EI’s Initial Reaction to the release of the Bank’s World Development Report on Education

The World Bank’s new education report reveals “a superficial and incoherent effort” that “brushes over complex issues, oversimplifies recommendations and opts for broad generalizations that should make even the most well-intentioned finance minister scratch her head.”

In the initial analysis, the first in a series of thematic public examinations and reporting on the Bank’s World Development Report on Education that will be conducted by Education International over the coming months, David Edwards, EI deputy general secretary, graded the report incomplete and inadequate to challenges at hand.

Said Edwards: “If the intention was to build on the Education Commission Report on the Learning Generation and provide a manual for governments, then the Bankmisses the mark. If the intention was to cram a series of short paragraphs that skim around the edges of the education community’s elephant-in-the-room, namely the enormous resource gap, then they have succeeded.”

Said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen, “Given the World Bank’s highly influential voice when it comes to financing, the WDR is a missed opportunity to promote the sustainable financing of education. There are no clear solutions given to the huge challenge of adequately financing education globally - it’s silent on sustainable strategies for domestic resource mobilization as well as effectively holding donors to account. Instead, the report claims that the relationship between public spending and student learning is weak, discouraging greater public spending on education.”

The WDR borrows heavily from the Education Commission report in its focus on the “learning crisis” - children who are in school but not learning – and the “learning trap” – the systemic factors that lead to low learning outcomes. Unlike the Education Commission however, the Bank has been the architect of education policy in the developing world for more than fifty years.

Said Edwards: “Education International’s first reading of the report found no mention of that fact or any self-reflection that would shed a light on what the Bank itself has learned as it has advanced decentralization, market-based reforms, and results-based financing.

“While the report includes some recognition that private actors’ potential conflict of interests can have a detrimental effect on education and learning, this point is mostly lost in the larger story that places  private actors and providers as just one of many self-maximizing actors in education who must be managed. In fact, there is very little analysis on the issue of privatisation considering the Bank’s financial support for low-free for profit private schools and their controversial record in the education sector.

“One bright spot comes from a text box entitled: ‘Can private schooling be aligned to learning for all?’ In this brief but welcome admission, the Bank recognises that which the entire educational research community has known for decades - there is no consistent evidence that private schools deliver better learning outcomes than public schools. The WDR team also identifies numerous risks, such as the exclusion of disadvantaged or less able or desirable students, social segregation, exploitation of families for profit and the undermining of public education. It concludes that overseeing and regulating private schools effectively may be ‘no easier than providing quality schooling’, and that no matter if they encourage private schooling or not, governments ‘cannot contract out the responsibility for ensuring that all children and youth have the opportunity to learn’.

“The report rightly recognises the key role that teachers play for achieving quality education. It further underscores the importance of the teacher-student relationship, and argues, in line with EI, that technology can never replace a teacher but, if used appropriately can be a useful complementary tool.

“The report frames teacher absenteeism, lack of skills and low teacher quality as one of the key problems that fuel the “learning crisis”. However, there is no thorough analysis of the structural issues that lead to absenteeism, such as exploitatively low salaries meaning that teachers may need to work two jobs to survive, the need to travel long distances to collect pay, and late payments. Instead of unpacking the pay and conditions gap that keeps teaching unattractive the authors return to unsupported behaviouristic assertions on incentives and pay for test scores.

“The use of contract teachers is presented as a rational, cost-effective choice for governments with teacher shortages. Paradoxically, such promotion of precarious work is not only counterproductive for developing the teaching profession - it directly contradicts the Bank’s recommendation that better candidates need to be attracted into the profession to improve quality in the long term.

“Unsurprisingly given the research cited, teachers’ fight for quality terms of employment is presented in tension with their vocation to help children learn. This not only neglects to recognise teachers’ right to decent work, but also disregards the fact that research by OECD and others shows that improved teaching conditions positively effect students learning environments.”

A continuing formative assessment of the WDR

Given the unique nature of the report and the fact that it is the first WDR dedicated to education, Education International has decided to publish a series of thematic blogs and analyses over the coming months to dig deeper into the issues, evidence and assumptions.  Please check back or sign up for notifications as EI staff and leaders join with leading education researchers and thinkers in a special section on our Worlds of Education Blog as well as our Ed Voices Podcast. Our goal will be to compile and edit the entire series down into a portfolio assessment that can be shared with the Bank during their Spring Meetings.  

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