The Guardian‘s Claire Provost reports on a new
Independent Commission on Aid Impact evaluation of UK education aid for Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia, which finds too much attention paid to increased enrollments and not enough to actual educational performance:
“The quality of education being provided to most children in these countries is so low that it seriously detracts from the development impact of DfiD’s educational assistance,” said the report, which failed to find evidence that DfiD was considering “basic preconditions for learning” such as whether students and teachers actually attend class after the first day.
“To achieve near-universal primary enrolment but with a large majority of pupils failing to attain basic levels of literacy or numeracy is not, in our view, a successful development result. It represents poor value for money both for the UK’s assistance and for national budgets,” said the report giving the programmes an “amber-red” rating signifying that they need significant improvements.
DfiD funding for education in the three countries is expected to top £1bn over the 2005-2015 period. The majority of this has been delivered through “budget support” – money given directly to recipient country governments. While this has helped DfiD to concentrate on promoting policy reforms, said ICAI, the department should now consider a more “hands-on approach”.
This seems to be consistent with what both the UK and the US have seen in Kenya, with the “education scandal” over a course of years under the “free primary education” initiative following the 2002 elections and on into the current Government of National Unity. Direct budget support has serious risks and limitations. For one thing, foreign funding does not necessarily change the priorities that may be reflected in the lack of local funding in the first place. A separate ICAI report found that budget support can be effective in the right conditions, but in practice varied widely by country–India, for instance, showed better results.
Encouragingly, the current UK international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, expressed willingness to apply the learning from the independent evaluation, and acknowledged a previous over-emphasis on increased enrollment in and of itself.