On Aug. 30, the Research Department of the Inter-American Development Bank launched its 2017 flagship report, examining the challenges of skills development throughout people’s lives. Based on a deep review of studies from around the world, the report, Learning Better: Public Policy for Skills Development, uses rigorous evidence to determine which interventions work and which don’t in the effort to boost skills from infancy and preschool, through all the levels of formal schooling and job training for adults, with cost-effectiveness as an essential focus.
The report launched in Mexico City follows in a long IDB tradition of annual flagship reports that provide detailed reviews and recommendations in key areas of policymaking. But this year for the first time, the IDB is providing an additional, accompanying feature: an online SkillsBank that allows policymakers, practitioners and researchers to examine studies done by hundreds of researchers globally over the last 40 years. These include studies that were reviewed and support the report’s conclusions.
All this makes it truly unique. The United States Department of Education has a website that allows users to explore evaluations of U.S.-based programs. The IDB’s SkillsBank, however, is the first website to our knowledge that covers evaluations done in both developed and developing countries and is directly linked to a detailed report on all programs covered. A policymaker or researcher, as a result, can objectively analyze any claims made in our report and view the immense universe of rigorous studies available, which for reasons of space, could not be included in the report.
A key advantage of the site, apart from its unprecedented breadth and detail is its easy-to use, intuitive nature. This makes further investigation into a given area extremely fast. Let’s say, for example, that a Minister of Education is particularly interested in looking at the most effective programs for improving skills when children are in primary school. He or she can go to the site, click on “learning in primary” and see 13 different program types, from tutoring and monetary incentives to increasing the length of the school day that have shown evidence of effectiveness. These are all listed in descending order according to their effectiveness, with a “+” sign at the bottom to see program types without statistically significant effects.
The minister may be especially interested in tutoring, which at the top of the list, is the most effective. Clicking on “tutoring,” will show tutoring’s average effect on learning, the name of each study, that study’s average effect size, the number of observations (or persons participating), whether the study was conducted using the gold standard of experimental evaluation, and in what country it was carried out. There is also a brief description of each study and a graph of effects, which, among other features, shows the range of effects found in the study.
For even more detail, the minister can then click on any study that provokes his or her interest. That unfolds an even greater wealth of detail, including more background information, where the study was conducted; the duration of the study; its cost; specifics of the intervention and its methodology; and a link to the actual study for further detail.
The same can be done for the huge numbers of studies in the areas of early childhood cognition and behavior; secondary school enrolment, completion of school and learning; and, in the future, programs for people 18 years of age and older.
In our era of highly subjective and opinionated news, people often long for information without “spin.” Our flagship report strives to be just that: an objective view of the rigorous evidence on the effectiveness of programs and interventions that can enhance individual abilities and boost the productivity of nations. The SkillsBank, the work of many researchers, goes a step further. It provides the studies and raw data so the ministers, school principals, researchers and others interested need not just accept our claims, but can further evaluate them for themselves and make up their own minds. Scheduled to be updated annually, we expect it to be an essential tool in the pursuit of skills improvement for years to come.