Worlds of Education

#WDR2018 Reality Check #0: Education experts and activists respond to the World Development Report

published 31 October 2017 updated 16 November 2017
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Does the report live up to its promise or leave much to be desired? In a new EI blog series, education experts and activists unpack, critique and challenge the insights of the WDR.

The World Bank recently launched its first ever World Development Report (WDR) on education, Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. Whilst the education community broadly welcomes the spotlight on education and the recognition that education is a crucial driver for development, many education experts and activists have concerns about the content and influence of the report.

The WDR is one of the Bank’s many ‘knowledge products’, which are commonly seen as just as important as their financial lending. It is the Bank’s flagship analytical publication and is widely considered one of the most influential publications in development economics. Not only is the report influential in shaping the World Bank’s policy recommendations, but it also provides advice for governments, particularly finance ministers, in both the Global South and North. It is therefore important to closely examine the report’s approach, analysis and findings.

The 2018 WDR diagnoses the world as suffering from a “learning crisis”, arguing that numerous countries are stuck in “low-learning traps”, where far too many children are in school but are not learning. It explains that this is occurring because systems are not well-enough aligned towards learning, and finally, claims to reveal the necessary pathway out of the crisis. It is suggested that by following the recommendations of the WDR, ineffective education systems can be transformed for the better. Learning outcomes can be improved by following three key steps: assessing learning to make it a serious goal, acting on evidence to make schools work for all learners, and aligning actors to make the whole system work for learning. However, closer inspection of the WDR’s proposed strategies for stimulating learning reveals that some of its technical guidance contradict current research findings and rely on problematic assumptions.

Whilst some of the report’s recommendations are welcomed and celebrated by education experts and activists, other recommendations are considered at best unconvincing and at worst dangerous, in being likely to contribute to further entrenched inequalities, disrespect of labour rights, reduced education financing, and ultimately poorer quality education. All in all, for Education International and many others in the education community, the WDR represents a missed opportunity to offer a credible route out of the learning crisis.

The WDR argues that “Schooling without learning is a wasted opportunity. More than that, it is a great injustice” (p.3). Indeed, as the world’s teachers have repeatedly underscored, quality education for all is a moral imperative and a human right. This is why Education International wants to ensure that where, in some cases, WDR has given unfounded  policy advice, this does not go unnoticed or is passively accepted as effective for helping achieve “education’s promise”. Rather, we want to see the report’s findings scrutinised, discussed, and considered in the context of wider research evidence.

The Bank engaged in a consultation process with civil society in the lead up to the publication of the WDR. However, many considered this process deficient, and felt that as a consequence, the report does not adequately bring to the fore numerous vital issues that need to be addressed in order to improve learning – the necessity of greater domestic and ODA funding for education, the continuing challenge of inclusive access for all, the consistent affirmation and treatment of teachers as respected professionals, and the importance of investing in free, public education (rather than private alternatives) in order to reach the most disadvantaged.

As an organization dedicated to formative assessment and teachable moments, EI is launching a blog series that will allow sustained discussion in light of the report’s findings. The series will bring together the voices of leading researchers, teachers, unionists and education experts from all regions of the world to unpack, challenge, critique and analyse the recommendations of the report. Every week, a different voice from the education community will respond to the WDR, not just focusing on the report itself, but also asking how the report relates to the reality of educational processes on the ground, what the report might mean for the future of education systems in developing countries, and what the alternatives might be.

#WDR2018 Reality Check is a blog series organized by Education International.  The series brings together the voices of education experts and activists – researchers, teachers, unionists and civil society actors - from across the world in response to the 2018 World Development Report, Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. The series will form the basis of a publication in advance of the WB Spring Meetings 2018. If you would like to contribute to the series, please get in touch with Jennifer at [email protected]. All views expressed are those of the authors alone and do not represent the views of Education International.

Don’t miss the first blog in the series next Tuesday, where Francine Menashy, Assistant Professor in the Department of Leadership in Education at the University of Massachusetts Boston, shares her insights in response to the WDR.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.