Worlds of Education

Credits: Dominic Chavez/World Bank
Credits: Dominic Chavez/World Bank

#WDR2018 Reality Check #20: Half-Hearted Commitment to Teacher Learning, by Mark Ginsburg

published 27 March 2018 updated 25 March 2019
written by:

I recently completed work on a moderated discussion (Ginsburg et al., 2018) for the Comparative Education Review (CER) focused on the World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise (WDR) (Filmer et al., 2018). In the moderated discussion I muted my voice in order to facilitate a conversation among colleagues representing a range of perspectives and experiences. However, I feel the need to express my views about some issues addressed in the WDR.

Like my colleagues participating in the CER moderated discussion, I was pleased to see that the WDR 2018 focused specifically on education, for the first time in its 40-year history. I was also encouraged to see that the WDR paid attention not only to student learning but also to teacher learning. Unlike the World Bank’s (2011) Education Strategy 2020 document, which devoted no attention to teacher learning (see Ginsburg, 2012, p. 86), the WDR goes further than merely calling for in-service training to build the “human capital” of teachers. Noting that “[a]fter prepared and motivated learners, equipped and motivated teachers are the most fundamental ingredient of [student] learning” and that “education systems often lack effective mechanisms to mentor and motivate teachers,” the WDR (Filmer et al., 2018, pp. 131-132) identifies “three principles that are key to achieving learning success through teachers [including]: To be effective, teacher training needs to be individually targeted and repeated, with follow-up coaching …” This principle appears to take seriously the idea that teachers are individual learners, although I would use a different term than “targeted” and give more attention to teachers own views on their learning needs. Moreover, the WDR refers to two of the key principles for organizing in-service teacher education: 1) it should be an ongoing process (my interpretation of “repeated”) and 2) workshops or “training” activities should be followed up by supervisory guidance and support in the school setting (i.e., “coaching”).

However, the WDR could have elaborated on these as well as discussed other principles for organizing in-service teacher education. For example, attention could have been given to: a) involving teachers in planning and implementation of programs, b) focusing on pedagogical content knowledge, c) using adult-oriented models of active learning, d) incorporating reflective practice and action research, and e) ensuring that successful participation in in-service programs receives official recognition (see Craig et al., 1998; Feiman-Nemser, 2008; Hammerness et al., 2005; Leu & Ginsburg, 2011; Schwille & Dembélé, 2007; Sprinthall et al., 1996; Villegas-Reimers, 2003). Nevertheless, we should acknowledge positively that the WDR mentions that conducting “follow-up visits to teachers’ classrooms to provide ongoing support” is a “good practice of in-service teacher training” (Filmer et al., 2018, p. 133).

So, why do I say that the WDR’s commitment to teacher learning is only half-hearted? It is because the Report (Filmer et al., 2018) recognizes that “[i]n-service professional development requires significant time and resources” (p. 132) and that “[m]any countries will protest that high-quality in-service professional development – repeated, with follow-up visits in school … – is beyond their budget to deliver at scale” (p. 133). However, the Report in its “Spotlight 6: Spending more, spending better – or both?” seems to put as much, if not more, emphasis on the efficient use of financial resources than on increasing the amount of resources devoted to educational expenditure:

While there is a strong rationale for public investment in education, the relationship between spending and learning outcomes is often weak. … There are five main reasons why spending does not always lead to better and more equal student learning outcomes: [a] Spending is not allocated equitably. [b] Funds do not reach schools or are not used for their intended purposes. [c] Public spending can substitute for private spending. [d] Decisions on the use of public funding are not coherently aligned with learning. [e] Government agencies lack the capacity to use funding effectively. (p. 184)

Thus, the WDR follows in the tradition of the World Bank’s Education Strategy 2020 document (World Bank, 2011), [1] which emphasizes the more efficient use of insufficient financial resources by governments and the World Bank’s SABER-Teachers framework document(World Bank, 2013), [2] which calls for greater effort by teachers, despite inadequate compensation and supervisory support. In the WDR the World Bank calls on governments (and perhaps teachers) to increase their activity designed to enhance teacher (and student) learning, either with existing levels of financial support or, at best, only a relatively modest increase in funding (Filmer et al, 2018):

Education funding is sometimes inadequate and often allocated in ways inconsistent with a goal of providing equitable opportunities for effective learning. (p. 171)

The weak link between spending and learning is a feature of the different environments in which education systems operate. … These simple correlations also suggest that many education systems are delivering learning outcomes well below what is possible given current levels of funding. (p. 173)

Good teachers, conducive learning environments, reliable assessment systems, and innovative learning technologies all cost money. And as more students progress further in school, financing needs will rise. Yet more funding leads to better learning only if it is used well … (p. 183)

Decisions on how to use public resources often lack coherent alignment with learning. The evidence on ways to improve learning is growing, suggesting ways to use funding more effectively. (p 186)

Of course, such advice is particularly problematic for the low-income countries, whose average student scores on international assessments of literacy and numeracy – Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) – the WDR recognizes as being below “95 percent of the students in high-income countries” (Filmer et al., 2018, p. 5). For instance, one estimate of the amount of international finance required on an annual basis to support lower-income countries’ achievement of Sustainable Development Goal #4 in 2030 is US$89 billion (Education Commission, 2016, p. 22). However, this amount is what would be necessary to address the expansion of primary and secondary enrollment without specifically focusing on enhancing the quality, frequency, and scope of in-service teacher education. To its credit, the WDR does note the need for external actors to address the funding shortages in lower-income countries, but it does so while devoting as much, if not more, attention to the effective use of such funding:

While the overall contribution of development assistance to country investments in education is relatively small, it is important in some low-income countries ... Moreover, global estimates of the investments required to raise learning as part of the SDGs imply a need to increase development assistance, particularly to low-income countries.

But external actors must provide financing in a way that aligns systems with learning. … External actors can support alignment by shifting the focus of systems toward learning, linking their financing to results rather than the provision of specific inputs or activities. (Filmer et al., 2018, pp. 211-212)

Thus, with respect to promoting an increase in domestic as well as international funding to cover the costs of more extensive and better in-service teacher education (among other education budget items), the WDR seems to reflect, at best, a half-hearted commitment to teacher learning.

#WDR2018 Reality Check is a blog series organized by Education International.  The series brings together the voices of education experts and activists – researchers, teachers, unionists and civil society actors - from across the world in response to the 2018 World Development Report, Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. The series will form the basis of a publication in advance of the WB Spring Meetings 2018. If you would like to contribute to the series, please get in touch with Jennifer at jennifer.ulrick@ei-ie.org. All views expressed are those of the authors alone and do not represent the views of Education International.

Check out the previous post in the series by Helge Wasmuth and Elena Nitecki: #WDR2018 Reality Check #19: Early Childhood in the WDR 2018: Acknowledged, but Still Rooted in Western-Centric and Economically-Focused Thinking


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Filmer, D.; Rogers, H.; Al-Samarrai, S.; Bendini, M.; Béteille, T.; Evans, D.; Kivine, M.; Sabarwal, S.; Valerio, A.; Abu-Jawdeh, M.; Larson, B.; Shrestha, U.; Yuan, F.; de Hoyos, R.; and Naudeau, S. (2018). World development report 2018: Learning to realize education’s promise(WDR). Washington, DC: The World Bank Group. Available at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/wdr2018.

Ginsburg, M. (2012). Teachers as learners: A missing focus in ‘Learning for All.’ In S. Klees, J. Samoff, and N. Stromquist (eds.), The World Bank and education: Critiques and alternatives, pp. 83-94. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Ginsburg, M.; Archer, D.; Barrera-Osorio, F.; Lake, L.; Vally, S.; Wachter, N.; and Ulrick, J. (2018). “CER Moderated discussion on World Development Report 2018: Realizing the Promise of Education for Development.” Comparative Education Review 62 (2).

Hammerness, K., Darling-Hammond, L., & Bransford, J. with Berliner, D., Cochran-Smith, M., McDonald, M., & Zeichner, K. (2005). How teachers learn and develop. In L. Darling-Hammond & J. Bransford (Eds.), Preparing teachers for a changing world(pp. 358-389). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Leu, E. & Ginsburg, M. (2011). Designing Effective Education Programs For In-Service Teacher Professional Development: EQUIP1 First Principles Compendium. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research, Academy for Educational Development, and USAID. Available at: http://www.equip123.net/docs/E1‐FP_In‐Svc_TPD_Compendium.pdf.

Schwille, J., & Dembélé, M. with Schubert, J. (2007). Global perspectives on teacher learning: Improving policy and practice. Paris: UNESCO-IIEP.

Sprinthall, N., Reiman, A., & Thies-Sprinthall, L. (1996). Teacher professional development. In J. Sikula, T. Buttery, & E. Guyton (eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education(2nd ed., pp. 666–703). New York: Macmillan.

Villegas-Reimers, E. (2003). Teacher professional development: An international review of the literature. Paris: IIEP-UNESCO.

World Bank. (2011). Learning for all: Investing in people’s knowledge and skills to promote development. World Bank Group Education Strategy 2020. Washington, DC: World Bank. Available at: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/27790/649590WP0REPLA00WB0EdStrategy0final.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

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[1] For example, the World Bank’s Education Strategy document states that “getting value for the education dollar requires smart investments—that is, investments that have proven to contribute to learning” (World Bank, 2011, p. 4, italics added).

[2] For example, the SABER Teacher framework document states that “high-performing education systems achieve good education results using different combinations of teacher policies. Some systems may focus the bulk of their policy efforts on building the capacity of their teacher force through strong teacher initial education and teacher professional development programs, and give teachers ample autonomy to make decisions regarding instruction. Other education systems, instead, place a greater policy emphasis on managing in detail various aspects of teachers’ work, focusing on evaluating teachers and providing incentives targeted to elicit specific behaviors” (World Bank, 2013, p. 8; italics added).

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.