Last week, the World Bank Group published its flagship report: the World Development Report (WDR) 2018—Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. The report is the first-ever edition of the publication entirely dedicated to education. The 2018 WDR warns of a learning crisis in global education; after several years of schooling, millions of children are unable to read, write, and solve basic math problems. The crisis is more severe for vulnerable children—i.e., those affected by poverty, conflict, gender disparities, or disability—and has led to the widening of social gaps.
The report explains that low-income and developing countries are most affected by the global learning crisis. In low-income countries, less than 5 percent of students in late primary school score above the minimum proficiency level for reading. This figure lies at 14 percent for mathematics. In sub-Saharan Africa, less than 7 percent of students in late primary school are proficient in reading, against 14 percent in mathematics (Figure 1). For instance, when asked to read a sentence such as “The name of the dog is Puppy,” three quarters of primary school students in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda were unable to understand it. Even students tested using local languages were still unable to comprehend given sentences. The report states that the lags in primary education will affect the children’s preparedness for future job prospects, which are increasingly demanding in skills quality.
Figure 1: The percentage of primary school students who pass a minimum proficiency threshold is often low
Progress on these indicators is relatively slow. For instance, the report states that it could take 180 years for Tunisia to reach the OECD average for mathematics if the current pace of learning remains unchanged.
The report finds that a high share of students complete primary school without the necessary mathematics and reading knowledge. There are regional differences within the continent too (Figure 2). The WDR cites a 2014 regional assessment showing that 58 percent of grade 6 students in West and Central Africa were not sufficiently proficient in reading, though students in East and Southern Africa perform slightly better, with only 37 percent not proficient. Contrastingly, the level of math proficiency is comparable in the two regions, 58 against 60 percent.
Figure 2. Most grade 6 students in West and Central Africa are not sufficiently competent in reading or mathematics