Literacy Makes Sense

We are in the midst of a global learning crisis. Too many children are experiencing “learning poverty” – defined as the percentage of children who cannot read and understand a simple story by age 10 – and are failing to acquire foundational skills such as basic literacy.

What is the problem?

For hundreds of millions of students globally, schooling is not learning. Years of schooling are accumulated, but quality education is still a challenge in most countries.

Today, in low-and middle-income countries 53 percent of children in late primary cannot read and understand a simple story. As reading is one important gateway skill, all children should be able to read in order to develop more complex foundational cognitive and socioemotional skills as they grow up. Reading is also highly correlated with key skills (e.g. in math, science, and socio-emotional domains, among others).

Despite substantial progress, significant gaps in education investments are leaving many unprepared for a world with a quickly changing nature of jobs. Failing to address learning poverty will not only result in wasted potential amongst our youth, it will negatively impact a country’s future workforce and economic competitiveness.

Read more about it in our new report "Ending Learning Poverty: What will it take?"

What are we doing about it?

In an effort to address alarmingly high levels of learning poverty, the World Bank is setting a new learning target to sharpen support for quality education and galvanize action toward SDG4

By 2030, we want to reduce, by at least half, the share of children who cannot read and understand a simple story by age 10. To help countries respond to the global crisis and meet the new literacy target, the World Bank has developed:

  • Literacy Policy Package consisting of interventions focused specifically on promoting acquisition of reading proficiency in primary school,
  • Renewed Education Approach to strengthen entire education systems so that literacy improvements can be sustained and scaled up and all other education outcomes can be achieved,
  • Learning Assessment Platform to eliminate the measurement gap—covering measurement of both learning outcomes and their drivers,
  • Research and Innovation on how to build foundational skills.

How can we help children learn?

To succeed and focus the whole system around student learning, countries will want to take a two-pronged approach – implementing reforms now to improve service delivery for students currently in school, while at the same time establishing systemic changes to improve how the education system functions over the long term. The approach may include reforming the teaching career to attract and retain good professionals, reforming pre-service training, reforming the management structure of the whole system, and expanding infrastructure.

What you can do?

Everyone can help by …

  • Contacting your local elected official to tell them that investing in Literacy Makes Sense.
  • Following us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube to join the conversation.

You can help by...

  • Talking to your child about what they’re learning in school

    Asking your child to read to you

    Asking your child's teacher what your child is expected to know and be able to do by the end of the school year

    Requesting examples of your child’s schoolwork

    Asking the school head or principal for a report showing what your child is learning

    Making sure that your child has the time and materials to study at home

    Getting involved in your child's school as a volunteer, school committee member or by asking school representatives how you can help

    Writing a letter to your local elected official to let them know you will vote for education reforms

  • Learning more about Learning Poverty, why Literacy Makes Sense and what you can do to help reach the target of universal literacy

    Spreading awareness of the Learning Crisis by sharing the Literacy Makes Sense video

    Using your voice! Contact your local elected official and tell them that investing in Literacy Makes Sense

    Learning more about the World Bank’s Learning Policy Package and how countries are improving literacy levels

    Respecting, recognizing, and accommodating the different learning needs of your students

    Scheduling time to meet with students’ parents to tell them what their children are learning and show them examples of their work

  • Learning more about Learning Poverty, why Literacy Makes Sense and what you can do to help reach the target of universal literacy

    Helping us spread awareness of the Learning Crisis by sharing the Literacy Makes Sense video

    Using your voice! Contact your local elected official and tell them that investing in Literacy Makes Sense

    Learning more about the World Bank’s Learning Policy Package and how countries are improving literacy levels

    Tracking teacher performance and offering recognition to the most effective teachers

    Supporting teachers with effective, and ongoing, training opportunities that encourage learning

  • Learning more about Learning Poverty, why Literacy Makes Sense and what you can do to help reach the target of universal literacy

    Helping us spread awareness of the Learning Crisis by sharing the Literacy Makes Sense video

    Using your voice! Contact your local elected official and tell them that investing in Literacy Makes Sense

    Learning more about the World Bank’s Learning Policy Package and how countries are improving literacy levels

    Supporting teachers through proven training methods and taking action to help ineffective teachers improve. If they don’t improve, remove them from the classroom

    Setting up systems to reward dedicated and effective teachers through recognition, career advancement or bonuses

    Compensating teachers well in order to attract good candidates and encourage others to enter the profession

    Focusing additional resources on underrepresented populations, such as girls, ethnic minorities, and disabled children, who may require extra support in the school system

    Visiting schools often to demonstrate to teachers and principals that you care about learning

  • Learning more about Learning Poverty, why Literacy Makes Sense and what you can do to help reach the target of universal literacy

    Helping us spread awareness of the Learning Crisis by sharing the Literacy Makes Sense video

    Using your voice! Contact your local elected official and tell them that investing in Literacy Makes Sense

    Learning more about the World Bank’s Learning Policy Package and how countries are improving literacy levels

    Asking education leaders for evidence that their students – your future workers – are acquiring skills

    Telling education officials what skills your company or organization needs

    Speaking out to political leaders and make it clear that education is a priority for you

    Learning more about different types of training programs that you can offer your employees or student interns

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Ending learning poverty: the call of our times

Learning to read is a milestone in every child’s life. Those of us who are parents, teachers, and older siblings, can fondly remember the first time your daughter, student or brother was able to read a sentence and how proud and happy that made you feel.

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Supporting teachers to educate successful students

World Teachers’ Day held annually on October 5, provides the occasion to celebrate the teaching profession worldwide ― the only profession that determines how all other professions will do. Simply put, teachers matter for learning―more than any other school-based input.

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Reducing learning poverty through a country-led approach

The world has made tremendous progress in education over the past 15 years—the number of children and adolescents out of school has been cut almost in half, and 90% of students who are primary-school-aged are in school today.

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Measuring learning to avoid “flying blind”

Just three weeks after becoming Minister of Education in Peru, my team and I received the results from the 2012 round of PISA. Peru was ranked last. Not next to last, not bottom 10%. It was last.

Learn More / Additional Resources

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Learning Poverty

The new learning poverty measure spotlights deficits in literacy and spurs action to ensure that all children acquire literacy and other foundational skills.

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Learning Target

To galvanize progress on tackling the learning crisis and strengthen its own efforts, the World Bank has launched a new operational global learning target.

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Using Money Effectively is Critical to Improving Education

Assisting countries to make better use of their investments in education is a key priority of our work on education finance.

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What is Learning Poverty?

Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Education Global Director explains what the new indicator means and why the urgency is now to tackle it with a new global target.