Can we stay the course on education?

January 20, 2010

     By Duncan Green     

Education is an aid good news story, but one that needs renewed commitment if it is not to turn South Asian education picsour. This from ‘Rescuing Education for All’, published by Oxfam yesterday:

‘Remarkable progress was being forged across the developing world, spurred by a new global commitment to the Education For All (EFA) goals. These goals were answered by substantial increases in aid during the first half of the decade, extensive debt relief, and a growing political commitment to education in developing countries. The EFA Fast Track Initiative (FTI) was also established in 2002 as a global partnership to support national efforts to reach universal primary education.

Results soon followed. The number of children out of school worldwide fell by 33 million to a total of 72 million in 2007. The primary school net enrolment rate for all developing countries increased twice as fast in the years after 1999 as it did in the 1990s. Aid increases enabled many African countries to abolish primary school tuition fees, leading to substantial enrolment increases. The gender gap began to narrow, and gender parity at the primary level was achieved in two-thirds of countries with data.

However, things took a less promising turn in the middle of the decade. By 2005, global aid commitments for basic education had begun to stagnate, followed by an alarming 22 per cent decline between 2006 and 2007.

In addition to this slowdown, the quality of aid for education has been unacceptably poor: it is too often uncoordinated, fragmented, and driven by donor priorities. For example, in 2006, Cambodia had 16 donors implementing 57 projects in the education sector alone. Some donors continue to bypass national systems, to provide their aid programs in isolation from national strategies, and to use short-term trajectories, undermining the longer-term impact of their aid.

Big challenges have also remained in meeting the Education for All goals. Despite the upward enrolment trend, there were still more children out of school globally in 2007 than primary school-aged children in the entire developed world. In spite of strong evidence that educating girls delivers powerful economic and public health benefits, girls’ enrolment has continued to lag behind that of boys, especially at the secondary level.’

What to do? The report focuses on the FTI, arguing that it needs to be overhauled and upgraded into a Global Fund for Education, consciously drawing on the successes (and learning from the failures) of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM). The Oxfam paper makes a conscious pitch for US leadership on this:

‘The US is currently behind the curve in supporting the Education for All goals, and has not actively participated in the Fast Track Initiative. However, President Obama made a commitment as a presidential candidate to create a $2bn global education fund, and this promise has been reiterated by Secretary of State Clinton, who has a strong track record of support for global education programs. Also, in 2008 the US committed to make its foreign aid more effective when it signed on to the Accra Agenda for Action at the High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.

The Global Fund for Education could become a model for broader US development reform – not only improving the impact of aid for education, but also piloting broader US efforts to make its aid more effective.’

GMR2010UNESCO’s new Education for All Global Monitoring Report, also published yesterday is more glass-half-empty, emphasizing the threat to education funding from the global downturn and its potential impact on aid budgets. But it agrees on reforming the FTI;

‘The FTI experience contrasts strongly with multilateral initiatives in health. To take the most notable example, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has succeeded in mobilizing and delivering additional resources through a broad donor base. One of the strengths of the Global Fund, in contrast with the FTI, has been the creation of innovative financing windows for philanthropic donations. Governance arrangements differ markedly from those of the FTI. The Global Fund is an independent organization, staffed by a strong secretariat, and developing countries have a strong voice at all levels. It has delivered significant results in terms of impact, including in countries with weak capacity: it had disbursed US$7 billion by 2008 and supplied antiretroviral drugs to 2 million people. Notwithstanding some obvious differences and the problems associated with vertical initiatives geared towards specific diseases, there are important lessons to be drawn for FTI reform.’

January 20, 2010
Duncan Green