Education is a human right, a powerful driver of development and one of the strongest instruments for reducing poverty and improving health, gender equality, peace, and stability. It delivers large, consistent returns in terms of income and is the most important factor to ensure equality of opportunities. For individuals, education promotes employment, earnings, health, and poverty reduction. Globally, there is a 9% increase in hourly earnings for one extra year of schooling. For societies, it drives long-term economic growth, spurs innovation, strengthens institutions, and fosters social cohesion. Indeed, making smart and effective investments in people’s education is critical for developing the human capital that will end extreme poverty.
Developing countries have made tremendous progress in getting children into the classroom and more children worldwide are now in school. But learning is not guaranteed, as the 2018 World Development Report (WDR) stressed.
According to the most recent data, 53% of all children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read and understand a short story by the time they are finishing primary school. This high rate of “learning poverty” – the share of children who by age 10 are not able to read a short, age-appropriate story with comprehension – is an early warning that all the ambitious Sustainable Development Goal 4 targets are in jeopardy. Even if countries reduce their learning poverty at the fastest rates we have seen in recent decades, the “every child reading” goal will not be attained by 2030.
Eliminating learning poverty is as urgent a development objective as eliminating hunger, stunting, and extreme poverty—and meeting that objective requires all players to take much more forceful action. Without urgent action, post-COVID, the learning poverty rate could increase to a record 63%. The World Bank is sharpening its support to basic education to galvanize efforts to eliminate learning poverty, to ensure that all children become proficient and confident readers by end of primary school.
The WBG is the largest financier of education in the developing world. In fiscal year 2020, we provided about $5.2 billion for education programs, technical assistance, and other projects designed to improve learning and provide everyone with the opportunity to get the education they need to succeed. Our current portfolio of education projects totals $20.6 billion, highlighting the importance of education for the achievement of our twin goals, ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. We work on education programs in more than 80 countries and are committed to helping countries reach Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 by 2030.
World Bank Education and COVID-19
With the spread of the coronavirus, the education system is facing a new crisis, as more than 160 countries at the end of March 2020 mandated some form of school closures impacting at least 1.5 billion children and youth. Seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, education systems around the world continue to grapple with the complex decisions of when and how to reopen. As of September, schools in over 100 countries remained closed, or have closed after reopening, but over 70 countries have returned students and teachers to classrooms.
COVID-related school closures are forcing countries even further off-track to achieving their learning goals. As seen from previous health emergencies, the impact on education is likely to be most devastating in countries with already low learning outcomes, high dropout rates, and low resilience to shocks. Education systems face a triple funding shock, with COVID-19 expected to put significant strains on household and donor funding that will only add to its effects on government funding. We estimate that students currently in school stand to lose $10 trillion in labor earnings over their work life.
To help address the challenge, the World Bank is working on 80 COVID-related projects – from early childhood education to higher education – in 54 countries that amount to US$2.6 billion. This includes project restructuring, additional financing, and new projects. Our teams have provided just-in-time policy advisory support in 65 countries and are leveraging partnerships to develop knowledge products and global public goods to support country efforts.
Along with UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Food Program, in June 2020 we produced guidance that offered practical advice for national and local authorities on how to keep children safe when they return to school. The Framework for Reopening Schools was designed as a flexible tool for policy makers and planners, highlighting all the factors that will make this experience a successful one for students, teachers, principals, parents and the wider community. In September we added a Supplement to the framework with emerging lessons from country experiences in managing the process of reopening schools.
While COVID-19 poses huge challenges, it is also an opportunity to be a catalyst for transforming education delivery in the future. The vision is not just that learning occurs for all children, but also encompasses the concept that learning should be able to occur anywhere, anytime, and not be confined primarily to the physical perimeters of the school. This is not only what is needed to make education systems more resilient to shocks like COVID-19, but it is also what the ‘schools of the future’ should aspire to achieve.
Last Updated: Mar 28, 2021