Spark & sustain: how all the world’s school systems can improve learning at scale

Organisation(s): McKinsey and Company

Date: 2024

Pages: 139 p. + 19 p.


To understand how school systems globally can reignite growth and recover from the learning losses of the pandemic, McKinsey examined the drivers of school system improvements in the decade prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. This research covered both school systems that were improving and those in decline. We analyzed global data and spoke with more than 200 system leaders, donors and philanthropists, not-for-profit leaders, academics, and consultants - all of whom pointed to the complexity of the challenge. To understand what is driving improvement - and how it can be replicated - we conducted in-depth research on 14 school systems that demonstrated improvement in the decade prior to the pandemic. Traditionally, education studies have tended to focus on school systems that performed well on international assessments, taking a snapshot of performance without considering the size of the system, the return on investment for spending, or improvement over time. To paint a more balanced picture, this research focuses on large national and subnational systems, across a range of income levels, that demonstrated improvement at scale. Our analysis suggests that successful systems, at every level of spending and national development, use reinforcing strategies to create a virtuous cycle, enabling significant, long-term gains in student learning.

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