Schooling vs. Learning


Graphic showing annual average per capital growth in GDP conditional on test scores, years of schooling completed

According to Nelson Mandela, “education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” A comprehensive new World Bank Report called Learning to Realize Education’s Promise shows why Mandela’s words are so pertinent.

“Schooling is not the same as learning,” the report declares. It also says that today, many countries face a learning crisis—even citizens that go to school are leaving without a real working knowledge of what their classes were supposed to teach.

Evidence shows that at the individual level, this lack of effective education affects employment prospects, income, mental health and teen pregnancy, for only a few examples. Communities with lower rates of education experience higher crime. On a larger scale, education deficits can lead to wealth and gender gaps, political instability, poverty, and slow economic growth.

As the graph above shows, economic growth arises not from the amount of schooling a student receives, but is instead correlated with test scores that measure students’ quality of learning. Even ensuring that students acquire basic cognitive skills “could massively boost economic outcomes, especially in developing countries.”

Graphic showing how to improve learning system

Photo via Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. World Bank Group. 

The report lays out guidelines for how to maximize quality of education, starting with learning assessments, evidence-based interventions, and the alignment of actors. Ineffective school management and school inputs, unskilled and unmotivated teachers, and unprepared learners all have directly negative effects on the student’s ability to learn. Indirectly, actors like politicians, the private sector, and peers and communities are at play as well. The report argues that all stakeholders must be aligned to create an environment that maximizes the student’s potential to gain workable knowledge that will benefit themselves and their societies.


Photo via Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. World Bank Group. 

Databyte via Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. World Bank Group.