If aid is to contribute to the long lasting achievement of basic education for all, some urgent changes are needed.
Five main points stand out:
Place Due importance on Basic Education
For once, rhetoric must be followed by action. Basic education must be included as an explicit priority in donor aid policy, with specific objectives linked to the resources and personnel necessary to achieve them.
Aid to basic education must increase by an extra $4bn each year. In order to obtain the resources, donors must re-orientate their sector priorities, raising basic education to eight per cent of aid budgets, thus generating around an additional $3.1bn. The $900m remaining should come from increases in the overall total of aid, an amount no more than 0.005% of the GDP of donors.
Of this total amount, not less that $1.5bn should be earmarked for sub-Saharan Africa, a five-fold increase on the $0.3 bn it currently receives. This is necessary if basic education is to be given priority in the continent with the biggest education deficit and the worst prospects for the future.
Break-up of the Aid given by different countries.
|basic education spending|
|% of |
|8 % would mean |
|World Bank (IDA)||150||2.2||568|
Need for Increased funding:
When asked for more funding for basic education, donors frequently argue that the ‘absorptive capacity’ of recipients is so limited that they cannot spend more funds, even if they wanted to. They say that since basic education is not a priority for many Southern countries, they receive few requests for funding, and it would undermine national ownership to impose it as a priority. It is also common to hear that basic education reform processes are so slow that governments cannot spend more effectively in the short term and that spending on salaries (the bulk of basic education expenditure) is not sustainable.
While acknowledging these difficulties, they still do not justify the shockingly low expenditure on basic education. Of course, Southern countries’ commitment to basic education and the eradication of poverty is vital to the success of this initiative.
- As long as basic education is a human right, all the international community shares the responsibility to make it real, not only the governments concerned. As long as both Northern and Southern governments have committee d themselves to education for all and 2015 targets, there is shared ownership of these goals in the North and South. The demand for basic and free education is usually greatest in the poorest sections of the population, and they must be consulted in order to evaluate the true national aspirations.
- Donors must make an effort to speak to the right people in the governments in the South, including key staff at the ministers of education, not just finance or planning, in order to understand the requirements for education and the capacities of government.
- Cost recovery and parent contributions to education are keeping children out of school in many countries. Donors can help to quickly phase them out by substituting them with increased aid. In Malawi and Uganda the elimination of school fees was a key factor in getting millions more children into school. These examples can be repeated in many other countries.
- Aid to education has traditionally focused on the supply side of the chain (building schools, paying teachers) to make education available for everyone. But there is scope also for strengthening the demand, by supporting communities with capacity building, so they put pressure on their governments and call for stronger commitments to basic education.
- Direct financing of recurrent costs is only one aspect of commitment to education, but there are other ways to co-operate. Donor efforts to develop the institutional capacity needed to deliver effective aid programs are important. Especially in the context of new ways of working, such as the SWAP or Poverty Reduction Strategies.
The crisis in basic education is so daunting it is unacceptable to suggest that nothing can be done. It can no longer be argued there is no demand for basic education when it is so universally desired by the poor. It can no longer be argued there is nowhere to spend extra money when many countries are lacking classrooms, sanitation and school materials. Donors must make a real effort to find innovative and creative ways to help.
Better delivery required:
Progress must be made in co-ordinating assistance, primarily by pooling resources within national strategies, and harmonizing donors’ procedures for purchasing, reporting and evaluation.
The Global Action Plan proposed by Oxfam International as part of the Global Campaign on Education will be a key tool in this area. The GAP will create a system of incentives to channel funds to those countries which make a commitment in favour of basic education and which develop national strategies, sharing and adapting the experience and the knowledge acquired in other countries. In this context, aid designated for basic education should increasingly develop as a support to national sectoral strategies, within the PRSP framework.
Stronger Commitment to Equity
Donors must reorganize their aid budgets, shifting resources into basic education and ending the skew towards tertiary education. Specific measures must be included to guarantee access to education for marginalized groups: women and children, ethnic minorities, disabled, rural children. Aid to basic education must also be completely untied.
Special efforts must also be made to close the gender gap. Focussed and culturally-sensitive interventions are needed which increase the benefits of girls going to school and reduce the costs. Simple measures, which directly address economic, social and cultural barriers, can be very successful. Oxfam is encouraging developing countries to assess their gender gaps and develop strategies to tackle them within the framework of the Global Ac tion Plan. The GAP calls for participating countries to produce Education Action Plans setting out the financing requirements which will enable them to achieve gender parity in basic education by 2005 and universal primary education by 2015 at the latest.
Donors and Southern governments must elaborate clear strategies to guide their activities. For their part, donors must improve transparency and homogeneity in their information systems, as a basis for co-ordination and quality improvement.
Relations between donor and recipient should facilitate the participation of civil society especially parents, teachers and their unions, students and their communities, not only in the execution but also in the design and follow up of the strategies and plans for basic education.
It is also essential to emphasize the improvement of local capacities rather than the employment of external technical assistance, only using this when it is necessary to strengthen the capacities of institutions and local personnel. Capacity building should be decentralized and extended to all levels of administration and civil society and not only be concentrated at central government level.
Finally, all programs must guarantee the achievement of quality education in which the search for the necessary efficiency is not synonymous with privatization and a double standard of quality for rich and poor.
Sub-Saharan Africa faces particularly severe challenges in education. It is now the only part of the developing world in which the number of children out of school is increasing, and if current trends continue about three-quarters of all children not in school in 2015 will be in Africa.
There are no simple solutions to the education crisis in Africa. More effective and more transparent use of available government resources could improve education outcomes. Ultimately, however, the financial constraints on African governments mean that the 2015 goals cannot be met through domestic efforts alone. That is why the Global Campaign for Education is proposing, as part of the Global Action Plan, a Compact for Africa. Under the Compact:
- National governments will mobilise an additional $1.6bn per annum by reducing military expenditure and increasing resource mobilization
- The international community will mobilise $2bn through increased aid and debt relief
As with the wider GAP proposal, the Compact for Africa will support national strategies for achieving education for all, with an emphasis on national ownership and increased participation.
In conclusion, the Global Action Plan, by bringing together educational objectives with the necessary resources and tools, would create an environment that could speed the achievement of education for all. All donors, bilateral and multilateral, should take an active part in the process of education for all, reinforcing the GAP and committing the necessary resources and assistance for its successful implementation.
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