Some donors are shifting aid to secondary education

The recent policy paper by the GEM Report containing the data on 2014 aid spending shows that, for several years, aid to education has been stuck not only at a level far below what is needed but even below levels reached a few years ago. Total aid to education in 2014 was 8% below its 2010 peak, while total aid to basic education is down 14%.

But it also shows some subtle shifts, with donors continuing to increase the share of their aid going to secondary education. The share of basic education (providing for pre-primary and primary education as well as basic skills) in total aid to education in 2014 was 3 percentage points below the peak it reached in 2010. By contrast, secondary education’s share increased from 12% in 2005 to 16% in 2010 and 21% in 2014.

Distribution of total aid to education by sector, 2003–2014


Source:  Global Education Monitoring Report team analysis based on OECD Creditor Reporting System (2016)

During this period, perhaps the most striking trend is the steadily rising disbursements of the United Kingdom and the World Bank, which increased their aid to secondary education by almost US$400 million per year between 2002/03 and 2013/14. They now give almost US$1 billion of aid to secondary education between them. In the case of the United Kingdom this is equivalent to an almost 10-fold increase during the period.

Among the other top ten donors, different trajectories can be observed. For example, the European Union and the Netherlands have decreased their relative aid to basic education in favour of post-secondary education. Australia, Norway and the United States have been increasing the share of their aid going to basic education. France, Germany and Japan maintain their high allocations to post-secondary education as share of total aid.

Distribution of total aid to education by sector, top ten donors, 2002/04, 2008/10, and 2012/14


Source: Global Education Monitoring Report team analysis based on OECD Creditor Reporting System (2016)

What about basic education?

At the same time, aid to basic education to sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to over half the world’s out-of-school children, fell below US$1.5 billion in 2014, returning to 2002/03 levels. Even if this fails to capture the funding these countries receive through the Global Partnership for Education, it is a serious setback.

Among low income countries, there have been contrasting trends. Two countries have benefited from large increases. Ethiopia saw its aid to basic education increase from US$47 million in 2002 to US$259 million in 2014. Afghanistan, in turn, had its aid increase 15-fold to reach US$278 million in 2014.

However, the remaining top 9 low income country recipients, which have received the most aid to basic education since 2002, experienced declines between 2008/10 and 2012/14, ranging from 12% in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to 60% in Mali. Two countries have experienced major falls in aid for basic education since 2002/04, the United Republic of Tanzania (by 55%) and Uganda (by 69%).

Total aid to basic education, top eleven low income country recipient countries (2002-14)


Why might some donors be shifting so dramatically towards secondary education?

The growing share of aid to secondary education may be in line with the shift of focus of the SDG4 Education 2030 agenda. Some donors may feel that the apparent success of expanding primary education infrastructure could now be replicated at the secondary level. Some civil society campaign organisations, such as the Malala Fund, also support the case for 12 years of education for every child. This is founded on evidence that secondary education is essential for acquiring key skills and impacting the lives of adolescent women. Expanding access to secondary education will promote successful transitions from primary education thereby allaying parental concerns that opportunities after primary school are limited or non-existent.

Raising our ambitions, and aiming higher is welcome. But the unfinished business of universal primary completion must not be forgotten. And donors do not seem to have received our message that on current trends not even this fundamental human right will be achieved by 2030. Is it not a little early to shift focus?


1 comment

  1. foundations of pre-primary education should also get the share of investment otherwise losses will be felt later on.Children whose mother tongue is not the language of instruction, may start to fail by the third year in primary -do we think they will stay in school and move easily into secondary?

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