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Countries Commit to Tackling “Learning Poverty” and Accelerating Learning in MENA

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Recognizing the very low learning outcomes, and the need to change the way education is delivered as critical to the future development of the Middle East and Africa regions, ministers and development partners affirmed their commitment to tackling the global learning crisis at the High Level conference on Accelerating Learning: A call to action and opportunities for collaboration. Accelerating learning will require continued commitment to learning, measurement of learning, and better use of technology; more and better spent resources; and increased collaboration to improve knowledge sharing and leverage economies of scale.  

Dr. Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education, said, “We must accelerate improvements in learning and center reforms around what is best for the student, giving children the foundational skills to become permanent learners and productive citizens.” The World Bank introduced a new “Learning Poverty” indicator –defined as the share of children who cannot read and understand a simple text by age 10 – and a new learning target to reduce that number by half by 2030, as a way to galvanize action towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 on Education (SDG4). “Currently 59% of 10 year old children in the Middle East and North Africa and 87% in Sub-Saharan Africa are learning poor. That is completely unacceptable and must be eliminated.” To accelerate learning outcomes, the World Bank advocates a two-pronged approach of implementing systemic reforms that will achieve gains over the long term while making short-term interventions aimed at improving the experience of the child in the classroom today. 

Egypt’s Minister for International Cooperation Dr. Rania Al-Mashat said, “No country can achieve development without the human element, and this conference signals our high-level commitment to education reform.

In his plenary address, Egypt’s Minister of Education and Technical Education Dr. Tarek Shawki shared Egypt’s story of its ambitious reform program aimed at modernizing the education system, using scripted lessons, new curriculum guides, digital learning resources, improved teaching practices, and computer-based student assessments. “What we are doing in secondary education today is to prepare for an unpredictable and rapidly changing environment  – we want to produce graduates with good skills, not grades,” noting that the “Education 2.0” reform program revolves around teaching children the skills needed to compete in the future.  “We have to ask ourselves – what are the competencies needed of today’s teachers in today’s environment? – because the old model is not working.

World Bank Country Director Dr. Marina Wes for Egypt, Yemen and Djibouti commented: “Egypt’s reform program aims to bring learning back into the classroom, which can yield valuable insights for other countries in Africa and the region.”  She noted, ‘There are no easy answers to the challenges of improving the education system, but there are many innovative approaches and this kind of cross-country and regional collaboration holds valuable advantages to development partners including the World Bank to inspire and support reform.”   

United Kingdom Ambassador to Egypt, Sir Geoffrey Adams said, “The UK is proud to support Egypt in its efforts to provide quality education for all. Our partnership is providing technical assistance to help create a more interactive learning environment allowing students to reach their full potential. Investing in the knowledge and talent of young children is an investment in their prosperity, and ours.” 

Ministers and senior officials from nearly 20 Middle East and African countries shared their views and experiences with education challenges and reforms, with some common areas emerging for discussion: 

– Widespread recognition on the need for sustained and accelerated action on improving learning outcomes, and that each country is unique and while well positioned to learn from each other, must chart their own path to reform.

– The learning crisis is also a teaching crisis. Too many teachers are not well prepared, incentivized, and supported.  Teachers and school leaders should be at the center of any reform program – a point emphasized by speakers throughout the day.  

– Investing in early childhood education (ECE) and ensuring better coverage across countries is needed to reduce the development gaps that emerge at young ages which hinder further learning, noting the complexity of those investments and the need for ECE teachers to be well trained and prepared. 

– The power of technology needs to be leveraged to suit the needs of students and teachers, and can be used to improve assessments, teacher professional development, and access to teaching and learning resources.

– Importance of student assessments and  data – noting that policymakers are flying blind without the data – to ensure reforms can be measured and evaluated and data can be useful inputs into policy and programs.

Following the conference, ministers and delegates convened to discuss priorities to accelerate learning and promote further collaboration. This included exploring the potential for creating digital platforms to share knowledge; supporting teacher professional development; provision of Early Childhood learning resources; a platform to support student assessment; and development of a regional literacy strategy and platform to share experiences and access teaching and learning resources to foster literacy skills.

The conference was hosted by the World Bank and Egypt’s Ministry of Education and Technical Education and supported by the Government of the United Kingdom. 

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The World Bank Strengthens Support to Argentina’s Most Vulnerable Families

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The World Bank Board of Directors today approved a new US$ 300 million operation to support Argentina’s efforts to strengthen its social protection system and minimize the impact of the crisis on the most vulnerable families.

The additional US$300 million in financing for the “Children and Youth Protection Project” seeks to improve coverage of family allowance programs administered by the National Social Security Administration (ANSES) and to accelerate the process to include 350,000 children who are still not covered by the Universal Child Allowance (AUH). It will also support the introduction of improvements in ANSES processes to guarantee continued coverage, especially when a parent loses a formal job.

“We appreciate the support of the World Bank in one of the topics on the agenda of the national government’s strategic priorities, which is to accompany those who have the least. This project advances in that direction,”. said Gustavo Beliz, Argentina’s Strategic Planning Secretary.

“Argentina is struggling with Covid 19, which creates new public investment demands. In response to this difficult health and financial situation, the World Bank is supporting investments to protect the most vulnerable population,” said Jordan Schwartz, World Bank Director for Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. “This financing aims to make the social protection system more inclusive and effective, and to prevent families from slipping into poverty, or assisting them once that has occurred.”

The World Bank has supported the AUH program since it was first implemented in 2009. The program forms part of the broader ANSES family allowance system. This benefit is paid for each child under age 18 whose parents are unemployed or informally employed, or who are independent workers or domestic workers and who earn less than the minimum wage. Currently, more than four million children receive the AUH benefit and nearly nine million are covered by the group of family allowances. Participation in the program has increased beneficiaries’ school attendance and fulfilment of medical checkups.

Since 2016, the “Children and Youth Protection Project” has successfully contributed to closing AUH coverage gaps. Initially, over 1.5 million children could not be included in the eligibility process of ANSES programs – today the challenge is to include the 350,000 remaining children.

The additional project financing is a variable-spread loan with a 32-year maturity period and a seven-year grace period.

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Mongolia: World Bank Mobilizes $2.2 Million to Strengthen Medical Diagnostic Services

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The World Bank mobilized US$2.2 million to help strengthen Mongolia’s hospital services in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding will be used to purchase the most needed medical diagnostic equipment in the country.

This immediate financing is being provided under the ongoing E-health project which seeks to improve integration and utilization of health information and e-health solutions for better health service delivery in selected pilot sites.

This immediate financing will help Mongolia safeguard its people from the potential COVID-19 outbreak in the country and make sure that they have access to early diagnosis and care,” – said the World Bank Country Manager for Mongolia Andrei Mikhnev.

Diagnostic equipment procured under this funding include 15 stationary and 12 mobile digital X-ray equipment and 41 ultrasound machines. Deliveries are expected in the beginning of April.

“We believe that this additional  equipment would strengthen the country preparedness to deal with disease outbreaks like COVID-19,” – said Dinesh Nair, Senior Health Specialist of the World Bank. “We will continue actively engaging with the government to help strengthen health systems, disease surveillance, and diagnosis.

On March 17, the World Bank Group also    pledged  $14 billion in immediate support to assist countries coping with the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. This financing is designed to help member countries, among them Mongolia, take effective action to respond to, and, where possible, lessen the tragic impacts posed by the global pandemic.

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Peru Will Receive US$ 50M from the World Bank to Strengthen Key Social Protection

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The World Bank Board of Directors today approved a US$ 50 million loan to strengthen key policies and strategies to increase human capital accumulation in Peru, particularly in the most vulnerable social sectors.

The Human Capital Development Program will focus on improving the delivery of social protection and early childhood development services, especially at the local level, and in strengthening professional development and management systems in education. Guaranteeing access to quality social protection, health and education services throughout the lifecycle is crucial for ensuring that individuals can develop the basic knowledge and skills they need to become productive members of society.

Over the past two decades, Peru has sharply reduced its poverty and inequality rates. It has also made significant strides in education and learning, as well as in decreasing chronic malnutrition and in implementing early childhood development policies. Notwithstanding, the country needs to reinforce its investments in human capital to further narrow inequality gaps and to guarantee that prosperity reaches all social sectors.

“The Peruvian government has undertaken the challenge of making multisector efforts to guarantee that all children reach their enormous potential and that they can become key players in the country’s development,” saidMarianne Fay, the World Bank Director forBolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru. The World Bank is accompanying Peru in this effort. “We provide technical and financial assistance for development policies that invest in people and that help to unlock and accelerate the generation of human capital, as well as to create synergies in the investments made in early childhood development to maximize results,” she added.

To this end, the program seeks to improve the comprehensive delivery of social protection and early childhood development services, as well as education quality and management. It will also support priority political and institutional reforms in the social sector and the linkage of policies implemented by the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion and the Ministry of Education.

The Ministry of the Economy and Finance will implement the program using a multisectoral and territorial approach, in close coordination with the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion and the Ministry of Education.

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