This week, the Strategy and Impact Committee of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) Board is to meet to discuss, among many issues, the ‘Results Report’, which is the Partnership’s monitoring document; and the ‘Knowledge and Innovation Exchange’ (KIX), the proposed new platform for financing research, policy analysis and global public goods to be set up after the replenishment of the GPE Fund is completed.
Indeed, attention to GPE is likely to grow a lot in coming months, as the broad education community helps them campaign in the run up to their replenishment conference, which, as announced this week, will take place in Senegal in February 2018.
The way that GPE now evaluates itself is laid bare in its recent Results Report, published in June. This is the first GPE monitoring report to relate back to a clear monitoring framework and a theory of change. It marks a positive change in line with recommendations dating back to the evaluation of the EFA Fast Track Initiative in 2009-2010.
Having said that, the language in which some of these ‘results’ are couched might raise a few eyebrows for a critical commentator. For example, when it is argued that “745,000 more children completed primary school across the Partnership in 2014 than in 2013” the reader is led to believe that this was an achievement of the GPE alone that may not have happened otherwise. It is questionable, likewise, why the Report feels the need to claim that “13 out of 20 developing country partners have shown improvement in learning outcomes”.
With GPE spending amounting to about 1% of public education expenditure in the 65 GPE partner countries, how realistic is it to expect improvements in learning outcomes in those countries to be linked to GPE funds? Even if GPE contributes to better planning, suggesting that improvements in learning may be something within GPE’s direct control risks distracting from its core purpose. Understandably the GPE Secretariat reports on the Partnership broadly defined, in other words the results of the combined efforts from GPE, other donors and partner countries. But is it not fair to expect a GPE Results Report to focus primarily on the value added of the GPE?
Not that this way of presenting results is entirely GPE’s fault. It may be inevitable in a climate where donors expect certain types of ‘results’, an issue related to accountability. We will be examining this theme in the next GEM Report out on 24 October. It might be seen as honourable for the Partnership to take on such a tall order but, in reality, it blurs the lines of who is responsible for what.
The core function of GPE, which is to catalyse more and better domestic and external finance to the sector, is overshadowed by these other statistics on impact. Yet, it is issues such as improving aid efficiency, improving donor coordination and ensuring timely disbursements that are the results GPE should be shouting about up front and centre. This is where its added-value should lie and where often it has nothing to hide.
Between 2004 and 2016, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) disbursed US$3.6 billion to the education sector for 302 grants. As we showed in a policy paper in May, with about 77% of its disbursements directed to sub-Saharan Africa and nearly 60% to countries affected by fragility or conflict, GPE is very effective in reaching countries that are most in need compared to other donors. This to a large extent is related to its allocation model, which is based on a needs index.
In 2015, GPE disbursements made up 12% of basic and secondary education ODA in its partner countries, as compared to 6% in 2010. This is in a context where aid to education has stagnated since 2010, whereas GPE annual disbursements increased by 14% on average to reach US$446 million in 2015. At the end of the current replenishment round, it seeks to increase annual disbursements by four times. If this were in the context of an overall fourfold increase of aid to education, this would be excellent news – perhaps it would be less so if it only means a larger share of existing aid is being channelled through the GPE, even if that means shifting more aid to countries with greater needs.
Depending on the success of the replenishment round, between $60 and $239 million would be available for the GPE KIX to fund research, policy analysis and global public goods. This would be great news for an area of work that is often neglected.
The general public can join in the campaign to support GPE in its call for additional funds at its replenishment. This, after all, is the purpose of the Partnership, and a chronic need for the sector. It might get harder, however, for the Partnership to draw in broad-base support if its claims of achievement are out of proportion with the reality. As the 2017/8 GEM Report shows, let us all be accountable first for the actions to which we have committed. Results will follow.