News and Research 40: Netherlands & Finland at Top of World in Life Satisfaction for Students


Tonga PEARL Music Video produced for public awareness.  Titled “Read with Your Child for At Least 10 Minutes a Day” it will air on national television starting Monday. This is one of the various ways we are working with the Ministry of Education in Tonga to promote school readiness and early childhood development under the PEARL program financed by the GPE.pearl

Tonga: 10 Minutes Reading a Book with a Child Makes a Lifetime of Difference Family is central to life in Tonga. And celebrating family, and time spent together is the focus of a new World Bank-supported campaign encouraging Tongan parents and family members to dedicate 10 minutes each day to reading with their child. The campaign, Laukonga Mo e Fanau (Read with your child in Tongan) aims to tackle an issue identified in a recent World Bank-led study as one of the key barriers to children’s development and success at school: that many children have not had enough nurturing, early childhood experiences —such as reading together with their loved ones—and as a result, arrive at school unprepared to take on the challenges of a new environment. “Our study showed that a large number of children between three and five didn’t know how to hold a book,” said Siosi Tapueluelu, the World Bank’s Senior Operations Officer in Tonga. “Many couldn’t draw a recognizable figure or shape, and the majority lacked perseverance; the push to finish what they started. These skills are critical for early childhood development, and being ready for school on Day 1.”…

Advancing 21st Century Competencies In East Asian Education Systems: East Asia is undergoing rapid transformation of its primary and secondary education systems as countries reform education to respond to the fundamental changes taking place in societies and economies in the 21st century. Such reforms are not an addition of new “21st century competencies” to an established set of expectations, but rather, a comprehensive reconceptualization of education and its role in society. This report, written by Professor Kai-ming Cheng of the University of Hong Kong and a team of researchers across East Asia, studies the education reform efforts of Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan to provide students with skills for the future. Read the report ».  These five systems largely share similar cultural heritages and share similar philosophies of education, despite differences in polity and ideology. All five societies are among the more advanced economies and hence are among the first to feel the challenges of the 21st century. With no exception, all five systems have experienced significant, substantial, and comprehensive education reforms, which are ongoing. The following case studies focus on the five education systems: Advancing 21st Century Competencies in Hong Kong, by Kai-ming Cheng and Liz Jackson, University of Hong Kong; and Wing-on Lee, The Open University of Hong Kong; Advancing 21st Century Competencies in Japan, by Daisuke Kimura and Madoka Tatsuno, Global Incubation x Fostering Talents (GiFT); Advancing 21st Century Competencies in Singapore, by Jennifer Pei-Ling Tan, Elizabeth Koh, Melvin Chan, Pamela Costes-Onishi, and David Hung, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University; Advancing 21st Century Competencies in South Korea, by Hyo-Jeong Kim and Jeongmin Eom, Asia-Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding (APCEIU) under the auspices of UNESCO; Advancing 21st Century Competencies in Taiwan, by Hsiao-Lan Sharon Chen and Hsuan-Yi Huang, National Taiwan Normal University

Netherlands and Finland at the Top of the World in Life Satisfaction for Students The OECD released the third volume of its analysis of PISA data this week, focusing on the life satisfaction of students, their relationships with teachers, use of their time outside of school, and prevalence of bullying. Students’ Well Being surveys 72 countries and jurisdictions, and finds that although in general correlations between students’ life satisfaction and achievement in school are relatively weak, top performers Netherlands and Finland are near the top of the lists in the life satisfaction of their students. Top-performing Asian systems like South Korea performed below the OECD average on these measures of well-being, highlighting the importance of reforms they have recently undertaken to de-emphasize high-stakes testing and promote more holistic curricula. The OECD recommended that policymakers consider policies to promote teacher collaboration, so that teachers can share information about students’ stress and challenges, as well as parent involvement to encourage parents to be more engaged with students’ learning and development in the home.

U.S. students satisfied with life, but some foreigners happier …American students scored close to the average of 7.3 among OECD’s 35 member countries. But students in some member countries are doing markedly better: an average Mexican high schooler rated life satisfaction at 8.2 out of 10. The Netherlands and Iceland had a level of 7.8 and Finland had 7.9. American students also reported higher levels of anxiety over tests, bullying or a feeling of not belonging at schools, compared with many of their peers…But the authors highlight the cases of Netherlands, Finland and Switzerland, where good grades and high spirits exist side by side…

Dutch Teens Rank Near Top of Global Survey on Life Satisfaction

UK in skills crisis as young workers struggle with reading and maths 

Parents make a big difference just by talking

PISA 2015 Results (Volume III): Students’ Well-Being

Do children spend too much time in schools? Evidence from a longer school year in Indonesia  …the longer school year decreases the probability of grade repetition and increases educational attainment; it also increases the probability of working in formal sectors and wages later in life…

New podcast Between 2 Geeks Getting an Education on Education with Husein Abdul Hamid

Bold funding plan can get every child in the world into school says UN envoy Gordon Brown

Governments are struggling to keep pace with the fast growth of students

Investing in parents for a more productive and inclusive Brazil

Japan’s private schools fill a niche but at a cost

News and Research 39: The impact of an accountability intervention with diagnostic feedback

The impact of an accountability intervention with diagnostic feedback

Evidence from Mexico

The Mexican state of Colima implemented a low-stakes accountability intervention with diagnostic feedback among schools with the lowest test scores in the national assessment. A difference-in-difference and a regression discontinuity design are used to identify the effects of the intervention on learning outcomes. The two strategies consistently show that the intervention increased test scores by 0.12 standard deviations only a few months after the program was launched…



Lessons from Jakarta Education must be both excellent and available to all

Education is one of the smartest investments in people that any country can make

Education is fundamental to achieving growth and reducing poverty. But to truly realize education’s promise, we must ensure that education is both of high quality (leading to children’s learning) and that a quality education is extended to all children. This is exactly what more than 200 government officials, World Bank representatives and policymakers from more than 20 countries addressed recently in Jakarta, during the “Learning for All: Shared Principles for Equitable and Excellent Basic Education Systems” global conference…


World Bank Approves $100M in Loans for Schools  The World Bank approved $100 million in loans to Cambodia to bolster secondary education by improving schools and educators’ qualifications…



Education Solutions: Vocational and Civics


A Counterintuitive Approach to Improving Math Education Focus on English Language Arts Teaching

East Asia and Pacific Economic Update, April 2017: Sustaining Resilience The outlook for developing East Asia is expected to remain broadly positive in the next three years, driven by robust domestic demand and a gradual recovery in the global economy and commodity prices. The economies of developing East Asia and Pacific are projected to expand at 6.2 percent in 2017 and 6.1 percent in 2018…



With equal $ for all schools, this country has blurred the lines between public & private

From Compliance to Learning: A System for Harnessing the Power of Data in the State of Maryland

Lessons learned from World Bank education management information system operations: portfolio review, 1998-2014

What if more students wanted to be teachers?

Colombia leads the developing world in signing the first social impact bond contracts

Designing for Scale: Reflections on Rolling Out Reading Improvement in Kenya and Liberia

Why bullying in Japanese schools is especially traumatic

How Chinese schools discriminate against 65% of the population

China’s grim rural boarding schools

China’s elite boarding schools

Hong Kong’s next leader wants to make life easier for pupils

African universities recruit too many students

News and Research 38: The Netherlands: Top-Performing School System

The Netherlands: Top-Performing School System Looking to Get Better  We got interested in the Netherlands when the first results came out for the 1995 administration of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS), the largest international comparative study of student achievement done up to that date. The Netherlands and Flemish Belgium were among the top European performers in the TIMSS league tables for mathematics.  We went to see how they did it.  The answer in both places seemed to be the same.  Despite some important differences between the two systems, what they had in common was a powerful math curriculum called Realistic Mathematics.  This curriculum, the work of Hans Freudenthal, a retired professor of mathematics at Utrecht University, was widely implemented in both countries…


Kiribati Pre-School  The Ministry of Education is pleased to announce a new initiative starting on March 15th. To gain a better understanding of early childhood development in Kiribati, a survey will be conducted to collect data about all children ages 3 to 5 years old, whether attending preschool or not attending preschool…

Are all early childhood education experiences equally cost-effective?  The wide range of opportunities for early childhood education means children can often have very different education experiences on their way to primary school. International evidence shows that investing in high-quality early childhood programs can have large economic returns, especially for children from socially disadvantaged groups. In response, developing countries are looking to increase public investments in the early years, especially in early education programs. As they do so, one of the challenges policymakers face is deciding what to fund. After all, there are a wide range of opportunities for early childhood education that already exist in local settings such as playgroups and kindergartens. As a result, different children can often have very different early childhood education experiences on their way to primary school.

World Renowned Experts Address A Global Audience  The global education and skills forum 2017 closed after two days of discussing how to build and share education solutions at scale. Influential education thinkers and leaders shared their experience and thoughts through dynamic discussions and debates addressing the conference theme: how do we make real global citizens? Throughout the conference, attendees heard from the public, private and social sectors to discuss providing quality education for every child…

An Enduring Commitment Transforming Education: Getting Public Private Partnerships Right  Transforming Education: Getting Public Private Partnerships (ePPPs) Right, a publication by The Education Partners, explores a fundamental change in our approach to education. We know that investing in education creates benefits beyond the classroom by positively impacting society and the economy. To realize these benefits, we must bring many stakeholders together through ePPPs to mobilize resources, realize efficiencies, and share in the risks and the rewards…

Malala designated as new UN peace messenger and will promote girls’ education

The Impact of an Accountability Intervention with Diagnostic Feedback: Evidence from Mexico

Social and Emotional Learning: one pioneering way rural China is bridging the education gap

Dropping Out of Rural China’s Secondary Schools: A Mixed-Methods Analysis

Vietnam: 21st Century Skills For All: UNICEF and Pearson Launch Educational Partnership for Children

Interview: “Inclusive education will improve the quality of education,” with Kazuo Kuroda, JICA-RI

Is Pre-Kindergarten an Educational Panacea? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Scaled-Up Pre-Kindergarten in the United States

The Private Schooling Phenomenon in India

External efficiency of the education system is important for FDI inflows

Medium & Long-Term Educational Consequences of Alternative Conditional Cash Transfer Designs: Evidence from Colombia

Building tax systems to foster better skills

Underinvestment in education research in the USA

What Would Happen If Learning in School Became More Like Working at a Startup?

Asian Development Outlook 2017: Transcending the Middle-Income Challenge


News and Research 37: Gansu Project and ECD Launch in Mongolia

World Bank to Help Strengthen Vocational Education in China’s Gansu Province  WASHINGTON DC, March 31, 2017 – The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a $120 million loan to help improve the quality and relevance of vocational schools and strengthen their partnership with industry in China’s Gansu province.  Gansu, in northwestern China, is one of the least developed provinces, based on both income and human development measures, with nearly 60 percent of its population living in rural areas. The majority of its labor force is working in the low-productivity primary sector, though the secondary and tertiary industries are the main drivers of the province’s economy. To facilitate the transition of low-skilled labor force into more productive employment, it is critical to build a modern technical and vocational education and training (TVET) system.  “The new project will support the implementation of the government’s vocational education development strategy in Gansu. We place special emphasis on closer collaboration between the industry and schools both at the system and school levels so students can obtain skills businesses need,” said Xiao Liping, World Bank’s Senior Education Specialist and the project’s team leader…

New Study Recommends Key Actions to Improve Early Childhood Education in Mongolia

ecdA new World Bank report recommends that Mongolia expand access to preschool services in rural areas, prioritizing home-based early-childhood education for hard-to-reach populations, such as nomadic herders. more | Монгол

Download Report (PDF, 4.47mb)

New Study Recommends Key Actions to Improve Early Childhood Education in Mongolia (The Financial)
Recommendation to improve early childhood education in Mongolia


Parents or centers: How should governments prioritize early investments in children?…Sophie Naudeau and Amer Hasan, representing Team Centers, argued that investments are best channeled through centers because SDG target 4.2 calls for every child to have at least one year of pre-primary education. So, if governments are to increase access to preschool, they better do it right (as attending low-quality preschool can actually worsen developmental outcomes! And so can low-quality daycare). Center-based care and education can wield positive impacts on child development (Engle et al 2011), as well as other members of the household (e.g., in Mozambique and Argentina). Plus, early classroom interactions can foster social inclusion while enabling children to develop socio-emotional abilities. Team Centers pointed out that cost-effective approaches to preschools do not necessitate investment in fancy infrastructure, but rather in-service training that builds the social capital of community workers who spend time with children. All acknowledged that quality is key to effectiveness…

Jakarta Basic Education Conference 2017 Presentations now online

Education for hearing-impaired children improved

Why Singapore’s education system needs an overhaul

Disadvantaged students get support from Microsoft

How effective is compulsory schooling as a policy instrument?

Skills or jobs: Which comes first?

For long-term economic development, only skills matter

Exclusive: Pisa data may be incomparable, Schleicher admits

Dutch kids aren’t stressed out: What Americans can learn from how the Netherlands raises children

Robots and Jobs: Evidence from US Labor Markets

Database of Output-Based Aid Education Projects

How Effective Are Active Labor Market Policies in Developing Countries?

What skills are needed for tomorrow’s digital world?


News and Research 36: Shared Principles for an Equitable and Excellent Education System

8120279833_9ab3b00c2d_z.jpgWe just wrapped up a successful, Shared Principles for an Equitable and Excellent Education System, conference in Jakarta. The event was attended by more than 190 guests, including distinguished experts, several ministers, and many members of our own staff. The twitter conversation – which was trending on the first day of the conference #BasicEd – continues.

Education and economic development: Five reforms that have worked  Education systems are simply not performing as needed; not as economies demand, and not as parents desire. Yet it’s important to celebrate and recognize the success of counties that have made significant advances…

Éducation et développement économique: retour sur cinq réformes efficaces

How do we achieve sustained growth? Through human capital, and East Asia and the Pacific proves it  In 1950, the average working-age person in the world had  almost three years of education, but in EAP, the average person had less than half that… but for four decades EAP has grown at roughly twice the pace of the global average…

Indonesia: Global experts gather to discuss how to ensure equal access to quality education

Indonesia: Global Experts Gather To Discuss How To Ensure Equal Access To Quality Education

Media coverage:

Studi Semakin Murah Jangan Korbankan Kualitas

Bank Dunia Kritik Alokasi Anggaran Pendidikan Indonesia

100 Pakar Pendidikan Dunia Kumpul di Jakarta

64 Persen Dana Pendidikan untuk Guru, Kualitas Murid Rendah

Studi Murah Jangan Korbankan Kualitas

Kemendikbud: Tidak Mudah Dorong Wajib Belajar 12 Tahun

Govt to increase spending on vocational education

Bank Dunia: Butuh Setengah Abad Capai Pendidikan Sesuai Standar

Alasan Kenapa Sebagian Besar Anggaran Pendidikan untuk Guru

Mayoritas anggaran pendidikan mengalir ke Pemda

Anggaran Pendidikan RI Habis untuk Gaji dan Tunjangan Guru

Duh! Alokasi Dana untuk Dunia Pendidikan Tak Maksimal

Wamenkeu yakinkan pendidikan gratis tak berarti kualitas minim


Scholarships Give Impoverished Students in Cambodia a Brighter Future

Good Schools Aren’t the Secret to Israel’s High-Tech Boom

Chinese maths textbooks to be translated for UK schools

Going to university or Google?

10 things to know about how to influence policy with research

Education and economic development: Five reforms that have worked

Photo: Sofie Tesson / Taimani Films / World Bank


Every sector is reforming to meet the changing demands of the global economy. Except one. Education remains a predominantly public service.  This is fine except that it means that this is also mainly publicly-provided, publicly-financed, and regulated. No public service agency is expected to do as much as we expect of education. How are education systems around the world faring?

In most countries, education systems are not providing workers with the skills necessary to compete in today’s job markets. Korea is an exception, having started its reform program long ago and raised student outcomes significantly.  Korea is praised for building a solid foundation in the early years and using the private sector judiciously to expand access and develop relevant skills.  The Education Commission – which includes heads of state, government ministers, Nobel laureates, and leaders in the field of education – praises the East Asian nation and urges other countries to follow the “progressive universalism” path exemplified by Korea.

As the recent release of international student test data (TIMSS and PISA) show, there is an urgent need for education system improvements in most countries.  This obvious in low performing countries, as well as in middle income countries trying to catch up. But it is also true for high performers because the nature of the economy is changing, and with it so too are the demands for skills propelled by what the World Economic Forum has coined as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Not only are education outcomes poor in many countries, but the gaps are high and increasing. This is now being reflected in increasing returns to schooling and rising income inequality. Education systems are simply not performing as needed; not as economies demand, and not as parents desire. Even in high performing countries the level of dissatisfaction is high.

It’s important to celebrate and recognize the success of counties that have made significant advances. Here are five:

  • Poland: A reform started in 1999 led to significant results.  By 2012, the OECD ranked Polish teachers among the best in world. Part of the reform was a restructuring of the education system which postponed early tracking in the system.  Research shows that these changes led to a significant increase in scores propelling Poland to the top of the rankings in PISA.
  • Vietnam: PISA results in 2012 and 2015 shocked the world.  A low income country surpassed most OECD countries.  Assessments and evaluations confirm that Vietnam’s primary schools are very productive: “Vietnamese students learned a similar amount per year at the simplest tasks (e.g., addition and subtraction) but much more in terms of applying these to more complex tasks (e.g., multiplication, division and applied problems)” compared to other countries (read more about it in this blog post).  In other words, Vietnamese schools are more productive at imparting learning.  This is also evidenced in the application of Escuela Nueva, an innovative education model from Colombia, in Vietnamese classrooms.


  • Pakistan: A public subsidy program to low-cost private schools in the province of Punjab, Pakistan known as the Foundation Assisted Schools supported by the World Bank.  The program is administered by the Punjab Education Foundation, a semi-autonomous intermediary organization, which leverages public financing to increase equitable access to schooling more efficiently than can be achieved through the province’s public school system.  Large positive effects are detected in terms of coverage, school inputs, teacher support and test scores in a series of papers and articles.
  • Mexico: A school autonomy component, part of a compensatory education project supported by the World Bank, empowers schools to support quality improvements by giving parents ownership, resources and voice, and has been subject to rigorous evaluation.  The first research project showed significant effects on reduced repetition and grade failure.  Subsequent research investigated whether giving parents more control over grants to support local schools could improve student learning, particularly in disadvantaged communities.  Preliminary results suggest that doubling grants to parent associations modestly reduced dropout rates and increased test scores.  However, after only one year, students in schools in which the parent association received training saw an average increase in test scores, compared to students in schools where parents did not receive training.  These increases would move the schools beyond the national average and edge closer to OECD scores.
  • Papua New Guinea: Early childhood development programs and early investments in reading are proving to be very cost-effective investments.  In fact, early reading must be a component of any serious effort to transform education systems.  In Papua New Guinea, an assessment of reading proved that too few school children were reading – at all – in the second grade.  A targeted intervention program in a World Bank-supported project significantly reduced the number of zero word readers in just on academic year.

This reading increase in Papua New Guinea – of about one full standard deviation roughly equal to about three years of schooling – was detected in a randomized trial in one province. If this program was generalized to the whole country, the system would be transformed.  We are getting such results for other countries – The Gambia, Tonga, Kenya, Liberia to name a few – and the news is encouraging.

Improving reading scores in the early years will help us ensure that all children are receiving their fair share out of the education system.  After all, those who cannot read in the early years can’t go on to learn math, science and other subjects, truncating their ability to realize the significant economic and social returns associated with education.  They certainly won’t be able to prosper in the digital economy.

These are some of the lessons of success, especially from East Asia, which we’ll be discussing over the next few days in a conference in Jakarta.

Follow Harry Anthony Patrinos on Twitter at @hpatrinos.

Originally appeared in the World Bank Group education blog.