A Study on Aid & Education: Development Economics Report


Ten years on from the conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand, the international community has failed to keep the promises it made; commitments that were realistic and achievable. Instead, today, 125 million children do not go to school or drop out before they have finished – twice the number of North American and European children who do go to school. Besides being a breach of human rights, this is a generation of the world’s children effectively destined to die in poverty. Education is that important. In 1995 the targets set in Jomtien for 2000 were extended to 2015, without agreeing any new measures to achieve them. Urgent action is now needed if this deadline is to be met and millions of people are to be given an opportunity – the single best way – to escape poverty.

Aid is not the only way to solve the education crisis, but used effectively it could be a powerful tool to achieve education for all. The meeting in Dakar in April 2000 will review the advances and the current situation in education, and must be the place to commit to practical measures that will deliver education for all. However, given the international community’s record, there is justifiable concern that the new targets will again be missed. The likelihood of failure is high if there is no explicit commitment from the world community to take decisive action, delivering the necessary resources in the short and long term so that the objectives established for 2015 are achieved. Many promises have already been broken; the world cannot afford the luxury of failing again.

Basic education is a priority in speeches, but not in budgets. Governments generally allocate less than two per cent of their aid budget to this fundamental human right. In order to pay for the extra $8bn needed annually to achieve education for all, Oxfam International proposes a Global Action Plan. This initiative already has support from a broad range of civil society organizations – united in a Global Campaign for Education – as well as many international agencies and donors. The GAP proposes raising some extra funds through more spending by governments, together with resources freed by reduced debt servicing. However, a substantial part – $4bn – should come in the form of development assistance – four times the current figure.

The donor community has a scandalous record of neglect when it comes to aid for basic education. Aid to education overwhelmingly favours tertiary education, which benefits the richest groups. Less than one-tenth of educational aid goes to basic education. Aid to basic education has often been uncoordinated and poorly implemented. Most aid has been delivered as technical assistance, with nearly half of the money being spent in donor countries, leaving little opportunity for the recipients’ involvement and participation. The GAP aims to support and provide resources for governments’ own National Education Action Plans and their ability to implement them. This would be complemented by consultation with donors and the participation of civil society.


Shrinking Educational Aid


Besides being a universal human right, education can be a powerful tool to achieve the eradication of poverty and all the targets set by the international community for the year 2015. Education enables people to improve their lives and those of their children. It helps them to improve their health, find better jobs and have a say in their societies. The international community has repeatedly missed both the targets of halving poverty and achieving universal basic education. Despite all the promises, data on basic education reveals the gap between the rhetoric and the reality. Instead of the universal access to primary education governments committed to at Jomtien, we see in the year 2000:

  • 125 million children not in school – of whom two-thirds are girls.
  • Another 150 million children leaving school before completing four years, considered to be the minimum for the acquisition of the basic literacy skills.
  • 880 million illiterate men and women; eleven times the target set at Jomtien.

The future looks equally bleak. According to Oxfam International’s estimates, if current trends continue, by 2015 there will still be 75 million girls and boys out of school. Best estimates suggest that by 2010 one-in-five adults in developing countries will be illiterate.



Major reasons for continued downfall:

The increase in the school age population, poor economic growth and low national incomes, weak tax policies, questionable public spending priorities, the AIDS pandemic and numerous conflicts, are some of the factors that have perpetuated a crisis in basic education in Southern countries.

But the reasons for the failure of Jomtien are not simply the responsibility of the governments of the South. International support for education has fallen far short of what was promised. Economic stabilization policies, imposed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, have worsened the situation of some of the poorest countries. Education has become a luxury out of reach for many households.

Debt has also played a part. For years Zambia – with decreasing primary school enrolments – has spent four times more on debt servicing than on education. Although recent debt relief has eased the pain of some indebted countries, as a result of international public pressure, many countries will continue to spend more on debt servicing than they do on health or education.

Throughout the Education now campaign, Oxfam International has produced documents on the debt crisis and its links with education, IMF policies, and other obstacles to education for all. This paper calls for reforms in another area that could make a dramatic difference to the education crisis: international aid.


Impact of Aid:

Aid alone can never provide education for all. The problem is not simply about finance. Building local capacity, the quality of education, the political will of Southern governments, and donor co-ordination must all be tackled. But without aid many countries will never hit the Jomtien targets. The cost of achieving universal primary education is an extra $8bn per year, an amount that is far beyond the means of the poorest countries.

From the design of strategies and sectoral plans, to the provision of financial and technical support for qualitative improvements – via curriculum reform, teacher training, or provision of appropriate teaching materials – aid has a role in overcoming the obstacles to education for all.

But aid cannot play its full role in the achievement of universal primary education if budgets continue to shrink. Sadly, the nineties have seen the rich countries get meaner with their aid budgets as they get richer. And all the while international leaders have continued to make noble speeches and commitments on the importance of poverty reduction and education.

In real terms aid has fallen by one-third over a decade, a tragedy when viewed against the trends of the early 1990s which, if sustained, would have delivered nearly $25 bn in aid – three times what is now needed to guarantee primary education for all.

In recent years donors have used the debates about the effectiveness of aid to justify budget cuts with talk of ‘aid fatigue’ or ‘aid crisis’. No one who cares about ending poverty would deny further reform is needed to improve the impact of much official aid. Oxfam International believes this should spur governments to embrace real reform that delivers high impact aid. It should not be used as an excuse for governments to walk away from their commitments.


Aid in practice:

Despite the enormous potential of aid to speed the achievement of education for all, the resources allocated are limited. Ten years after the commitments of Jomtien, the situation has not changed significantly, in terms of resources or policies.


Overall allocations and trends in aid disbursement

Aid for education Aid for basic education
Overall evolution From 1985 until 1990, resources for education almost doubled in current terms. But from 1990 onwards resources stagnated, falling during the last three years. Basic education has been gaining ground within the total aid allocation for education. However, within a fall in total aid and aid to education, this has proven to be insufficient.
Total figures In real terms aid to education has fallen, from $6.3 bn in 1985 – with a maximum of $6.8 bn in 1990 – to $5 bn in 1998. The reported volume of bilateral aid destined for basic education in DAC countries grew from $44.5 million in 1993 to $662 million in 1996. The next two years saw aid for basic education falling to $430 million in 1998. See Graph 3
Efforts by countries Analysis by country demonstrates the majority show decreasing trends if we compare late eighties with the nineties. The most significant cases are Italy and the United States, with a reduction of 12.6 per cent and 8.8 per cent respectively during the period 1985-1998. In spite of the fact that the majority of donors increased their resources, in almost all cases this has been done on the basis of derisory amounts. Only five donors – Luxembourg, Sweden, Germany, Australia and Finland – allocate more than two per cent of their aid to basic education. See Graph 4



In conclusion, basic education’s share of total aid is increasing, while aid to education and overall aid budgets are falling. Substantial increases to basic education in the mid-1990s are now falling away. Seen as a proportion of bilateral aid, basic education receives less than two percent, an insignificant amount compared with the 17.7 per cent allocated in 1998 to economic infrastructure (a good part of it tied to the purchase of goods and services from the donor country). Of course, there are some exceptions to this, such as Luxembourg – currently allocating more than five per cent to basic education – or the United Kingdom, which has recently increased its commitment.




Aid distribution by specific sectors, 1998

(% bilateral aid)
Australia 21.7 13.7 4.7 12.6
Austria 23.8 12.7 0.4 0.8
Belgium 10.4 5.3 0.4 3.2
Canada 7.2 2.9 0.0 6.6
Denmark 3.4 0.0 0.5 10.2
Finland 6.9 0.1 4.3 6.2
France 27.4 6.9 0.0 8.5
Germany 19.4 11.6 2.5 11.8
Ireland 18.3 0.0 0.0 5.6
Italy 3.6 0.5 0.0 1.1
Japan 5.9 0.6 0.3 37.8
Luxembourg 24.9 1.8 8.6 2.2
Netherlands 9.0 3.3 4.3 6.5
New Zealand [1] 36.9 0.0 5.7 4.8
Norway 5.2 0.1 1.8 9.7
Spain 10.9 3.9 0.8 14.6
Sweden 4.2 0.6 2.6 9.1
Switzerland 5.4 1.0 2.3 8.6
UK 7.1 0.4 1.4 10.9
United States 1.7 0.1 0.5 7.3



Aid’s poor contribution to equity

“Disparities in education are reinforcing both inequality and poverty. The poorest countries and the poorest people are those with the least access to educational opportunity.”


Regional distribution:


The crisis in sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s most alarming regional disparity. If current trends continue, three out of four children will not go to primary school by 2015. The region is the second-biggest recipient of aid for basic education, with 30 per cent of total resources, behind Central and South Asia. The region is not seeing the growth in aid it needs. Aid to Oceania meanwhile has experienced a percentage growth of almost ten times that of Africa. If sub-Saharan Africa is to recover from the daunting development issues it faces, strong and determined action on education, in particular, is needed.

The distribution of aid for basic education is concentrated in a few countries, the top three being those with lowest school enrolment rates: India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

More alarming than regional distribution of aid to education and basic education is that basic education receives less than one-tenth of the aid given to education as a whole. Most donors assign a large portion of their a id to tertiary education.

Although in recent years some donors have begun to shift their emphasis towards basic education (for instance the Netherlands and the United Kingdom), the bias towards higher education has remained strong within the total development aid. Traditionally, countries including Australia, New Zealand and Italy, have assigned more than 70 per cent of their aid to higher level education, though encouragingly Australia has recently committed itself to increased spending on basic education and others may follow suit.

This bias undermines social equity by limiting access to education and subsequent employment. As shown in graph 7 the richest people benefit from tertiary education, while for most of the poorest it is an unattainable luxury. The cost per head is high. In India, for the cost of educating one university student it would be possible to educate 39 pupils in primary school.

So why do donors spend their money like this? There has been a general perception that basic education is the responsibility of national governments. Educating the elites of trading partners has been seen as a useful way to make long term friendships. Universities have offered visibility and prestige for donor countries, and in some countries they are an influential lobby for continued subsidy.

It makes no sense however to pitch tertiary and basic education against each other. Both are necessary. Appropriate training programmes for high level personnel – professionals, competent civil servants, teachers and health personnel – are vital for poverty eradication efforts. However, much of the current aid to tertiary education urgently needs reform. Too much of it is delivered through scholarship programs that take students to study in the donor country and have little demonstrable impact on poverty.


Educating girls:

Educating girls and women is not only an important way to close the gender gap; it has also been widely recognized as a powerful catalyst for economic growth and human development. High female school enrolment is associated with longer life expectancy for women and men, as well as lower infant and maternal mortality.

In spite of the compelling benefits of educating women, women are without doubt the most affected by the education crisis. They account for two in every three children out of school, are frequently forced to leave education before boys and suffer widespread discrimination. There are many factors causing this, both from the supply side (poor physical infrastructure, low quality teaching, lack of female teachers) and the demand side (cultural and social attitudes, direct and indirect costs for the families).

The tragedy that keeps more than 80 million girls out of school has not been enough to spur most aid donors and recipients to design new policies and programs that tackle the gender gap head on. Some countries, such as th e UK, Sweden or the Netherlands have adopted a focus on gender, including support for government policies designed to improve girls’ participation and enrolment rates. Others like Finland, Canada, Denmark and Norway are developing initiatives in this area. Countries including Spain and Japan still give gender a low priority.


Infrastructure Development:


In spite of the problems and inertia, there is growing awareness of the importance of basic education which, combined with public pressure, can lead to changes in the behaviour of donors.

In recent months, some donors have committed themselves to increase the percentages allocated to basic education (to five per cent in Australia and almost eight per cent in the United Kingdom). Some national parliaments have also become involved: the Dutch parliament has called on the government to ensure the 2015 target is reached in their main recipient countries; while the Spanish has urged an eight per cent contribution.



Education quality:

As well as quantity and distribution, it is important to evaluate the quality of aid allocated to basic education. As we will see, programs suffer from a number of flaws that hamper the potential of aid to contribute to the achievement of the 2015 targets.





Poor planning:


The commitments made at Jomtien did not emphasize the incorporation of basic education as a priority within the bilateral aid policies of donor countries, and in the following decade support for basic education has been weak.

Only in recent years have some countries started to include basic education as one of the priorities of their overall strategy for development co-operation, among them Denmark, Canada, The Netherlands, Ireland and Spain. A second group of donors, including Sweden, the UK, Australia or Germany, have produced policy on education and basic education. These efforts are valuable and point the way forward for the other OECD donor nations.

It is crucial that any planning for aid to education is done in dialogue with Southern countries, which should indicate their priorities for action and take on the main responsibility for design and execution of the strategies. The participation of teachers and their unions, parents, communities and other organizations, together with government, will be crucial in order to improve the quality and coverage of educational programs. In practice, it is rare that these kinds of actors are allowed to participate in the formulation of policies and strategies from the outset. They are more frequently asked to contribute to programs already defined, usually far away and removed from local needs and reality.


Lack of information:


Weaknesses in donor reporting affect the quality of aid to basic education. Aid policy has always paid lip service to basic needs but there are still no clear and agreed statistics that enable co-ordinated programming and joint monitoring of donor efforts in this field. In fact, the most obvious feature of national systems of measurement is the extreme heterogeneity in their treatment of data. The methodologies are different and there is little uniformity in definitions and accounting.

International statistics, collated by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD, are quite new, and depend on information provided by donors, which is often incomplete. In general the information on basic education is unclear and tends to underestimate the amount of aid needed. If donors are sincere in their commitment to poverty eradication, they should start by giving complete and accurate information. Effective information systems are a pre-requisite for improving international co-ordination, in order to minimize duplication of effort and competition between donors.


Although recent years have seen some innovation in aid to basic education, technical assistance continues to be the main type of educational co-operation. This normally represents more than half of the aid to the education sector. Estimates made on spending in donor countries indicate nearly half of the funding for technical assistance projects is spent in the country of origin, mainly by contracting experts, running courses and seminars, and scholarships for Southern students in donor countries.

In fact, tied aid is one of the main reasons for the bias towards higher education by donors such as Japan, Spain and France. The predominance of concessional loans linked to the purchase of goods and services from the country of origin leads to prioritizing equipment for universities and vocational training. Around 40 per cent of the bilateral aid from Spain and France is linked to the purchase of their own supplies.

International best practice requires the strengthening of local capacity to be the guiding principle, over and above using labor or services from the donor country. Local materials, which are generally cheaper and easier to replace, should be used. Where these are lacking, competitive tendering should ensure the best quality and price.

But, whether it is tied or untied, technical co-operation too often fails to take into account the skills in recipient countries. Many studies on education sector reform in countries of the South have been designed by expensive foreign experts, taking no notice of national experts who know their own countries better. Use of local languages or fitting the school calendar in with the agricultural cycle can seem irrelevant to an external analyst, and yet can dramatically increase enrolment rates.

The transfer of skills from donor country to recipient country is still an important part of the aid equation, but it needs to be driven by the principle of developing local capacity in the recipient country.



Role of multilateral donors


So far we have mainly considered the quantity and quality of bilateral aid. But we should not forget the role played by some multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank or the European Union.


European Union:

The European Union as a whole (member countries plus the European Commission), is the world’s biggest aid donor, with around two-thirds of the total aid given. Considered individually, the Commission is still the second largest multilateral agency in terms of resource allocation, after IDA, the World Bank’s soft loan facility

On paper the approach of the European institutions towards education is sensible and well intentioned. It focuses on promoting access, quality, support for national efforts, and co-ordination among donors.

In practice and despite the difficulties already mentioned in gathering reliable data, education has not been a priority in low income countries. From 1991 to 1995 they have consumed only one-fifth of European aid for education. According to the Commission itself, during the last eight years basic education received little more than ten per cent of total aid for education.



The World Bank:

The World Bank is considered to be the most important multilateral donor for education, not only because it provides the most resources, but also for its capacity to influence countries’ national policies.

At the Jomtien Conference the World Bank committed itself to doubling the resources it allocated to education. It met this target, also increasing the resources specifically for basic education. However, there was a sharp decrease in the Bank’s lending for education in 1999 and, despite an apparent change in 2000 commitments, loans from the IBRD – often for middle-income countries – grew by 12.5%, while loans from IDA, which gives soft loans to low income countries, fell by 3%.

Regional distribution also illustrates this orientation. Resources are not allocated in order of priority to those countries with the worst educational deficit. In fact, the Bank has failed to allocate sufficient resource s to sub-Saharan Africa, which is the fourth-largest recipient with only 14 per cent of total funds loaned.

Both commitments and disbursements to the region suffered an important decline from 1993 to 1997 and, despite a small increase in 1998, current figures are still far off previous levels.

On a positive note, in the period 1992-98 IDA committed 42 per cent of its loans in the education sector to basic education, which constitutes an important increase. The drop in total loans for education from IDA, however, undermines that.

In its policy orientation, the Bank has shifted from the 1980s’ neo-liberal devotion to growth, to an approach, which now places poverty reduction at the front and centre of its activities. This shift has not been free of contradictions in conceptualization, execution, and the allocation of resources. In 1995 The Bank published the policy document ‘Priorities and Strategies for Education’. Its central message was that education contributes to economic growth and equity. It highlighted the need to utilize inputs more efficiently to reduce education costs, and supported the privatization of teaching, giving considerable emphasis to cost recovery through the contributions of parents and communities.


But, over the last few years, the World Bank has changed much about the way it works, as shown in its ‘Education Sector Strategy’ of 1999. In this the Bank places its education strategy squarely within the framework of the international targets. It spells out its commitment to support universal basic education, focusing also on quality issues, such as the promotion of health in schools, and the need to strengthen the institutions involved in education management.

Like other donors, the Bank is developing sectoral programmes together with recipient governments. If there was sufficient political will, this could lead to greater concentration and allocation of the Bank’s resources on those countries and regions which have greater educational deficits, and sharper focus on access for all, especially affecting the most excluded groups


The World Bank’s most recent policy offering for the education sector outlines a role for the IFC, the institution of the World Bank group that makes loans to the private sector. The IFC has developed a strategy to use lending as a way of encouraging private sector participation in the education sectors of developing countries.

The underlying philosophy is that, governments cannot nor should not be the only providers of education. Those who can pay for the service, the strategy argues, should do so, taking themselves off to the private sector, leaving the government to concentrate on the provision of free education for the poorest who cannot pay. Reduced public expenditure, increased ability to target education at the poor, and the claimed superior efficiency of the private sector are some of the arguments used to justify this proposal.


The IFC approved a single loan a year to the educational sector between 1995 and 1997. However, in 1998 alone seven credits were approved in this sector in response to ‘the rapid growth in demand on the part of clients, especially in Africa’. Among the projects approved, there are a couple related to universities in Argentina, but the majority relate to centres of vocational training and secondary education. The most common projects refer to the establishment of ‘secondary schools on a revenue platform derived from an ongoing primary school, which also supplies ready-made clientele for the investment’.


The IFC proposes that students from poor families rely on scholarships financed by governments, foundations, and charitable organizations, granted on the basis of their academic achievements. Although the prospect of additional private capital to finance education might be attractive in the short term, the creation of a market in education risks increasing social inequalities through the development of a two tier education system. Oxfam International believes the provision of free quality education is a core responsibility of the state.






Emerging trends


Sectoral approaches and direct budgetary support (SWAPs)


The Sector Wide Approach (SWAP) is one of the most significant recent changes in the way aid is delivered, including aid for education. More than just a new instrument, SWAPs represent a process of building a relationship between national governments and donors, around sectoral priorities, of which the former are in theory the final arbiter. They are an attempt to improve co-ordination and overcome the problems of a project-based approach. Following UNICEF’s definition, a SWAP is ‘an integrated program for a specific sector that includes objectives agreed by consensus; a comprehensive policy framework, a detailed disbursement plan, an operational plan with specific decisions on spending and a clear commitment to finance on the part of governments and donors’.


Sectoral approaches demand a policy dialogue between donors and recipient, the pooling of resources from different donors and the harmonization of procedures of purchasing, administration and donor reporting. Success requires a commitment on the part of governments to take responsibility, in a participative way, for the formulation and execution of the sectoral approach as well as a commitment from the donors to support it in a co-ordinated way.


All of this presupposes big changes in the way donors work. Some of them (like Spain, Italy and France) have not established SWAPs, while others such as Germany are reluctant to move away from the project approach, in which implementation can be monitored in more detail. The experience of sectoral approaches is so far limited to a small number of initiatives in one or two countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia. Evaluation of these experiences is as yet very limited. Various donors have over the last few years incorporated this approach into the basic education sector, among them the Nordic countries, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, and to a lesser extent Austria, Ireland, and Australia. Some, like Belgium, are in the process of starting this approach. Among the multilaterals, the World Bank and the European Union have some experience in SWAPs.


SWAPs promise great potential as a vehicle for aid to basic education. They suggest a partnership in which national governments design the educational policy and the donors support its practical execution, instead of generating their own portfolio of small projects via countless meetings with the recipient governments. In practice however, some doubts have arisen about this way of working, which are pertinent if, as it seems, the SWAPs are on track to be the predominant way aid for education is delivered in the future.



  1. The SWAP’s emphasis on donor involvement in policy development and allocation of resources begs the question of the ownership of national governments. It puts back on the table the balance between partnership and conditionality, between sharing good practice and the imposition of recipes by the donors.

The education sector programs of Burkina Faso or Ethiopia, defined in collaboration with donors including the World Bank, contain many of the traditional recipes from the Bank’s policy documents, including the reduction of costs through contracting low-paid teachers and the increase in the number of students per teacher.


  1. Successful sectoral approaches rely on adequate institutional capacity at all levels of national government. Otherwise governments are easily overloaded, and unable to fulfil their new role. This capacity should be strengthened by the SWAP.


  1. SWAPs can promote a top down development approach dominated by the central government without facilitating the input of other viewpoints or the participation of civil society (communities, teachers’ unions, parents, regional and local governments). This can also mean exclusion of the weakest population groups. In principle the SWAP can incorporate more consultation and open negotiation in the country than traditional projects. Neverthe less in most cases the emphasis on working with central government has limited the role of civil society.


  1. Practice up to now suggests a tendency of some donors to dress project-based approaches in sectoral clothes, without changing the approach or strategy. In some cases resources of one donor continue to be allocated to a particular activity or project, which makes the sectoral programs more like umbrellas for specific donor projects. In other cases, the resistance to change is in the area of financial control, when donors reject common and locally based reporting systems.

Donors often have some problems guaranteeing stable and timely multi-year financing which is essential for the sustainability of sectoral approaches.


  1. A final point of concern is that the resources donors channel into education should not free up government funds for other uses, leaving the total expenditure on education at the level it would have been without the injection of aid. Sectoral approaches do not by themselves solve this problem of fundability, unless they include strong conditionalities which specifically address this issue. Transparency of the national budget, and agreed priorities for public spending, are fundamental so that the public can scrutinize the commitment to social spending.


For the period 1993-2000 the Dutch government has provided some $10m in budgetary support for the education sector of Cape Verde. This small African island state (400,000 inhabitants) was the first country to receive this type of aid for education from the Dutch government.

On the Dutch side, the move away from project support to budgetary support through the Cape Verde government’s own structures was motivated on the following grounds:


  • The Cape Verde government was clearly committed to education for all. It was giving a high priority to improvements in basic education, seeing this as a vital long term investment in human resources for economic development.
  • A relatively high and growing percentage (18-20 per cent) of the national budget was allocated to education, while more than half of this amount was invested in basic education.
  • The government had developed a clear education reform plan. The plan contained strategies to address key issues, such as improving the curriculum, training teachers and extending compulsory basic education.
  • The capacity of the Ministry of Finance to manage the extra resources was considered adequate.
  • The overall policy framework of the democratic Cape Verde government was seen as positive.


While the Dutch contribution was probably less than four percent of the annual education budget of Cape Verde, it did help the government to implement its plans. An evaluation in 1996 was generally positive about the results and the new instrument used. Nearly full access to education for children of all social backgrounds was achieved, while quality and drop out was still a problem. Despite a growing budget deficit and a change in government, Cape Verde had maintained the education reforms and increased the budget. Recommendations, for instance for greater involvement of civil society and beneficiaries in the reforms and on pre-school education, were included by the Cape Verde authorities in the next phase of the reforms. Coordination of donors was difficult, of which the African Development Bank and the World Bank were the most important ones


Role of small projects:

The majority of aid is currently delivered on a project-by-project basis using the technical assistance approach. In general, this will gradually shift to more sectoral approaches. But there are still some countries whose particular situations demand different approaches. The political situation, recent conflicts, or other circumstances may call for an emphasis on human resource development and an increase in capacity, or other intermediate approaches designed to help get the country to the stage where it is possible to define a medium term sector strategy.

In all developing countries there are population groups that require more tailored education strategies. Whether it is within a broad sector approach, or through specific programs, education should be made available to the most marginalized and excluded people. Particular attention should be given to girls, who comprise the great majority of children who do not go to school; school children living in rural areas, given that they have fewer opportunities to access quality schooling; and ethnic and linguistic minorities.




The role of Non-Governmental Organizations:


Governments shoulder the basic responsibility of ensuring equality of access to education and therefore must be the main channel for assistance. But it must also be recognized that successful educational reform will need the co-ordinated participation of a wide range of actors, among which NGOs in particular stand out.

But has this contribution always been the most effective? Historically, NGOs focus on non-formal education, which, while occasionally satisfying urgent educational needs, does not offer a viable alternative to state, provided public education, and raises questions of co-ordination, coverage and sustainability. NGO activities must be complementary to the state, capitalizing on the comparative advantage of each. Donors should take their specific contributions into account when including them in their policies.

NGOs can support and encourage local initiatives. They must share the lessons learned from small pilot projects that demonstrate educational alternatives. They can also help identify the factors behind matriculation and school desertion rates, or help governments define national education strategies and programs. They have of course a role to play in supporting capacity building and raising awareness in civil society, and facilitating the participation of families, communities and teachers in the education system, beyond the supply of services. They can finally contribute to the provision of basic education, especially in those countries where the state is extremely weak and has limited capacity to carry out this basic service.


Poverty Reduction Strategies:


At the annual World Bank and IMF meetings in September 1999, governments agreed to a series of measures, which if fully implemented will amount to a radical change in the way that the Bank and Fund do business in poor countries. The new policy framework comes on the heels of years of campaigning by NGOs and the Jubilee 2000 campaign, and a vigorous public debate on how debt relief can be used for poverty reduction.

Countries seeking debt relief or loans from the World Bank and IMF will now be required to develop a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP). The strategy will set out the country’s plan to meet the 2015 targets, chart the macro-economic policy, and act as a framework for the participation of all external agencies including the Bank and Fund. The strategy is to be developed transparently by the national government, with the support of the Bank and Fund, and with the participation of civil society. The Bank and the Fund will ultimately approve or reject the PRSP.

According to both institutions, the PRSP will include medium and long-term social development objectives which are measurable and within a macroeconomic policy consistent with the objectives of poverty reduction. Sectoral reforms will be included, together with the definition of the needed resources. Published budgets should make it possible to determine the external funding needs of each sector.

The PRSP will serve as an umbrella for the Bank’s Country Assistance Strategy (CAS), as well as those of the IMF’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF), formerly known as the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF).

A desirable shift of emphasis for development assistance in the coming years would be to move away from financing by sectors (SWAPs) to comprehensive funding of poverty reduction strategies, where all sectors and their needs are taken into account. In practical terms the basic education sector will have its definition and strategy in the PRSP, and so the aid allocated to basic education could be delivered through this framework.

This change of focus provides an exceptional opportunity to define the macro-economic framework within a poverty reduction strategy. This would be a dramatic break with the established practice of designing macro-economic policy for growth and then bolting on social funds to mitigate the worst social side effects.

While the new PRSP framework promises much, there is a risk it may deliver little. An intensive emphasis on process ironically may impede in-depth analysis and the discussion of fundamental content. In countries where participation is very limited the new framework may open up the political space for debate. But there are countries where civil society organizations are being overloaded by participation; where multiple open processes, the excess of poor information and the lack of clarity of objectives make genuine participation difficult.

The worst case would be a cosmetic makeover in which only the acronyms change. Within three months of the new framework’s unveiling, the IMF had renamed Honduras’ old ESAF document as a new PRGF without any of the requirements on process and participation having been observed.

The new framework offers the opportunity to integrate basic education plans into national poverty reduction strategies, supported by agreed economic policies and backed by international donors. The stakes are high. Civil society organizations from the South and North will need to monitor the changes closely.



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:

  1. 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.


  1. Increase Aid

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 Educational Aid given by different countries.

basic education spending
(US$ million)
% of
bilateral aid
8 % would mean
(US$ million)
Australia 26.69 4.7 45.43
Austria 1.91 0.4 38.20
Belgium 2.39 0.4 47.80
Canada 0.01 0.0 101.60
Denmark 3.55 0.5 56.80
Finland 11.07 4.3 20.60
France 443.80
Germany 110.67 2.5 354.14
Ireland 9.80
Italy 0.09 0.0 54.20
Japan 34.87 0.3 929.87
Luxembourg 6.31 8.6 6.31
Netherlands 90.02 4.3 167.48
New Zealand 5.63 5.7 7.90
Norway 12.58 1.8 55.91
Spain 8.64 0.8 86.40
Sweden 37.1 2.6 114.15
Switzerland 10.28 2.3 35.76
UK 34.97 1.4 [7] 199.83
United States 37.38 0.5 598.08
EC (1997) 3.09 0.1 247.2
World Bank (IDA) 150 2.2 568
TOTAL 587.25 4189.26



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 committed 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.



Effective Implementation 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.

Improving quality of Programmes:


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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