Education International
Education International

Is this the end

published 24 September 2012 updated 15 October 2012
written by:

Getting foreign aid to fund the right policies

In a world where there is less funding for education, we need to take full advantage of the opportunities we have and ensure the right investments are made. While it is true that many donor countries are no longer funding education because of the economic context, others have changed plans because of the sheer lack of results. In many countries, the government has received substantial amounts of external funding for education for years, devoting most of it to building the capacity of ministry staff, while teachers’ salaries go unpaid for months and in-service training is neglected. There are many examples of misuse of aid for education, just as there are many examples of money invested in the wrong programmes and in the wrong policies, which in the long run are harmful to public education.

How would you feel if your government used GPE funds to hire ex-primary school students as teachers? Should a qualified and trained professional have no contract or guarantees for the future, being paid less than half the salary of a teacher hired under a regular contract? What would you say if there were plans to link your salary raise to the number of words your students can read per minute? These are some concrete examples of policies that have been or will be funded through GPE. That could happen either in your country or with contributions from your country. That is, your taxes might be financing overseas policies you would not accept at home.

Annexe : Subventions approuvées cette année par le GPE

Afghanistan : 55,7 millions de dollars américains pour améliorer l’accès des filles à l’éducation dans 40 districts pauvres et isolés. Dans un contexte d’après-guerre difficile, ce nouveau financement permettra également d’accroître le nombre de femmes enseignantes dans les régions marquées par d’importantes disparités entre les sexes.

Côte d’Ivoire : 41,4 millions de dollars pour soutenir l’engagement du gouvernement national à réhabiliter son système éducatif après 10 ans d’instabilité politique, et notamment à contribuer aux efforts pour construire et rénover les classes, fournir des manuels scolaires et lancer des programmes de cantines scolaires. La subvention contribuera à construire de petites écoles secondaires « adaptées aux filles » dans les zones rurales afin d’augmenter le nombre d’inscriptions de celles-ci dans le premier cycle de l’enseignement secondaire. Il s’agit de la première demande de financement introduite par la Côte d’Ivoire auprès du Partenariat mondial pour l’éducation.

Guinée-Bissau : 12 millions à investir en priorité dans la construction d’écoles et la réhabilitation des équipements. La subvention contribuera également à accroître le nombre d’inscriptions des filles dans les écoles.

Mali : 41,7 millions pour réformer son système éducatif et faire la transition vers une plus grande décentralisation de la gouvernance de l’éducation. Parmi les réformes, les comités scolaires locaux assumeront des responsabilités plus importantes afin d’élargir la portée et la qualité de l’enseignement primaire.

Moldavie : 4,4 millions pour développer ses programmes en matière de développement de la petite enfance et d’éducation préscolaire, en vue d’inclure davantage d’enfants ayant des besoins spéciaux et de permettre aux filles résidant en zones rurales d’avoir davantage accès à l’éducation. Mongolie : 10 millions pour permettre de poursuivre les efforts visant à améliorer l’accès à l’éducation pour les enfants vulnérables et vivant en zones rurales dans les régions principalement fréquentée par les populations nomades, et de soutenir ses programmes d’éducation préscolaire, en particulier pour les filles résidant dans les zones rurales.

Timor oriental : 2,8 millions pour poursuivre ses travaux antérieurs visant à augmenter le nombre d’inscriptions dans l’enseignement primaire, éradiquer l’analphabétisme et promouvoir l’éducation des filles.

Annex: Grants approved in 2012 by GPE, in US$ millions:

Afghanistan will receive $55.7 million to improve access to education for girls in 40 isolated and impoverished districts. In a challenging post-conflict environment, this new financing will also increase the number of female teachers in areas with high gender disparities.

Cote d'Ivoire’s $41.4 million grant will support the national government's commitment to rehabilitate its education system after 10 years of political instability, including efforts to build and repair classrooms, provide textbooks and launch school feeding programs. The grant will also help the construction of small ‘girl-friendly’ middle schools in rural areas to improve girls’ enrollment in lower secondary education. This is Cote d'Ivoire’s first funding request to the Global Partnership.

Guinea-Bissau was allocated $12 million to concentrate on school construction and equipment rehabilitation. The grant will also help more girls enroll in school.

Mali will receive $41.7 million to reform its education system and transition to more decentralized education governance. As a part of the reforms, local school committees will assume greater responsibilities in order to expand basic education coverage and quality. Moldova: $4.4 million to expand its internationally-recognized pre-school and Early Childhood Development programmes to include more children with special needs and help girls in rural areas gain more access to education.

Mongolia’s $10 million grant to improve access to education for rural and vulnerable children in mostly nomadic areas and bolster its preschool programmes, especially for girls in rural areas.

Timor Leste was allocated $2.8 million to build on its previous achievements of enrolling more children in primary school, eliminating illiteracy and supporting girls’ education.

The role of teachers unions

As mentioned earlier, EI is the representative of the teaching profession on the partnership’s Board of Directors and, accordingly, has the possibility to influence the decisions taken. Clearly, the teaching profession’s influence will be greater if exerted also at the national level, both in donor and developing countries. If your country is receiving GPE funds, your organization can be part of the Local Education Group and help decide which policies will be promoted. If your country is contributing financially to the GPE fund, your organization can help lobby the government to ensure that teachers are involved in the decision-making processes and social dialogue is respected. This way we can bridge the gap between international advocacy and the reality at the national level.

All things considered, foreign aid for education, although in decline, is not yet finished. If teachers’ organizations play a more active role in GPE, we can ensure transparency and accountability in the use of funds and promote policies that lead to significant improvements in quality and access to education. Our involvement can lead to the results we all expect, even in a context of crisis. In fact, more than a financial crisis, the world is going through a crisis of trust and leadership, to which the only lasting solution is public schools that deliver quality education.

Amid increased concerns about fiscal sustainability of private banks and sovereign states, the measure of choice has been to enhance efforts at fiscal austerity. Rather than regulate the financial system more effectively and impose sanctions on those actually responsible for global economic turmoil, governments are applying budgetary cuts that threaten public services, hampering sustainable recovery in the long run. The effects of such measures on education start to become apparent nationally,   as working conditions worsen and investment is reduced, and internationally, as the levels of official development assistance for the sector reaches an all-time low. The public school is being used as the scapegoat for the crisis in advanced economies and developing countries alike. Are the days gone when the international community promised that no country committed to Education for All would fail by lack of resources?

It is true that some countries that have been major providers of aid to education reduced their allocation for programmes in developing countries for the coming years. Others are phasing out or have cancelled their education aid programmes altogether. In the meantime, the World Bank’s support for the sector in 2011 was reduced by more than 50% in comparison with the previous year and the prospects that the Bank will deliver its promised US$ 750 million for education in the next 5 years are less than encouraging. Knowing that there are some 70 million children out of school, thus most likely condemned to poverty, and that there will be less funding available to provide those that need the most with an opportunity to go to school, one wonders whether the financial crisis means the end of foreign aid for education. Despite the bleak scenario, there are still good opportunities for education out there. The Global Partnership for Education is a concrete example.

The global fund for Education for All

Formerly known as the Fast Track Initiative, the recently renamed Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is a platform that brings together UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank, the European Commission, Education International, private sector foundations, civil society, donors and 46 developing countries. It provides technical and financial support that enables partners to elaborate and implement national programmes to achieve universal primary education. Between 2004 and 2010, it funded programs worth over US$ 2.2 billion. To mention some concrete results, the partnership hired over 300,000 teachers, distributed 200 million textbooks, built 30,000 classrooms and set up school meal programs that benefited over 700,000 children. How does it work? Put briefly, developing country governments elaborate a national education plan and submit it to the Partnership along with a funding request. The Board of Directors, which includes EI, as the representative of the teaching profession, eventually approves it and the government receives the funds to implement the programme proposed. The question that arises is whether GPE will continue to deliver results for education in the current context of changes in priorities for foreign assistance and budget cuts for aid to the sector. There are good reasons to be optimistic.

In November 2011, GPE held its first replenishment conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. The objective was to mobilize donors to replenish the Global Partnership for Education Fund, which will finance national programs, and get developing country governments to commit to increasing investment in education. Needless to say, obtaining firm commitments from governments in the midst of a financial crisis that has no expiry date on it is not an easy task. Nevertheless, despite the unfavourable scenario, partners stepped up to the plate. Developing countries pledged to increase domestic investment in education by more than US$ 2 billion. Donor countries contributed nearly US$ 1.5 billion to the fund for the period 2012-2015. The promises are made. Whether GPE will deliver the expected results depends to a great extent on the active involvement of teachers’ organizations with the partnership.