At the Global Conference on Equity and Excellence in Basic Education, May 17-19, 2016, in Shanghai, China (co-hosted by the World Bank, Shanghai Normal University and the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission), we learned lessons from Shanghai, discussed challenges among participating countries (more than 25), and agreed to collaborate to promote education equity and excellence around the world.

Conference participants rated the conference highly.  They particularly liked the school visits, the session on how Shanghai does it, and the discussion on Poland and the Netherlands.  Most told us that the conference met their expectations.


At the close of the conference, I offered to follow up.  We were asked to come forward with concrete suggestions. I will make some offers on how to do this.  But first, let me summarize what we did in Shanghai.

Details of the success of the Shanghai system can be seen in Xiaoyan Liang’s full report.  Taking inspiration from Shanghai, we agreed to establish a consensus on equity and excellence in education.

Why Shanghai is #1 in the World in Reading, Math, and Science

Shanghai ranks first in the world in reading, mathematics and science (as exemplified in PISA 2009 and 2012), yet devotes only about 3 percent of GDP on education. But it turns out that Shanghai’s success is no secret at all (How Shanghai Does It).  It all comes down to good policy, the hard work of implementation, and a focus on teachers and teaching.  They even share good principals through a system of rotation and “entrusted management” that brings best practice to under-performing schools.  This has evolved into what co-host Professor Minxuan Zhang (Director of the Research Institute for International and Comparative Education at Shanghai Normal University and former Deputy Education Commissioner in Shanghai) calls “empowered management” that now involves the private sector as well, something that was learned from a study visit to Philadelphia.

Inside the black box of the Shanghai school system: Visits to schools.  An important hands-on activity of the conference was visiting schools in Shanghai. This gave the participants an opportunity to experience first-hand the school environment and teaching-learning process, as well as an opportunity to interact with teachers, principals and students. Participants came away highly impressed with the school facilities, the dedication of administrative staff and how effectively the lessons were conducted. According to our teacher expert, Andrew Ragatz, there were ample signs of effective teaching and learning. For example, “during a mathematics lesson at one of the schools the teacher adeptly conduct a lesson on the concept of perimeter, using a clear sequence of steps to build a foundational understanding of the concept and then move to advanced techniques utilizing variation and inference. The lesson comprised a high level of engagement and interaction and the teacher seamlessly transitioned among multiple activities of lecturing, pair work and group work. No time was wasted. The teacher used a variety of unique techniques, such as projecting student answers for the whole class to see.  The lesson, with its effective combination of content, interaction and effective teaching-learning practices, aided with ICT when relevant, provided a glimpse into one key dimension for Shanghai’s achievement of high learning outcomes.”

The characteristics of success are even shared with other high performing education systems, which seemingly function very differently from Shanghai.  This point was evident from the presentations at the conference from the former Minister of Education (and former World Bank Vice President) Jozef Ritzen of the Netherlands (a consistent high performer and one of the most autonomous education systems in the world) and from the former Under-Secretary of Education (and former OECD researcher) Maciej Jakubowski of Poland (a high performer and perhaps the fastest improving education system since the launch of PISA 2000).

The elements of success that high performing systems possess — the — could be characterized as:

  1. A shift from enrollment/access to focus on learning (starting with basic literacy early grades)
  2. Learning from high performing and rapidly improving education systems – study, share, adapt
  3. Success is not a secret, but due to well-designed and implemented policy
  4. Elements of a good education policy include attention to:
    1. Teacher selection and support, selection of principals with core competencies including instructional leadership
    2. Balancing school autonomy with accountability
    3. Finance
    4. Equity
    5. Results
  5. Reform is a long term process. The Shanghai achievements were the result of a three decade long reform in education.

Follow up

From the conference feedback we were you provided a number of specific points.  Most of the participants would like to see follow-up and would actively participate.  Many asked for networks to be set up and for mutual collaboration.  They would like to be connected to other countries facing similar issues.  Some asked for a more formal relationship between Shanghai and their country.

Follow-up conferences in Shanghai and elsewhere were called for.  Some would like to see a session where participants presented what they did post-Shanghai. Some would like us to invite other development partners. A number of participants asked for materials and PowerPoint presentations to be shared.

Someone even suggested the development of a to establish best practice.

The  — or, Shared Principles for an Equitable and Excellent Education System — is already bearing fruit.  The province of Yunnan sent a delegation to Shanghai.  They are “deeply impressed” with what they saw and are getting support from Shanghai.  There will be an Early Childhood Education conference in Yunnan, China in October 2016.  We also heard that other countries want to participate in the .  Several of the delegations that attended the conference had follow up meetings and are continuing to make contacts.

As for a follow-up conference, we have agreed that an event would take place in Indonesia in 2017 to continue the dialogue.  Stay tuned.

The World Bank has launched an East Asia and Pacific Regional Report on Education that will build on the lessons learned.  That report will be published in the Spring of 2017, which will be followed by the development of an education strategy for the region.

Please send me your reactions and suggestions for the follow-up plan and how you would like to participate.

Below please see some selected media coverage of the event.


Selected media coverage:

The report and the conference received considerable press attention (from the United States, the United Kingdom and the global press, including the BBC) and extensive coverage in Chinese media including radio interviews in Chinese and an editorial in China Daily.  The reports have also been translated into several languages (see below).

Feature story in the BBC’s coverage of international education highlights:

The Australian Financial Review focused on the role of good teachers:

World Bank gives city educators top marks

World Bank Study Shows Shanghai’s #1 Global Ranking in Reading, Math, & Science Rests on Strong Education …

Shanghai’s Remarkable Education Story

Secrets behind Shanghai’s Educational Excellence

Shanghai, #1 Global Ranking in Reading, Math, & Science

Shanghai Students Named World’s Best

Why education matters for economic development | Le rôle crucial de l’éducation dans le développement économique | |教育因何对经济发展至关重要 | | لماذا تعد مسائل التعليم مهمة من أجل التنمية الاقتصادية؟ | Por qué la educación es importante para el desarrollo económico:

Why Education Matters for Economic Development

Le rôle crucial de l’éducation dans le développement économique

Por qué la educación es importante para el desarrollo económico


لماذا تعد مسائل التعليم مهمة من أجل التنمية الاقتصادية؟