In this tenth post, we take stock of potential progress in prioritizing international aid, focusing on the education sector in sub-Saharan Africa.
First of all, let us recall the definition of aid: it is “material help given by one country to another”, and one “would expect aid to go to those most in need”1. Note that aid has remained at about 0.3 percent of donor countries’ gross national income for the last 15 years. In 2005, European Union countries committed to allocating 0.7 percent of their gross national income to official development assistance (ODA). However, of the 30 OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) countries, only five had met the 0.7 percent target by 20192.
Why make Africa a priority?
Many children in sub-Saharan Africa are still out of school. When they do attend school, they often do not acquire basic skills, as many surveys have revealed in recent years. Foreign aid, even if it is not commensurate with the overall budget of the states, is therefore necessary to carrying forth the development of education systems. This is all the more the case in the wake of COVID-19: National education budgets have experienced or will experience relatively significant cuts as a result of the pandemic2.
Aid to the region
Paradoxically, while the needs of many Sub-Saharan African countries are substantial, a surprising amount of aid goes to countries that are far from the poorest1. To illustrate this point, it should be noted that between 2000 and 2010, more than half the World Bank’s education funds were allocated to three countries: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh3. In recent years, aid has increased most in North Africa and the Middle East2.
However, aid to education in Sub-Saharan Africa, which had been falling until the first half of the 2010s, has been on an upward trend over the last five years. Between 2014 and 2019, aid to Sub-Saharan Africa increased from USD 1.4 to USD 1.7 billion (Figure 1). These figures may underrepresent the total allocated to Sub-Saharan Africa, as it is likely that a share of aid that is not allocated to countries in the OECD database (unspecified aid) flows to the region2.
Figure 1. Total aid to education disbursements, by region, 2009-2019Source: World Bank & GEMR-UNESCO (2021)
Basic education still a priority for the region. And yet…
Let us look, in particular, at aid to basic education, which encompasses preschool, primary, early secondary, and adult literacy. It is at this level that students acquire basic knowledge and skills, including literacy and numeracy. This period corresponds to what is internationally recognized as the time when schooling should be compulsory.
While aid to this sector increased between 2015 and 2016, it has since fallen (Figure 2). This has been due, in part, to a lower allocation from the United Kingdom (-29%), much of which was for basic education. Another observation: while the needs are great for this educational sub-sector, more aid is destined for post-secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa, i.e., USD 1.27 billion as opposed to USD 829 million for basic education, which is a challenge in terms of social justice4.
Figure 2. Total aid to education disbursements, by level of education, 2009-2019 Source: World Bank & GEMR-UNESCO (2021)
What about marginalized populations?
Ainsi, non seulement l’aide ne cible pas nécessairement les pays et les Not only does aid not necessarily target the relevant countries and education sectors, but the most marginalized populations are not always the first to benefit from aid, either. For example, the poorest girls are 60 years behind the richest boys in terms of universal primary completion1. How effective, then, has the educational aid of the past 30 decades actually been? The same applies to disparities between populations living in rural and urban areas, with the latter being favored by aid. This is reflected, in particular, in the figures on school retention or on the level of qualification of the teaching staff in rural areas (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Percentage of the population with less than four years of education for the age group 20-24 years Source : World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE) (2021)
More aid… but more importantly, better management of that aid
Of course, an increase in resources is not enough to bring about change in education. Indeed, recent increases in public education spending have been associated with relatively small improvements in education outcomes. Although access to education has improved, according to the World Bank, 53% of ten-year-olds in low- and- middle-income countries are unable to read or understand a short, age-appropriate text. This is largely due to deficiencies in the management of resources by the States. From the perspective of resource management, few countries are able to communicate, in particular to UNESCO, how much they spend on primary, secondary, and tertiary education. Furthermore, countries like Chad and Niger spend amounts similar to those spent by Malawi and Sierra Leone, but achieve less than half the learning adjusted years of schooling.2.
IN CONCLUSION, IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THAT WHILE FOREIGN AID IS SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASING IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA, THE CHALLENGE IS TO ENSURE THAT IT SUFFICIENTLY AND EFFECTIVELY TARGETS COUNTRIES, SECTORS, AND POPULATIONS IN NEED. THIS IS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT GIVEN THAT DONOR COUNTRIES ARE LIKELY—AND SOME HAVE ALREADY BEGUN—TO SHIFT THEIR AID BUDGETS TO NATIONAL PRIORITIES RELATED TO UNEMPLOYMENT, AND TO BUSINESS SUPPORT MEASURES ADDRESSING THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE PANDEMIC. DONOR PRIORITIES MAY ALSO SHIFT TO HEALTH OR OTHER EMERGENCIES IN RECIPIENT COUNTRIES. SOME ESTIMATES PREDICT THAT EDUCATION AID COULD FALL BY USD 2 BILLION FROM ITS 2020 PEAK, AND NOT RETURN TO 2018 LEVELS UNTIL 2027.
For decades, governments in the global South, including in sub-Saharan Africa, have been officially adopting international development goals and, therefore, education goals. From 1990 to 2015, along with the Millennium Development Goals, the well-known Education for All agenda focused on the mass enrollment of students at the primary level. Although there has been clear progress in the number of students enrolled in schools worldwide, the fact that too many children and young people are out of school and lack basic literacy skills has prompted the international community to continue its efforts.
Thus, the international agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was adopted in 2015. Unlike previous agendas, the SDGs are universal in that they also concern the countries of the global North. Another particularity is that these goals are much broader, emphasizing both access and quality at levels of education other than merely primary. In this article, based on research conducted over the past two years, we question the relevance of this international agenda considering African national realities, using the specific example of global citizenship education (GCE).
This concept is explicitly reflected in the SDG 4.7: “Ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development” . UNESCO, the institution that has propelled this concept onto the international stage, outlines the concept: GCE aims to “instill in learners the values, attitudes and behaviors that support responsible global citizenship: creativity, innovation, and commitment to peace, human rights and sustainable development” .
First challenge: before addressing the global nature of citizenship, should national citizenship not be stabilized on the African continent? Indeed, this citizenship, with its colonial legacy (in terms of the arbitrary distribution of national territories), has been increasingly contested since the end of the Cold War; and has been a source of violent political and democratic struggles throughout the continent. More recently, in Mali, for example, the fragility of the state and the ethnic tensions fueled by jihadists have led to violent attacks on Dogon, Fulani, and other villages.
Second challenge: citizenship education, whether national or global, must be able to bring about changes in the students, who will be the citizens of tomorrow. This requires a certain quality of teaching and learning. However, due to large class sizes and teaching practices that emphasize recitation and memorization, it is difficult to actively engage students in complex tasks. Moreover, many people interviewed in the field, including at UNESCO, recognize that among all the SDGs’ education-related targets, Goal 4.7 is not necessarily a priority for Africa: there are higher priorities like teaching and learning issues. This also raises questions about the choices made in terms of the language of instruction. In many African countries, the language of the former colonial power is still the one taught in school. However, without mentioning the socio-cultural dimension that is flouted, here, it has been widely demonstrated that students tend not to master this language. This underlines the importance of teaching in the mother tongue, at least partially, to effectively implement education for active citizenship and to train students capable of reflecting on what it means to be a citizen in their own contexts.
Third challenge: behind the concept of global citizenship lies the idea of the place and role of citizens in an increasingly globalized world. We believe that the concept of global citizenship makes sense in Africa, given the challenges that this continent faces: population growth, urbanization, the climate crisis, and socioeconomic inequalities. However, we know that in the context of globalization, there are winning and losing countries—and that the balance is tilted against Africa, which generally does not fully benefit from the supposed advantages of the new global economy. So, can there really be a sense of belonging to a global community that leaves many by the wayside? Even in Northern countries, GCE is viewed within a minimalist framework that considers global citizenship, at best, a Band-Aid solution to the social and ecological challenges of globalization (e.g., via learning to sort one’s waste, exchanging letters with students in distant countries, etc.), but certainly not one that enables deep societal changes.
Fourth challenge: the ‘global’ nature of GCE implies not being locked into merely local issues, but also being open to the rest of the world. However, we note a gap between what the curriculum suggests in terms of student decentration and classroom practices. Our research in Senegal shows that most teachers mainly cover issues related to that country because they are not sufficiently trained or informed about foreign issues—including what is happening in neighboring countries. This would require the availability and mastery of digital tools to research issues with a global scope—in particular, the Internet or social networks—as well as the ability to operationalize them at the local community level. This is far from being the case at present.
Beyond these challenges, it is important to note that the concept of GCE has not remained solely at the international level. It has already been integrated into numerous reports and declarations at the national and regional levels in Africa. Indeed, it appears that the discourse around GCE has been systematically taken up in the key texts of national education policies since 2015. Could one say blindly? A detailed examination of these policies shows there is no explicitation of the concept or precision as to how it is perceived in specific national contexts. At the regional level, the concept of GCE is found in the Kigali Declaration of the Ministerial Conference on Post-2015 Education for Sub-Saharan Africa. Also, a recent UNESCO report, Global Citizenship Education: Taking it Local, demonstrates that there are national/local/traditional concepts that aim to promote ideas reflecting those at the heart of GCE. This is the case, for example, with the Charter of Mandenin Mali .
IN CONCLUSION, WE BELIEVE THAT GLOBAL CITIZENSHIP EDUCATION, A GOAL OF THE 2015-2030 INTERNATIONAL AGENDA, IS A CONCEPT THAT HAS VIABLE PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS FOR AFRICAN COUNTRIES. NEVERTHELESS, PROGRAMS RELATED TO GCE CANNOT IGNORE THE CHALLENGES OF CITIZENSHIP (INTERNAL CONFLICTS, TYPES OF PEDAGOGY, AND LANGUAGE CHOICES) AND GLOBALIZATION (PROFOUND CHANGES AND KNOWLEDGE OF GLOBAL ISSUES), WHICH COULD POTENTIALLY COMPROMISE ITS DISSEMINATION. FINALLY, IT SHOULD BE REMEMBERED THAT EDUCATION ALSO TAKES PLACE IN AN INFORMAL SETTING, OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL; THE MOST PROMISING EXPERIENCES IN GLOBAL CITIZENSHIP ON THE CONTINENT COME FROM AWARENESS-RAISING WITHIN LOCAL COMMUNITIES OR SOCIAL NETWORKS.
As a preamble, let us recall that to compensate for African states’ financial incapacity to meet the educational needs of their populations, international cooperation has historically been present on the African continent. Aid to education in sub-Saharan Africa has seen an upward trend over the past five years. Between 2014 and 2019, it increased from US$1.4 billion to US$1.7 billion .
In this context, the 2000 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness is explicit: “Donors commit to harmonize their activities. Harmonization should focus on […] co-ordination of political engagement; and practical initiatives such as the establishment of joint donor offices” .
Indeed, aid coordination would make it possible to act more effectively in favor of populations in need, particularly in remote areas of the continent, by joining human and financial forces rather than leaving each party to act alone in its corner. This would be all the more the case in the context of a proliferation of cooperation institutions and new financing mechanisms in Africa.
However, these intentions, relevant as they may be, have been in vain for decades of cooperation in the education sector in Africa. As far back as 1967, the British think tank ODI pointed out the lack of coordination among aid agencies, criticizing the anomalies resulting from conflicts of interest, different administrative procedures, and contradictory prescriptions for the social progress of recipient countries .
In recent years, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which brings together a variety of entities from the international community, was created in part to address this challenge with the “by working better together, through collaboration and coordination, the aid regime will become more democratic and participatory” . But the multilateral and bilateral cooperation institutions represented in the GPE continue to act independently according to their own agendas, which limits this coordination effort. Additionally, the instruments have been multiplying as new international financing mechanisms have been set up in recent years, even though the GPE could be able to accommodate these different funds.
We would like to illustrate this challenge of coordinating international cooperation actions in Africa with two concrete examples. We recently conducted research  on the practices of NGOs based in Switzerland whose context of action is mainly on the African continent. These NGOs have clearly shown that it is at the level of coordination of actions on the ground that the challenges remain difficult to address. Only 50% of respondents in a questionnaire think that their actions in the field are coordinated with similar actions of other institutions: “There is a special atmosphere among the actors. We are somewhat competitors”, said an informant during an interview. More concretely, dozens of NGOs intervene in the area of in-service training for teachers with their own approaches and their own programs, without necessarily consulting each other on the possibility of joint actions. Moreover, “the big and small actors are not at the same level” since some institutions have a more privileged place than others in the decision-making process at the national level, and not all have access to the same level of information about the actions carried out in a given country.
Another example is the action of French cooperation in the context of the G5 Sahel. The effects of a lack of coordination can be dramatic in these contexts of extreme adversity: schools are closed by the hundreds, leaving thousands of children are unable to attend. These challenges have been amplified by the COVID-19 crisis. Key people in the French cooperation system go so far as to say that “if we take this a little further, the problem of financial resources is not a problem. There are about 40–50 projects and dozens of actors, often with a lack of coordination and an overlap of projects”. A report published in 2019 by the French Coalition Education network showed that the inventory of actions in the field does not reveal any real overall coherence, which poses the risk of amplifying existing imbalances .
But beyond the necessary efforts on the part of international cooperation institutions, the primary responsibility for this coordination effort lies with the states; not only are they responsible for the development of the education systems, but their lack of centralized coordination can lead to an unequal supply of education and cause harm to already vulnerable areas. We observe that this lack of coordination can be convenient for some people in the state machinery who see it as an opportunity to multiply financial inputs.
This brings us to the question of capacity building, which should be at the heart of international cooperation actions at all levels (from international to local). In this case, how can we ensure that the state is able to effectively regulate the education system rather than substituting itself for it? Also, in a growing context of decentralization, it is more than recommended to refer to state authorities at the local level to make known the action taken. In this way, they have a better knowledge of the activities on the ground and can better coordinate them.
Finally, we would like to highlight the existence of positive experiences in favor of better coordination. Let us mention the “Education Champions” initiative launched in France by the French Development Agency (AFD) and Coalition Education, and the Thematic Days of the Swiss Network for Education and International Cooperation (RECI). Based on common issues, these actions aim to encourage dialogue and strengthen partnerships by sharing the existence of activities in the field and identifying best practices. In addition, more and more consultation frameworks are being created in the field, bringing together the country’s Ministry of Education and major cooperation institutions. In Mali, for example, the Education Cluster, jointly managed by the Ministry, Save the Children, and UNICEF, aims to develop capacity and coordination mechanisms to improve responses in humanitarian crises and to strengthen the capacity and readiness of humanitarian staff and government authorities for planning and managing the quality of education programs in emergency situations.
TO CONCLUDE, LET US REMEMBER THAT INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION ACTIONS IN EDUCATION CANNOT BE IMPROVISED BECAUSE, IN THE END, IT IS THE BENEFICIARIES OF THESE ACTIONS, OFTEN AMONG THE MOST VULNERABLE, WHO SUFFER. THIS COORDINATION WILL BE MORE CRUCIAL THAN EVER IN THE COMING YEARS; FOLLOWING COVID-19, GOVERNMENTS IN 65% OF THE POOREST COUNTRIES HAVE REDUCED THEIR FUNDING FOR THE EDUCATION SECTOR, AND INTERNATIONAL AID IS LIKELY TO DECREASE BY 12% BY 2022 .
This article is based on the data available prior to publication. As the topic is highly evolving, we may need to update the article at a later date.
Since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic spread beyond China’s borders, many international cooperation institutions have mobilized to respond to this crisis. The closure of schools in more than 150 countries and the shift to distance learning in most countries where the epidemic is rampant was the trigger.
In this article, we will analyze the actions and orientations proposed by major organizations in the field. (Some blogs [ex. 1 or ex. 2] were only at the level of description.)
Many of the observations made in previous articles in this blog are still valid. However, a few changes, and we will see if they are pleasing, have appeared regarding this crisis.
Priority to the most fragile contexts
This crisis has highlighted the importance of acting even more in the most fragile contexts, where education systems were already experiencing difficulty before the crisis. From this point of view, there seems to be a consensus on the part of the international organizations studied, which are concerned about the difficulties of ensuring pedagogical continuity when everyone does not have the same access to quality teaching and educational resources outside school.
UN agencies, for instance, have emphasized the challenges for certain contexts or populations regarding access to these resources.
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, recalled that “almost all students are now out of school. Some schools are offering distance learning, but this is not available to all. Children in countries with slow and expensive Internet services are severely disadvantaged.” Furthermore, UNESCO, the UN specialized agency in the field of education, relays the message of the parent agency.
UNESCO has even launched a Global Education Coalition that brings together multilateral, private sector, and philanthropic partners to support distance education globally. Among the goals of this coalition is the need “to help countries assure the inclusive and equitable provision of distance education.”
This priority of reaching the most disadvantaged is also visible through the funds granted by cooperation institutions, which fear that this additional crisis will jeopardize their efforts. For this reason, existing or new resources will be mobilized to respond to it.
This is the case of the World Bank through funds previously allocated to countries that can be redirected in response to the education situation created by the health crisis. Among other things, the organization is funding impact evaluations to understand what the most effective solutions to promote learning for children and adults in low- and middle-income countries are and, thus, generate useful and rapidly mobilizable information. The World Bank has so far made $160 billion available to 25 countries in its first set of emergency support operations. Of the countries eligible to receive these funds, only Pakistan has indicated its intention to use them for education. This is not surprising. This corresponds to an observed trend in aid to education, as we noted in blog #01—namely, between 2000 and 2010, more than half of the funds allocated to education by the World Bank went to three countries (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) that are not among the poorest countries. It is, therefore, necessary to be vigilant in the granting of this aid, particularly for the populations most in need.
Other institutions, such as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), and funds, such as Education Cannot Wait (ECW), are also mobilized in favor of vulnerable contexts where they usually act.
GPE has released $250 million to help developing countries mitigate the immediate and long-term effects of the pandemic on education: “The funds will help sustain learning for up to 355 million children, with a focus on ensuring that girls and poor children, who will be hit the hardest by school closures, can continue their education.”
ECW has activated a “First Emergency Response” funding stream to redirect existing funds as well as raise additional funds to support education. It has raised $23 million and is requesting an additional $50 million to address COVID-related education needs. Priorities include ensuring the continuity of distance learning and COVID awareness. Most of the funds are allocated to implementing partners, including UNICEF and the World Food Programme.
Even if massive commitments are observed, the arguments by international organizations to justify interventions in disadvantaged contexts have remained relatively the same. Moreover, some organizations have taken advantage of this exceptional situation to further legitimize their actions. Beyond the fact that institutions and funds such as ECW or Save the Children can boast of having already been active for several years in crisis contexts, it is interesting to note that for the World Bank, for example, the priority remains “preserving human capital,” a key concept for the organization. Similarly, if we analyze the expertise the Bank brings to the countries through documents that can be used by staff on the ground to guide national policies, we find the organization’s classic rhetoric: pedagogical continuity must be ensured insofar as school closures will have an impact on access to employment and, therefore, on economic growth—which is the organization’s leitmotif, given that several economies are informal in the countries of intervention of the organization. Also, prior to COVID-19, the World Bank was concerned about learning poverty (“the percentage of children unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10”) in developing countries. This recent concept developed by the World Bank is being exploited to its full potential as the pandemic adds another barrier to learning.
Finally, with regard to taking into account populations constrained by adversity, it should be noted that this crisis has particularly highlighted the crucial role played by teachers in ensuring pedagogical continuity. Teaching is a profession affected by precariousness in several contexts. For instance, UNESCO clearly assumes this role with the slogan “Protect, support and recognize teachers.” Another example is that the GPE allows its special funds to be used to protect teachers who are suffering the negative effects of this crisis.
Some novelties, sometimes surprising
Despite having relatively similar agendas before and during the COVID-19 crisis, we can point to some new developments—some encouraging but some worrisome.
This crisis has highlighted the importance of education (in particular, schooling) and, therefore, the need to protect it everywhere in the world, both in the Global North and in the Global South. Moreover, the World Bank, whose areas of intervention are usually located in “developing” countries, is interested in the contexts of the “developed” countries, as it was when it was created in 1945. We even find the idea of a “gigantic educational crisis,” which goes beyond the “learning crisis” that we have known until now, insofar as the influential states within the World Bank are themselves affected. Another interesting fact from this point of view is that even organizations working in normal times in crisis contexts (conflicts, natural disasters, etc.) find themselves supporting all education systems, being accustomed to acting in emergencies. This is the case with the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, which brings together a range of cooperation actors and offers technical support to governments, with UNICEF and Save the Children making a substantial contribution during the COVID-19 period. In any case, perhaps this crisis will make it possible to advance the sense of global citizenship and solidarity that had already taken shape with youth movements on climate challenges, even though we have witnessed the closure of borders for health reasons.
Another novelty in the discourse of cooperation—this time, less favorable if we believe in the principle of everyone’s right to quality education everywhere in the world—is the excessive promotion of private sector actors, especially by UNESCO, which is often seen as having a humanist vision. Indeed, the organization wants to find equitable solutions in this period of crisis, as mentioned above, and, at the same time, bring to the forefront, through its Global Education Coalition, private for-profit institutions, particularly from the field of new technologies. Several reasons, not exhaustive, should alert us to the growing involvement of these companies in the education sector:
• Their products may be available at high costs. • They did not necessarily demonstrate a willingness to contextualize their products (through languages of instruction, contents etc.) before the COVID-19 crisis. • They may contribute to a deterioration of the public system by placing their revenues in tax havens. • The data they collect from consumers can be used for commercial purposes.
Partly aware of this concern, which was echoed by civil society, UNESCO removed certain institutions whose ethics were clearly incompatible with the organization’s declared values, such as Bridge International Academies, from the initial list of institutions. Another alarming implicit message: beyond the Global Education Coalition, UNESCO, in response to the crisis, is proposing a list of available tools that promotes here again private companies.
But where we see all the complexities of the discourse of international organizations, as we showed earlier in an article in this blog, other voices are being heard within UNESCO including the International Commission on the Futures of Education—a recent initiative of the organization that made the following statement, giving a little more hope).
In the same spirit, UNESCO, through the Global Education Monitoring Report team, publishes texts that warn against the possible excesses of the COVID-19 crisis—such as the blog article by Francine Menashy, which highlights the commercial interests of private actors for education (particularly in crisis contexts).
Since we are on the discourse contradictions, or at least on fuzzy positions amplified by the global crisis, we are also observing a shift at the level of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which provides support in terms of expertise by disclosing good practices. In particular, the institution has coproduced a report with HundrEd, a nonprofit organization that seeks and shares inspiring innovations for primary and secondary education “for free.” The report contains some unusual rhetoric by the OECD: for once, economics (which is the organization’s Trojan horse, as its name suggests) is not at the heart of the discourse.
But in the meantime, the OECD, making explicit its concern to note the effects of the crisis on, in particular, the “diminished economic supply and demand, severely impacting businesses and jobs,” has produced A Framework to Guide an Education Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 written by Fernando Reimers, a professor at Harvard and a member of UNESCO’s Futures of Education Commission, and Andreas Schleicher, head of the education sector at the OECD. Using the responses to an online questionnaire and PISA data for its analysis, this report highlights the challenges faced by different education systems in dealing with the reliance on e-learning as an alternative modality. The guidelines are general: the report is concerned, in particular, with the development of public–private partnerships or consideration of the most vulnerable populations but without specifying the exact modalities. This leaves the door open to any kind of strategy, as the authors did not particularly position themselves on principles related to the right to education.
Finally, still on surprising developments, the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation has pledged to freeze investments in private for-profit preprimary, primary, and secondary (also called “K-12”) schools. Although the request was made by several civil society organizations for months, the COVID-19 crisis accelerated this decision. The decision is in response to concerns about the effects of segregation and exclusion, the insufficient quality of education, noncompliance with standards and regulations, working conditions, and profit seeking commercial schools. Such actions, accompanied by statements such as “we expect a lot from our education systems, but tend to underestimate the complexity of the task and do not always provide the resources that the sector would need to meet our expectations” suggest an almost 180° turnaround by the World Bank, if we bear in mind the structural adjustment programs and their devastating effects on education systems in fragile countries.
IN CONCLUSION, WE CAN OBSERVE THAT INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION IN EDUCATION IS TAKING SERIOUSLY THE CHALLENGES THE COVID-19 CRISIS IS CREATING FOR EDUCATION SYSTEMS WORLDWIDE, ESPECIALLY IN DISADVANTAGED CONTEXTS. ALTHOUGH SEVERAL ACTIONS ARE IN LINE WITH WHAT INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS WERE DOING BEFORE, WE HAVE SHOWN THAT SOME NEW DEVELOPMENTS, ENCOURAGING OR WORRYING, HAVE APPEARED RECENTLY—WHICH ONLY INCREASES THE FEELING OF CONTRADICTIONS, EVEN THOUGH IT WOULD BE MORE USEFUL THAN EVER TO HAVE A CLEAR DISCOURSE TO PROVIDE A GLIMPSE OF A MORE RADIANT FUTURE. FROM THIS POINT OF VIEW, WE AGREE WITH ELIN MARTINEZ OF HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, WHO IN HER ARTICLE WROTE THAT “ALL GOVERNMENTS SHOULD LEARN FROM THIS EXPERIENCE, AND STRENGTHEN THEIR EDUCATION SYSTEMS TO WITHSTAND FUTURE CRISES, WHETHER FROM DISEASE, ARMED CONFLICT, OR CLIMATE CHANGE.” SOLUTIONS SUCH AS HAVING A FAIRER TAXATION SYSTEM HAVE ALREADY BEEN HIGHLIGHTED BY ORGANIZATIONS SUCH AS ACTIONAID. FURTHERMORE, RESEARCH MUST BE ABLE TO ANALYZE, IN DEPTH, THE CURRENT AND FUTURE ACTIONS OF INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION IN THE CONTEXT OF THIS CRISIS AND, IN PARTICULAR, WHAT IS HAPPENING ON THE FIELD BEYOND THE DECLARATIONS.
We wanted to dedicate our second blog article on international cooperation in education to the Global Partnership for Education, an institution that has grown considerably in recent years, actively mobilizing heads of state such as E. Macron and M. Sall in Dakar in 2018 or successful singers such as Rihanna who is its ambassador. Let us see who is behind this organization.
Some general characteristics
The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) was established in 2002, first under the name of the “Fast Track Initiative”. It was an institution led by the World Bank and brought together various cooperation agencies to boost international financial commitment to accelerate progress towards universal primary education in developing countries. However, the implementation of the planning and financing processes of this initiative have been detrimental to donor coordination, resulting in increased transaction costs and reduced aid effectiveness in some countries. On the basis of this observation, the GPE was created in 2011 in order to take into consideration — at least theoretically — the shortcomings of the past1. The organization is currently defined as “a multi-stakeholder partnership and funding platform that aims to strengthen education systems in developing countries in order to dramatically increase the number of children who are in school and learning”2.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS: it is the supreme governing body of the partnership and sets its policies and strategies Includes members from developing country governments and all development partners: donor countries, multilateral agencies (mainly the World Bank, UNICEF and UNESCO), regional banks, civil society organizations (including the Global Campaign for Education), private sector and foundations Role: Reviewing annual objectives of the Partnership, mobilizing resources, monitoring financial resources and funding, advocating for the partnership, and overseeing the secretariat budget and work plan SECRETARIAT: provides administrative and operational support to the partnership and facilitates collaboration with all partners
Areas of intervention
Developing countries (in particular countries that are characterized by extreme poverty and/or conflict)
Fields of intervention
The GPE’s orientations are visible in its strategic reports. The first strategy had been established for the period 2012-2015. Currently, it is the 2016-2020 strategy that guides GPE’s actions. We will focus on this document. .
The GPE sees education as a public good and as a human right, a facilitator of other rights. This a priori humanistic vision of education is not so clear since a recent report by the NGO Oxfam recommends that the organization should focus their support on improving the provision of public schooling in developing countries, and should not fund market-oriented education public-private partnerships (PPPs), especially those that support low-fee and commercial private schools3.
Moreover, according to the GPE, education is “essential for peace, tolerance, human fulfillment, and sustainable development”. Once again, the organization defends a humanistic vision of education. But on closer examination, the GPE’s discourse is similar to that of the World Bank (which is not by chance as we will show below).
We showed in blog #03 that the World Bank defended a capitalist-liberal vision in which education must be able to promote economic growth in the context of globalization (modernizing economic institutions and activities; changing attitudes, and improving workers’ skills and productivity). Thus, because of this ambivalence, multiple contradictions must be highlighted in the GPE’s discourse: the organization insists, for example, on the links between education and environmental issues at the global level while promoting economic models that are destructive for the planet and societies.
More specifically, the GPE has chosen a number of priority areas to work on: “Focusing our resources on securing learning, equity and inclusion for the most marginalized children and youth, including those affected by fragility and conflict”. Given the issues raised in blogs #01 and #04, these are indeed relevant areas that have too often received too little attention from international cooperation in education. We know, for example, that aid to basic education for low-income countries has fallen from 36% in 2002 to 22% in 2016. This is reflected in the long-term decline in the share allocated to sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for half of the world’’s out-of-school children. Therefore, support from the GPE makes it possible to limit this trend.
Within these axes, specific themes are addressed by the GPE. For example, on the issue of learning and its improvement, the organization is particularly interested in teacher training. From this point of view, it has been able to engage in promising actions in recent years.
Among the priorities for action, we also find “the achievement of gender parity”. However, here again, the GPE is ambiguous on this issue. To get an idea of it, all you have to do is analyse your discourse on social networks. Indeed, with regard to girls’ schooling, the institution has moved in a month’s time from a holistic and progressive vision to a utilitarian vision focused on the needs of the economy.
Having presented the GPE guidelines, let us now turn to its means of action in the education systems of developing countries.
It should be noted that many criticisms are levelled at international cooperation in education, and in particular at the fact that projects or programs are still too often thought of without coordination efforts (each organization acts in its own corner), which makes it difficult to appropriate not only national policies, but also and above all beneficiaries4. It is to meet this challenge that the Partnership was created with the conviction that “by working better together, through collaboration and coordination, the aid regime will become more democratic and participatory”5. From this perspective, the GPE endorses the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005), which highlights the following five fundamental principles for making aid more effective: 1. Ownership; 2. Alignment; 3. Harmonisation; 4. Results; 5. Mutual accountability6.
“The Global Partnership is underpinned by principles set out in the March 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. Donors, multilateral agencies, civil society organisations and the private sector and private foundations then commit to aligning their support for a developing country partner’s program”.
GPE Charter (2013)
In concrete terms, the GPE supports countries in the development of sectoral plans. In particular, the organisation offers an analysis of needs in the field. In other words, among the priorities identified by the GPE as priorities, what are the areas on which countries should focus their education policies? Despite a clear speech about “partnership” and “mutual exchange”, a personal experience of advisory support linked to the elaboration of sectoral plans a few years ago leads me to say that many of the proposals in the countries’ documents come from experts in the North, and few from the actors in the countries concerned. It would appear that changes are emerging as the GPE has just published a practical guide to help partner countries organise joint sector reviews that are effective and adapted to their specific contexts. Let us hope that this will enable governments to assume their responsibilities and that international organizations and experts will take a greater distance.
In addition, the GPE is a unique entity in the field of education because of its common financing mechanisms. These funds come from public and private donors. For example, the graph below illustrates a set of countries (or regional groups) that contribute to financing the education sector in developing countries through the GPE .
As UNESCO notes, the GPE “is strengthening its position as the main multilateral financing institution for education in low income countries: in 2016, it disbursed US$351 million to low income countries out of total disbursements worth US$497 million”7.
That being said, not all countries delegate this power to the GPE. The influence of countries through bilateral cooperation remains strong. Thus, despite its efforts to mobilize financial resources, the institution does not have the means to implement its policy: a gap exists between its willingness to act on the quality of education, such as learning outcomes, and the funding put on the table.
Since the last strategy, the GPE financing has been performance-based. The organization allocates its funds in tranches. If countries have succeeded in improving their education performance in line with the strategies in the sector plans, then they can receive the additional tranche.
Even if the GPE is now a key player in international aid to education, it is not free from criticism. And most of them question, as we have already implied, the effectiveness of the notion of “partnership”, which appears in the name of the organization. It is a term frequently used in the international development world to describe the relationship between two (or more) entities working together. It is often idealized and ambiguous in the development discourse, with the implicit assumption that a partnership is beneficial, that there is a warm mutuality. However, reality shows rather unequal power relations that continue to shape development projects (capacities in terms of human and financial resources are in fact unbalanced)4.
Indeed, it should be recalled that the GPE was initiated by the World Bank. Thus, since its creation, a relationship of dependence between the two institutions has persisted. In particular, it is the Bank that physically hosts the GPE, employs its staff, or serves as a supervisory entity in the majority of recipient countries. Although external evaluations have identified this close relationship, the two organizations remain very close. This raises the question of the reality of “partnership” in the face of the influence of a powerful organization.
And beyond the World Bank, northern donor countries, particularly those providing significant aid, are widely perceived as having power within the GPE; they are the ones who sit on the Council with the most important votes. Actors collaborate under the guise of equity in decision-making, but those who have historically built up administrative positions, possess material resources, and speak the dominant languages, are positioned differently within the partnership than others, which gives them a greater ability to influence the direction of the organization. Thus, they maintain their hierarchical positions by maintaining structures that reproduce their dominant status, thus contradicting the principles underlying the GPE’s mandate5.
IN THE OFFICIAL VIDEO PROMOTING ITS ACTION, THE GPE IS DELIGHTED: “OUR MODEL IS WORKING, MILLIONS MORE CHILDREN ARE GOING TO SCHOOL AND CAN LEARN”. WHILE THE ORGANIZATION MAKES IT POSSIBLE TO CHANNEL A PORTION OF INTERNATIONAL AID FOR EDUCATION TO THE COUNTRIES MOST IN NEED, IT MUST BE ABLE TO FREE ITSELF FROM THE POWERFUL ACTORS THAT REVOLVE AROUND IT IN ORDER TO TRULY ENGAGE IN A MORE PARTNERSHIP-BASED APPROACH ON THE ONE HAND, AND TO ASSUME ITS HUMANIST VISION OF EDUCATION ON THE OTHER HAND.
Several articles in this blog will be devoted to the notion of ownership, which is fundamental to acting in the field of international cooperation, and which is more in the education sector. In this article, we will focus on the definition of ownership and some observations.
To define the concept of ownership in the field of cooperation, we can refer to the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness1, which established it as a key principle:
It is now the norm for aid recipients to forge their own national development strategies with their parliaments and electorates.
We see that ownership implies not only the involvement of national decision-makers, but also (and the difficulty is to know to what extent) local education actors, such as teachers, school principals, parents, etc., who are well placed to know what is relevant to be put in place in this field2. This means that international cooperation can succeed only in the long term if stakeholders in developing countries consider externally funded projects or programs as their own and are closely involved in their design, implementation and evaluation. In short, they must take ownership of the actions to be carried out in education.
This concept also reflects the idea of balanced partnerships between national/local and cooperation actors. We will have the opportunity to come back to this notion of “partnership” in a future article.
But what about the ‘ownership’ in practice of international cooperation in education (ICE)?
Despite changes in the methodology of development assistance, which appeared in particular after the above-mentioned declaration, many criticisms are levelled at the ICE. A common criticism is that projects or programs are still too often thought of in a top-down way, without setting up real participatory processes at the different levels (design, implementation, and evaluation) that would allow, among other things, this ownership at the national policy level, but also and especially at the level of beneficiaries. Indeed, very often in international cooperation projects, decisions are rarely made with local actors3.
Based on two studies we have conducted in recent years, we will demonstrate the difficulty for international cooperation actors to respect this principle of ownership.
The first research project focused on the design and implementation of the Competency-Based Approach (CBA) in French-speaking West Africa. Without going into detail, this approach, whose purpose is to ensure that learners not only learn knowledge, but also build skills, was supposed to be the miracle cure for the poor quality of education systems. Among its characteristics, it is a question of moving from a traditional, transmissive pedagogy to an active pedagogy, “a pedagogy of learning”4. What we must remember in our discussion is that this approach did not emanate from the will of national or local actors, but was driven by international cooperation in contexts where countries are historically accustomed to an exogenous presence (dependence linked to colonization and then to international aid). The institutions supporting the adoption of CBA were as follows: UNESCO, UNICEF, CONFEMEN, European Union, African Development Bank (AfDB), Belgian, Canadian and French cooperation etc. Expertise offices have also specialized in promoting CBA in Africa (including textbook writing as in Senegal), often arriving with turnkey models, but in technical language that is difficult for national decision-makers to understand. These offices operate with the funding offered by international cooperation. This strong international influence makes this approach explicit in the curricula of a very large number of countries on the African continent as a result of this impetus from international cooperation (countries in green on the map below).
The low national and local ownership led to many implementation difficulties: the available resources did not meet the requirements of CBA (teacher training, equipment, languages of instruction, etc.), and the populations directly concerned were not sufficiently mobilized to understand the value of this approach. For more details on the research
A second research that allows us to illustrate the challenges of ownership highlighted the practices of ICE actors in Switzerland*. Almost all our interlocutors (mainly NGO representatives) believe that their actions are explicitly linked to national and local priorities, and above all that they are based on the needs of their beneficiaries. Some people nevertheless noted that the projects or programs are designed according to a model specific to the cooperation structure, without any real ownership by national and local actors:
We have developed a tool in one country that we will use in other countries. That is not my vision. […] You can’t come in and then think that the system can integrate that.
This led us to address another crucial issue related to ownership, namely the sustainability of activities beyond their intervention of the ICE. Indeed, the local actors must have sufficient ownership of a project or program in order to be implemented in a sustainable manner once the ICE withdraws. Indeed, Enée (2010) notes that massive aid, coming from outside, contributes to favoring a certain assistance and, finally, produces perverse effects in the long term5. However, even if it is interesting to note that the ICE in Switzerland gives itself the means, not all practices go in this direction:
There is never any guarantee that the actions will continue. (…) And when there is no permanent monitoring, quality decreases, especially in emergency situations.
THUS, WE UNDERSTAND THAT OWNERSHIP IS A MAJOR CHALLENGE FOR INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION IN EDUCATION. IN A FUTURE ARTICLE OF THE BLOG, WE WILL SHOW WHAT FACTORS MAKE IT POSSIBLE TO CONCRETIZE THE NOTION OF OWNERSHIP IN THE COOPERATION’S PROJECTS/PROGRAMS, AND PRESENT PROMISING EXPERIENCES FROM THIS POINT OF VIEW.
On the occasion of the official launch of UNESCO’s 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report, this article aims to promote the first interview of 𝗲𝗱𝘂𝗖𝗼𝗼𝗽, conducted with a member of the team that produced it, Dr. Nicole Bella, statistician and senior policy analyst. The interview focuses on the contribution of international cooperation to progress in the education sector and on areas that should receive increased attention from cooperation.
In part 1, Nicole Bella reminds us of the role of the report. This includes monitoring progress related to SDG 4 on education. From this point of view, it makes it possible to inform international cooperation actors not only about progress but also about global challenges. Beyond this monitoring, the report focuses on a specific theme each year. In 2019, the issue of migration, displacement, and their links with education is being addressed in greater depth.
Despite undeniable progress at the global level, many challenges remain in the education sector, according to the report, including:
Access to education (at all levels);
Quality of learning.
Quality of learning, an SDG 4 priority, increasingly mobilizes international cooperation (part 2).
In part 3, the interview highlights the contribution of international cooperation to global educational progress. The SDGs provide for enhanced action by cooperating in the fight against poverty, including providing support for education. While noting that States remain the main donors to the sector, international assistance remains necessary for low-income countries, even if it does not target them as a priority (for example, aid to basic education in these contexts decreased from 36% in 2002 to 22% in 2016). Among the major initiatives to mobilize international funds for education to reverse this trend, Bella discusses the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), Education Cannot Wait and the Commission for Education. As the report focuses on migration-related issues, it focuses on supporting international cooperation for refugees and more inclusive education systems.
Finally, in part 4, the interview turns to possible actions for international cooperation in education to address the specific challenge of migration (knowing that there is a greater concentration of migrant flows within low-income countries despite what the intense media coverage of this issue in the North suggests). Among the recommendations made in the report, Bella highlights:
This article focuses on the priorities of international cooperation in education, and it raises the question:
IS AID GOING TO THE RIGHT DESTINATION?
To answer this question, let us clarify the definition of aid: it is « material help given by one country to another »— and one « would expect aid to go to those most in need »1.
A positive point is that aid to education increased by 17% between 2015 and 2016 and reached its peak in 20162.
This increase has not been confirmed since between 2016 and 2017, this aid fell by 2% (-US$288 million). The budgets of governments in low-income countries are not particularly increasing to offset this decline9.
Let us look in particular at aid to basic education (Figure 1), which encompasses preschool, primary, early secondary, and adult literacy. Students acquire basic knowledge and skills, including literacy and numeracy. This period corresponds to what is internationally recognized as the time when schooling should be compulsory. Sixty-one million children in the world are still out of primary school, and tens of millions of those who attend school do not receive even the most basic education. Therefore, focusing on basic education further counterbalances the trend of previous years that was counterintuitive in terms of social justice, namely the high priority given to higher education.
However, while aid to this sector increased between 2015 and 2016 (Figure1), the overall decline between 2016 and 2017 was partly due to a lower allocation from the United Kingdom (-29%), much of which was for basic education.
Figure 1. Total aid to education disbursements, by level of education, 2002–2016 Source: GEMR-UNESCO (2018)
As UNESCO points out, many donor countries have not kept their promise to allocate 0.7% of their gross national income to foreign aid: « Doing just that and allocating 10% of that aid to primary and secondary education, would have been enough to fill the US$39 billion dollars annual financing gap »9. The Global Campaign for Education estimates that aid for preprimary, primary, and secondary education will have to increase by at least six times compared to the current situation, particularly in low- and lower-middle-income countries4.
In terms of priorities for basic education, aid has moved to the right destination in recent decades, as a large proportion of investments in school infrastructure, including school construction, have helped meet the high demand for education. Indeed, as mentioned above, we can still identify many people excluded from school throughout the world, which made it possible to justify the emphasis on access, particularly after the international Education for All (EFA) initiative in 1990. Its main objective was universal primary enrollment (a goal that is still far from being achieved almost 30 years later). However, the following testimony by a manager of international cooperation projects in a large European city (anonymized identity) provides a more pragmatic justification for actions mainly related to infrastructure rather than to the quality or governance of education systems.
“We most often finance infrastructure. we can easily see the effects of our support. after one year, we have a report with indicators, such as a number of schools have been built. donors are proud to go to the inauguration of such a school in Africa. They can bring in the journalists to see their actions. on the other hand, we fund few projects that would result in a change in people’s behavior, such as peace education in conflict areas. these are changes over time. Even if we are convinced that this type of project is relevant and necessary, it is difficult to see the fruits of our intervention, which makes donors cautious”
This leads us to make an initial criticism of the priorities accorded by aid, which does not take the quality of education seriously enough. To take the example of one of the most powerful actors in international cooperation, the World Bank has contributed to increasing access to education and improving equity, while fewer than half of its projects have achieved objectives related to the quality of education. Especially since improving the quality of educational inputs (textbooks, teachers, and so forth) has not necessarily contributed to improving learning5.
But even if international cooperation chooses to prioritize access over quality, it does not take into account the populations, areas, or sectors that are most in need. Indeed, nearly one-fifth of what the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) considers to be aid never leaves donor countries, as revealed by the research group Development Initiatives. In addition, a surprising amount of aid goes to countries that are far from being the poorest1. To illustrate this point, it should be noted that between 2000 and 2010, more than half of the World Bank’s education funds were allocated to three countries: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh6.
On closer examination, we can see that the share of basic education aid to low-income countries has fallen from 36% in 2002 to 22% in 2016. This is reflected in the long-term decline in the share allocated to sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for half of the world’s out-of-school children (Figure 2). Moreover, non-formal education programs, which are perceived by international cooperation as a possible alternative to address out-of-school youth, are not supported by aid, whereas the budget for these programs represents no more than 5% of the total national education budget in many countries8.
Figure 2. Share of low income countries and least developed countries (LDCs) in total aid to education and to basic education disbursements, 2002-2016 Source: GEMR-UNESCO (2018)
Not only are the poorest countries not targeted for aid but the most marginalized populations do not necessarily receive aid as a priority. For example, the poorest girls are 60 years behind the richest boys in terms of universal primary completion1.
The same applies to disparities between populations living in rural and urban areas, the latter being favored by aid, which is particularly reflected in the figures on school retention (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Percentage of the population with less than four years of education for the age group 20-24 years Source: World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE) (2018)
And once again, when an organization is concerned with populations in need, it is to provide answers that are not always appropriate, as revealed by the case of « low-cost » private schools supported by many international organizations, even though the schools often do not meet minimum quality standards7.
Still on the priority sectors, while current events remind us of the existence of refugees around the world, particularly in low-income countries, humanitarian aid recorded a fourth consecutive year of increase in 2017, but the amount allocated to education represented 2.1% of the total amount of this aid2.
TO CONCLUDE, ON THE ONE HAND, INTERNATIONAL AID HAS NOT BEEN ABLE TO CONTINUE THE INCREASE OBSERVED IN THE PREVIOUS PERIOD. ON THE OTHER HAND, THE AID DOES NOT SUFFICIENTLY TARGET COUNTRIES, POPULATIONS, AND SECTORS IN NEED.