World Bank Launches Learning Poverty Target in Support of SDGs

The World Bank has adopted a Learning Poverty Target that aims to cut the global rate of learning poverty by at least 50% by 2030, with “learning poverty” defined as the percentage of ten-year-olds who cannot read and understand a simple story.

The World Bank’s estimates show that 53% of children in low- and middle-income countries and 80% of children in poor countries cannot read and understand a simple story by the end of primary school. This represents “the leading edge of a learning crisis that threatens countries’ efforts to build human capital and achieve the SDGs,” the Word Bank notes.

Even though several developing countries such as Kenya, Egypt and Viet Nam are showing that accelerated progress is possible, in many other countries the current pace of improvement is still “worryingly slow,” the World Bank says. It warns that even if countries reduce their learning poverty at the fastest rates seen over the past 20 years, the goal of ending it will not be reached by 2030.

The World Bank explains that, as a major contributor to human capital deficits, the learning crisis undermines sustainable growth and poverty reduction, and poor education outcomes have major costs for future prosperity as human capital is the most important component of wealth. The new Learning Target aligns with the Human Capital Project’s efforts to build political commitment for accelerating investment in people, emphasizing that much of the variation in the Human Capital Index – which is used to track countries’ progress in health, education, and survival – is due to differences in educational outcomes.

The new concept of Learning Poverty draws on new data developed in coordination with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics. The indicator brings together schooling and learning indicators: it begins with the share of children who have not achieved minimum reading proficiency as measured in schools, and is adjusted by the proportion of children who are out of school and are assumed not able to read proficiently.

To help countries reach the Learning Poverty Target, the World Bank will use three pillars of work:

  • A literacy policy package consisting of country interventions that have proven to be effective in promoting reading proficiency at scale such as: ensuring political and technical commitment to literacy grounded in adequately funded plans; ensuring effective teaching for literacy through tightly structured and effective pedagogy; preparing teachers to teach at the right level; ensuring access texts and readers to all; and teaching children in their home language;
  • A “refreshed” education approach to strengthen entire education systems, comprised of five pillars: prepared and motivated learners; effective and valued teachers; classrooms equipped for learning; safe and inclusive schools; and a well-managed education system; and
  • An “ambitious” measurement and research agenda, to include measurement of both learning outcomes and their drivers, as well as continued action-oriented research and innovation.

The World Bank notes that open-source digital infrastructure and information systems will be used to ensure that resources reach all teachers, students and schools. Furthermore, the partnership between the World Bank and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics will seek to help countries strengthen their learning assessment systems and improve the breadth and quality of country data on learning to better monitor performance over time and in internationally comparable ways. The World Bank’s new Learning Assessment Platform will also support countries in evaluating student learning.

To accompany the launch of the Learning Poverty Target, the World Bank published Country Learning Poverty Briefs assessing learning poverty and its accompanying indicators in more than 100 countries, based on the latest available data on learning poverty.