Financing the massive education catch-up needed in sub-Saharan Africa  

birgerdakar_retrospective6This is the seventh in a series of blogs taking a retrospective view of the Education for All agenda and its subsequent implementation. This blog is by Birger Fredriksen, who was a member of the World Bank’s team attending the Dakar World Education Forum and now is a leading expert on the development of education in developing countries at the Results for Development Institute. Here, he reflects on the hugely higher level of education financing sub-Saharan Africa would have needed, compared to other developing regions, to reach the Dakar targets for 2015 and the importance of recognizing that this need will persist post-2015.

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) needs massively increased education funding over the 2015-2030 period to catch-up with other developing regions in the provision of basic education for all. To build such basic human capital is a development stage that cannot be “leapfrogged”. How can SSA become more successful in mobilizing increased funding post-2015 than was the case after the Dakar (2000) and, especially, Jomtien (1990) world education conferences?

I attended both conferences as part of the World Bank’s team. My focus was on how to accelerate SSA’s progress towards Universal Primary Education (UPE). The Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) — which had doubled from 40% in 1960 to 80% in 1980 — had declined to 74% in 1990 and barely regained its 1980 level in 2000. It was recognized among donors that scarce funding was a major factor in that slow progress and that economic decline was the main culprit. Education budgets grew by only about 1% annually between 1980 and 2000 as compared to 2.4% for the school-age population.  But it was also recognized that more funding had to go hand in hand with major reforms to transform SSA’s education systems, originally designed for an elite, into mass education systems. The lack of such reforms was also considered the key reason for the low impact of aid in accelerating progress towards UPE during the 1990s. Thus the call for more performance-based aid and the promise by donors in Dakar to help fund countries that prepared good plans.

The increased donor focus on better plans and stronger national commitment for education pre-dated Dakar. As part of the UN Special Initiative for Africa (launched in 1996), the World Bank initiated in 1997 a program to help “low enrollment SSA countries” prepare better education plans as a basis for mobilizing more domestic and external funding. This work was supported by a special Norwegian Education Trust Fund (NETF) which, over a ten year period, provided almost $50 million for this purpose. Much work was also done (and presented in Dakar) on ensuring that savings from debt relief benefitted basic education.

Credit: Tagaza Djibo/UNESCO
Credit: Tagaza Djibo/UNESCO

Following Dakar, establishing a global fund for education was also discussed. However, there was little appetite among donors for another global fund. Instead, the Fast Track Initiative (FTI) was prepared (funded by the NETF) and launched in 2002. It focused on helping countries develop good national plans, with strong domestic political ownership and financial support, and on coordinating fund mobilization among donors in support of such plans. In December 2003, an FTI fund was established principally to fund program implementation in “donor orphan” countries.

As a result of these and other efforts, SSA’s education spending grew by 4.6% between 1999 and 2008. Still, SSA is poised to enter the post-2015 period with a level of education attainment roughly corresponding to that of the developing world back in the early 1980s.  Of particular concern is the fact that 30% of women aged 15-24 years are still illiterate and that SSA has more than half of the world’s out-of-school children.  If not vigorously addressed through second-chance programs, about 1/3 of SSA’s labor force could still be illiterate in the 2030s with more than 1/3 of children being born to illiterate mothers, reinforcing the vicious circle of poverty, inequity and high fertility rates.

For SSA to bridge the gap during the 2015-2030 period will require a level of education investments far beyond that of other regions. There are two main reasons that explain why reaching UPE has been such a moving target for SSA:

  • Slow demographic transition: SSA’s population aged 5-14 is projected to increase by 35% between 2015 and 2030, compared to declines for South Asia (-2%) and Latin America (-5%). Between 2000 and 2015, the growth was 46% for SSA, 2% for South Asia and a slight decline for Latin America.
  • Need for catch-up: In addition, SSA needs massive catch-up growth in enrolment rates, largely explained by low enrollment at independence and decline during the 1980s and early 1990s when other regions made major progress. Furthermore, with only 49% GER in lower secondary education, SSA also lags behind in extending the duration of basic education.
Photo: Tagaza Djibo/UNESCO
Photo: Tagaza Djibo/UNESCO

Where will the money come from?

First, the overwhelming majority of the resources must be mobilized domestically, and the single-most important condition will be high, sustained economic growth. During the period 1999-2007 about two-third of growth in public education funding was generated by economic growth even though this was a period marked by strong growth in both aid (by 35%) and the share of GNP spent on education (from 3.5% to 4.5%). Aid is unlikely to increase much during the 2015-2030 period and SSA (along with Latin America) already spends a higher share of GNP (4.7%) and public budgets on education (18%) than other developing regions.

Second, governments (and donors) must make budget trade-offs in favor of population groups who missed out on basic education. Because such groups have less political clout than those seeking entry to post-basic education, the political economy of achieving this will likely be even more difficult in the future than in the past.

Third, while aid as a share of total education funding is likely to decline, aid will continue to play a critical role in many SSA countries. But the impact on reaching EFA could increase considerably if the aid were more strategically targeted on areas and population groups where it would provide additionality in increasing the impact of total education funding. Such areas include “soft investments” to build institutional capacity, enhance quality and equity, pilot innovations, strengthen capacity to acquire, adapt and apply knowledge, etc.

Further, given the difficult political economy trade-offs referred to above, aid should to a greater degree help give voice to the large groups who now miss out on basic education (in the way that aid since the early 1990s has helped promote girls’ education). Finally, more aid should be used to help avoid whole generations of young people miss out on education in emergency situations and in failed states.

– Read the other blogs in this series by David ArcherMaris O’RourkeClinton RobinsonAbhimanyu SinghBirger FredriksonSvein Osttveit and Sheldon Shaeffer



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