile

May 6, 2013


Education is fundamental to development and growth. From encouraging higher enrollment, especially for girls and other disadvantaged children, to promoting learning for all, the World Bank Group plays a significant role in education globally. Between 2000 and 2011, the total number of out-of-school children worldwide declined from 102 million to 57 million. Yet, considerable work remains to be done to help ensure that children are able to complete primary school and develop the skills they need for life and work. The World Bank Group is working with partners nationally and globally to achieve these and many other education-related aims.


To improve learning involves reforms and interventions in various parts of an education system.  Key is the need to systematically measure learning and use learning results to improve classroom practices and hold educators accountable.

Major challenges in access to a meaningful education remain for the most disadvantaged populations, and there is a need to increase financing to close these gaps and to improve the quality of service provision through better policies and stronger institutions.

Countries have made important gains on the education MDG targets. Gender parity in primary and secondary enrollment reached nearly 97 percent in 2010 and primary school completion rates reached over 90 percent in 2011. Yet more than 57 million primary school-age children are still out of school. Estimates show that about three quarters of them live in countries afflicted by violence; regionally, more than half of them live in Africa and more than a fifth live in South Asia. Additionally, to varying degrees, educational progress has lagged because of indigenous, low-income, gender, or disability status in nearly all countries.


The World Bank is one of the largest external education financiers for developing countries, managing a portfolio of US$9 billion, with operations in 71 countries as of January 2013. The World Bank helps countries achieve their education goals through finance and knowledge services in the form 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 strategies. It also means understanding countries’ priorities, needs, and constraints, and jointly designing programs in response, while collaborating with other donors.  As part of its long-standing support to countries for education, the Bank unveiled its “Learning for All” education strategy, and introduced the Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER), an important initiative that helps countries assess their education system performance and map ways to improve.

Education Strategy.  In 2011, the World Bank launched the Education Sector Strategy 2020, entitled “Learning for All: Investing in People’s Knowledge and Skills to Promote Development.” The strategy recognizes that learning drives development and encourages countries to invest early (because foundational skills acquired early benefit lifelong learning), smartly (in efforts proven to improve learning), and for all (focusing on all students and ensuring equity).  To achieve learning for all, the Bank is promoting country-level reforms of education systems, and building a global knowledge base to guide reform.

Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER).  SABER helps countries move toward learning for all through tools that assess education system performance and help guide reform. It fills a critical gap in worldwide policy data and knowledge on what matters most in improving education quality. The World Bank is working with partners to develop and deploy SABER diagnostic tools based on data it is collecting regarding countries’ education policies. Countries can use these data to objectively assess performance, compare their education policies against evidence-based global standards and policies of comparator countries, and identify policy and institutional changes needed to improve learning. SABER covers several policy domains including early child development, finance, education management information systems, school autonomy and accountability, student assessment, teachers, tertiary education, and workforce development, to name a few.

Support for Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).The World Bank is one with the development community in supporting the achievement of the MDGs. Our focus on learning outcomes builds upon the progress made during the past decade on the education MDGs in terms of enrolling children in school and improving completion rates. As the 2015 MDG deadline approaches, the international community should redouble its efforts to meet the MDGs, while simultaneously focusing on a results-based approach to education and considering how to pursue this goal of learning for all in a post-2015 world. In September 2012, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim reaffirmed the World Bank's 2010 MDG Summit pledge to commit an additional $750 million in financing for basic education over five years (2011-2015) from the International Development Association (IDA) to help the poorest countries accelerate progress toward the 2015 MDGs for education. The total amount of new IDA commitments for basic education in FY12, $1.5 billion, exceeds past levels, and brings us more than halfway toward fulfilling our pledge. Based on current projections for FY13, we expect to make continued progress toward the pledge.



Bank assistance has helped contribute to the following global achievements in education:

  • Primary school completion rates reached over 90 percent in 2011, up from 82 percent in 2000;
  • Net primary enrollment rose to 89 percent in 2011, up from 83 percent in 2000;
  • Gender parity in primary and secondary enrollment reached nearly 97 percent in 2010;
  • Between 2000 and 2011, the total number of out-of-school children worldwide declined from 102 million to 57 million, 31 million of whom are girls, with the total falling by more than half in South Asia; and
  • All regions of the world increased pre-primary enrollments between 2000 and 2011, with South Asia nearly doubling pre-primary enrollment from 25 percent to 48 percent over the same period.

Support to national education initiatives has contributed the following country results:

  • In Indonesia, 500,000 0- to 6-year olds in poor, hard-to-reach districts are receiving early child education;
  • In Mozambique 84,000 young children in 600 rural communities will benefit from effort to extend early childhood development services through community-based programs that focus on early attention to cognitive, linguistic, socio-emotional, and physical skills aimed at increasing chances of success in primary school and beyond;
  • In Ethiopia, the net primary enrollment rate increased to 88 percent in 2010, up from 69 percent in 2005;
  • In Pakistan’s Sindh province, the female-male primary net enrollment in rural areas rose from 61 percent in 2006/7 to 72 percent as of June 2010, while primary net enrollment increased from 48 percent in 2004/5 to 53 percent as of May 2011;
  • In Sri Lanka, the proportion of students completing basic education increased by 16 percent for boys and 10 percent for girls between 2005 and 2010, and there have been increases in test scores for both boys and girls;
  • In the Philippines, 2 million poor households benefited from a program providing cash to chronically poor households with children, provided that the children were sent to school; and
  • In Jordan, 100,000 at-risk school dropouts were mainstreamed through completion of an Alternative Education Curriculum and obtained 10th grade equivalent certification.


The World Bank contributes to results in low- and middle-income countries through its country-level operations as well as analytic services and technical assistance, funded by IBRD, IDA, and trust funds. It supports education through an average of US$2.6 billion in new financing a year, with more than 50 percent of new commitments made through IDA. In 2012, for example, the Bank invested just over US$3 billion in education, with more than US$1.7 billion supporting the poorest countries though IDA. 

In the 2012 fiscal year, South Asia received the lion’s share of IDA funding for education (US$1.3 billion), while Latin America and the Caribbean, accounted for 75 percent of IBRD’s US$1.3 billion for education. The Bank also produced more than 150 education publications, research papers, and knowledge products in FY12, and was active in generating and sharing new knowledge through impact evaluations, policy papers, and tools, including SABER tools.

Many Bank operations in FY12 focused on equitable access to high-quality education.  Three-quarters of new 2012 projects planned to improve the quality of instruction through training of teachers, professors, and instructors, with 11 countries planning to either reform the curriculum or connect curricula to better meet labor market demand. Additionally, 94 percent of new projects included at least one activity focused on improving equitable access to education with grant, scholarship, loan, and targeted incentive programs proposed in 63 percent of operations.  Incentives to expand access for vulnerable children were evident in countries such as Bangladesh, where Bank support will help increase access to primary education for disadvantaged children through targeted stipends. In Sri Lanka, incentives to marginalized students include free textbooks and uniforms, transport subsidies, scholarships, and free school meals. Additionally, traditional and innovative efforts to improve access for girls are evident in new operations such as the one in Nigeria, where more female teachers in rural schools will help lower dropout rates; in addition, an information systems component will help monitor and publish performance on gender targets.

Analytical work on skills was important in FY12. Flagship reports on skills and labor markets covering each of the World Bank’s regions are shedding light on how countries may respond to the shortage of labor market-relevant skills and reform education systems, from pre-primary level through tertiary and including vocational education. Several country-specific reports this past year focused on skills. A review of secondary education in Ethiopia highlights the challenges for education as the country aspires for middle-income country status.  Additionally, the Bank is creating tools to measure skills as very little information exists on skills, in most countries. An exciting 2012 initiative is the Skills toward Employment and Productivity (STEP) measurement survey which will generate new, internationally comparable data on adult workers’ skills. The survey is being piloted in eight countries and will shed light on skills gaps and mismatches, covering cognitive and technical skills as well as behavioral and social skills.

SABER has begun to influence policy dialogue and the design of Bank operations. To date, SABER has been applied to inform work in one or more policy domains in about hundred countries. In Cambodia, the government is using the SABER-Teachers framework to design a comprehensive teacher policy reform program and in Chile, SABER tools helped benchmark governance arrangements in top-performing education systems and inform education legal reforms. In Nigeria, a state-level project used SABER tools across four policy domains, including student assessment and teachers.


The World Bank collaborates with United Nations (UN) agencies and development partners to support countries’ education goals, including progress toward the MDGs. Most recently, the Bank has 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 Bank is co-hosting the Learning for All Ministerial which will focus on concrete steps to help accelerate progress toward ensuring that all children can go to school and learn.  Additionally, the Bank has been a critical partner in basic education since 2002 through the Global Partnership for Education (formerly the Education for All-Fast Track Initiative). The Bank was instrumental in creating this multi-donor partnership, which involves over 30 bilateral and multilateral partners, and in its funding since inception. 

The Bank also partners with many bilateral donors, including Russia. The Russia Education Aid for Development trust fund supports SABER-Assessment as well as learning assessment in eight countries. The World Bank also collaborates on operations or knowledge work through trust funds backed by Australia, the European Commission, Ireland, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Japan, Spain, and the United Kingdom.



Bank education assistance to low- and middle-income countries will continue to focus on learning for all, skills development, and the transition from schooling to jobs. The Bank will also continue moving toward increasing IDA assistance for education and meeting its US$750 million commitment, ultimately supporting innovative interventions that reach the most underserved populations.


An evaluation of a teacher incentives pilot within the Kyrgyz Republic Rural Education Project has helped to better understand project impact. The pilot aimed to increase teacher motivation, improve teaching practices, and ultimately boost student learning achievement by providing monetary incentives to teachers for improved performance. The evaluation has shown that the pilot improved teachers’ motivation and skills and that teachers used what they had learned to improve their teaching. Principals rated the program positively for increasing teacher motivation and improving school quality. Teachers found the program effective for motivating them to change teaching practices, take professional development courses, continue to work as teachers, and refine their skills to improve student learning.

57 million
Between 2000 and 2011, the total number of out-of-school children worldwide declined from 102 million to 57 million.