World Bank Support to Education: : A Systems Approach to Achieve Learning for All

April 28, 2014


Education is one of the most important drivers for ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity. The World Bank Group is working with partners around the world to ensure that the 57 million children out of school today are not only able to complete primary school, but are also able to learn and develop the skills needed for life and work.


Despite important gains on the education Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets (gender parity in primary and secondary enrollment reached nearly 97 percent in 2011 and primary school completion rates reached over 90 percent in 2011), well over 50 million primary school-age children are still out of school. Estimates show that about three quarters of those children 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. 

Improving learning outcomes requires strategic reforms and interventions at all levels of the education system. 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.


The Bank is one of the largest external education financiers for developing countries.

Since the MDGs were launched in 2000, the Bank has invested US$31.8 billion in education, including more than US$17.3 billion from the International Development Association (IDA). We help countries achieve their education goals through finance and knowledge services in the form of analytical work, policy advice, and technical assistance.

Education Strategy. The Bank Education Sector Strategy 2020, titled “Learning for All: Investing in People’s Knowledge and Skills to Promote Development,” responds to the challenges facing children of the 21st century by emphasizing the need to invest early, smartly, and for all. We encourage countries to jump-start learning through Early Childhood Development (ECD) programs, create a robust learning environment that measures learning and improves accountability, and build skills for a productive workforce.

Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER). SABER tools assist countries to conduct a thorough inventory of their education policies and institutions based on global best practices. SABER analyzes the quality of these policies and institutions and provides stakeholders with a tool for effective policy dialogue. It fills a critical gap in worldwide policy data and knowledge on what matters most in improving the quality of education.

Support for Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In September 2012, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim reaffirmed the Bank's 2010 MDG Summit pledge to commit an additional US$750 million in financing for basic education over five years (2011-2015) from IDA to help the poorest countries accelerate progress toward the 2015 MDGs for education. As of April 1, 2014, the Bank has provided an additional US$939 million in IDA support for basic education, exceeding its pledge by 25 percent ahead of schedule.


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

  • Global primary school completion rates reached 91 percent in 2011, up from 81 percent in 1999.
  • Net primary enrollment rose to 89 percent in 2011, up from 82 percent in 1999.
  • Gender parity in primary and secondary enrollment reached nearly 97 percent in 2011.
  • Between 1999 and 2011, the total number of out-of-school children worldwide declined from 108 million to 57 million, 31 million of whom are girls, with the total falling by more than two thirds in South Asia.
  • All regions of the world increased pre-primary enrollments between 1999 and 2011, with South Asia more than doubling pre-primary enrollment from 22 percent to 50 percent over the same period. 
  • Support to national education initiatives has contributed the following country results:
  • In Indonesia, more than 500,000 children aged 0-6 in poor, hard-to-reach districts received early childhood education between 2007 and 2013.
  • In Djibouti, increased access to primary school by adding over 100 classrooms in both urban and rural areas benefited more than 7,000 children, including 3,300 girls (2005-2011).
  • In Pakistan’s Sindh province, the female-male primary net enrollment in rural areas rose from 61 percent in 2007 to 72 percent in 2011.
  • In Tanzania, primary completion rate increased by 21 percent for boys and 31 percent for girls between 2005 and 2012.
  • In Bangladesh, 790,000 out-of-school children, more than half of them girls, received “second chance” primary education between 2004 and 2012.
  • In Haiti, 1,000 adolescent girls received training in non-technical and soft-skills between 2012 and 2013 to facilitate their school-to-work transition and improve their employment and earnings potential.

SABER influence on policy dialogue. To date, SABER tools have analyzed more than 100 countries and are informing investments in education at all levels, from pre-primary to tertiary education and workforce development. In Bulgaria, Bank staff worked with government counterparts, and a local NGO heavily involved in teacher issues, to map the teachers’ policy framework, allowing a deeper analysis informed by international good practice. In Angola, SABER helped government officials set priorities to strengthen the country’s student assessment system, and also underlined the need for trained staff and stable funding to underpin future assessment reforms.

" The classrooms have become decongested and as such the teacher and pupils find the environment more conducive for learning and teaching "

Trader from Ungogo Local Government Authority

Kano State, Nigeria

Link to MDGs

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achiever universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Develop global partnership for development

Bank Group Contribution

The Bank 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 the 2013 fiscal year (FY), new Bank commitments for education totaled US$2.9 billion, with a strong US$1.7 billion for basic education (US$1.3 billion supporting the poorest countries through IDA).

During FY13, South Asia and Africa received the largest share of IDA funding for education (US$705 million and US$629 million, respectively), while Latin America and the Caribbean, accounted for 60 percent of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s (IBRD) US$1.1 billion for education. We also produced more than 200 education publications, research papers, and knowledge products in FY13, and were active in generating and sharing new knowledge through impact evaluations, policy papers, and tools, including SABER tools. 

Many Bank operations in FY13 focused on equitable access to high-quality education. Nearly 70 percent of 2013 projects planned to improve the quality of instruction through training of teachers, teacher trainers, vocational trainers, and tertiary-level instructors, with 11 operations planning to either reform the curriculum or connect curricula to better meet labor market demand. Additionally, 88 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 54 percent of operations. 


The Bank collaborates with United Nations (UN) agencies and development partners to support countries’ education goals, including progress toward the MDGs. The Bank is a member of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Education First initiative. As an important contribution to this initiative, we have co-hosted several Learning for All Ministerial events, focusing on concrete steps to help ensure that all children can go to school and learn. 

The Bank is a critical partner in the Global Partnership for Education participating actively in the partnership including as trustee, host of Secretariat, and custodian of a majority of grants to countries. The Bank was instrumental in creating this partnership in 2002 that is now comprised of close to 60 developing countries, donor governments, international organizations, the private sector, teachers, and civil society/NGO groups.

In addition, we partner with many bilateral donors, including Australia and the United Kingdom, who are strong supporters of SABER. The Russia Education Aid for Development trust fund program supports SABER-Student Assessment as well as learning assessment activities.

Other donors, including the European Commission, Ireland, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Japan, and Spain collaborate with the Bank on operations or knowledge work. We are working with new partners including the Arab World Initiative, the Building Evidence in Education (BE²) network, the Early Childhood Consultative Group, the Global Compact on Learning Donor Network, and Teach for All to ensure that these initiatives have a global impact. Our partnership with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation has also been instrumental in our knowledge-based work.

Moving Forward

Bank education assistance to low- and middle-income countries will continue to focus on learning for all, with an emphasis on a systems approach. As the 2015 MDG deadline fast approaches, we will work collaboratively with the development community to define key learning indicators in the post-2015 context.


Nigeria’s State Education Sector Project (SESP) was launched to involve states and local authorities in improving the quality of primary and lower secondary education, particularly focusing on girls and the poor. The project has provided textbooks and additional classrooms, resulting in increased student attendance and parental involvement. Across the country, nearly 6,500 teachers were trained through a professional development program, and 1,974 schools implemented approved school development plans and received grants. IDA contributed US$65.9 million to the project, whose direct beneficiaries included nearly 600,000 children, of which 44 percent were girls. "The classrooms have become decongested and as such the teacher and pupils find the environment more conducive for learning and teaching," said a trader from the Ungogo Gabas in Ungogo Local Government Authority, Kano State. A community member indicated that the project has made a difference in participation. “Thanks to this plan, the number of females students has almost doubled, and the male students who did not participate in school activities are now very interested."

gender parity for primary and secondary enrollment reached in 2011