By Manos Antoninis, senior policy analyst, Education for All Global Monitoring Report
The inclusion of “managing for results” as one of the pillars of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness signalled strongly the need to turn a page in development cooperation relationships; the need to shift from recounting the volume of overseas development assistance to accounting for what this assistance delivers. There was a genuine demand to use evidence to reflect on what kind of support best helps transform the lives of the poorest.
According to the OECD Development Assistance Committee, increased availability of information would be the key to improving decision-making. On the eve of the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, being held this week in Busan, South Korea, the latest evaluation of the implementation of the Paris Declaration argued that progress has been slow. Tensions are spotted “between the longer-term Declaration commitment to strengthening partner country systems … and the pressures from donors for short-term reporting in line with their own results systems.”
In the case of the education sector, as the Education for All Global Monitoring Report team’s Policy Paper on aid effectiveness argues, experience shows what can be achieved when the aid effectiveness principles are adhered to. Where donors have aligned with national plans, positive outcomes for education are visible:
• In Ethiopia, the number of primary school-age children out of school declined from 6.5 million in 1999 to 2.2 million in 2009, backed by an increase in the education budget (from 3.9% of GNP in 2000 to 5.5% in 2007).
• In the United Republic of Tanzania, the number of primary school-age children out of school declined from 3.2 million in 1999 to just 0.3 million in 2009, backed by a substantial increase in the education budget (from 2% of GNP in 1999 to 6.8% in 2008).
Education plans now more commonly include results frameworks that focus on the ultimate beneficiaries, the children. Much more information is collected and disseminated to monitor service delivery, including learning outcomes. However, there is scope to improve how this information is used for decision-making. It may not be surprising that progress in that direction has been slow in developing countries: it takes time to build capacity for planning, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation. But it is the lack of progress among governments in aid donor countries that is more of a concern.
First, old mistakes are being repeated. Under pressure from constituents, which has put aid budgets in the spotlight, many countries still want to take credit for development outcomes. But it is difficult to attribute increases in numbers of children in school, for example, to aid provided by an individual donor – or even to aid in general. If national governments and aid donors, including new partners from the BRICs and the private sector, take mutual responsibility – one of the agreed aid effectiveness principles – they can also take mutual credit for the outcomes.
Second, the Paris Declaration raised the expectation that information on how well education systems are doing would be used more frequently to improve education policies. Unfortunately, there has been limited attention to using evidence to inform good quality evaluations: a lot of work in this area is still self-congratulatory and not robust enough to allow lessons to be derived.
Instead, what has taken centre stage is the proposed use of information on how well education systems are doing to allocate aid, as in the case of cash on delivery, under which donors commit to pay a specific amount for a specific measure of progress. Other commentators have pointed to a danger that results-based aid could shift attention towards quick wins and easily measurable results, at the expense of the longer-term gains that predictable aid can achieve.
As a wealth of experience shows, sustained investment in education can have a catalytic effect on broader development outcomes, including economic growth, improved food security and gender empowerment. Focusing on quick wins is likely to undermine efforts to achieve these kinds of results. It will also mean that the hard-to-reach, who require targeted measures that are likely to be more costly and complicated, will be neglected.
This is the third of three blog posts from the EFA Global Monitoring Report team turning the spotlight on education aid on the occasion of the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.