This blog was written by Asma Zubairi, a researcher at REAL Centre at the University of Cambridge.
How much do donors spend on early childhood development? This is the key question for our new report for Theirworld Just beginning: Addressing inequality in donor funding for Early Childhood Development.
Early Childhood Development (ECD) is widely recognised as a vital area for global policy attention given evidence that children’s futures are shaped by investment in their early years. Such priority is recognised in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with ECD cutting across health, education, nutrition and child protection. But our analysis shows that, while aid spending on ECD has been increasing in recent years, it has not kept pace with health and nutrition.
For the report, we rely on the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Creditor Reporting System (CRS), which is the global aid reporting mechanism through which stakeholders are able to track the volume, recipients and sectors targeted by aid. For example, the Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report) also relies on this database for its annual factsheet, the next of which is due in May, that helps hold donors accountable for their pledges on aid to education.
Some donors may claim their spending is misrepresented in our Report. To take one example where we are already aware of potential discrepancies, according to our analysis using aid disbursements from the OECD-CRS database, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is one of the largest donors to ECD overall but one of the 69 out of 93 donors who do not report spending anything on pre-primary education. Yet a recent report to Congress indicated, for example, that USAID disbursed $22.5 million in aid to pre-primary education in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Jordan in 2016.
Estimating aid to pre-primary education and early childhood development is challenging
This is indicative of problems with trying to track progress on such spending. We rely on the accuracy of donor reporting to the OECD-CRS, and the level of detail with which they report. Our work has uncovered a number of challenges in tracking donor spending on ECD, and so gives rise to proposals on how reporting can be improved to better hold donors to account for global priorities.
A first problem is the way in which donors report their aid disbursements to the OECD-CRS. Donors report their projects against what are known as ‘purpose codes’ which are specific to particular sectors. These purpose codes restrict donors to report what they disburse to particular projects against one purpose code – traditionally against that sector for which the majority of project resources are going. It is possible, therefore, that some donors are not reporting spending on pre-primary education where this is part of an integrated package of early childhood development.
A second issue is that some potentially important aspects of early childhood development are difficult to identify within the OECD-CRS data. For example, play and child protection are both key areas that require investment in the early years but it is not possible to identify whether donors are spending on them.
Third, the lack of common definitions on the scope of ECD makes tracking progress difficult with the available data. Global campaigns have led to improvements in how OECD-CRS tracks spending on reproductive, maternal, new-born and child health (RMCNH). However, RMCNH fails to differentiate between support for the early years and for reproductive and maternal health respectively.
A final issue relates to which donors report to OECD-CRS. In 2018, 93 donors reported their aid disbursements to the OECD-CRS, including multi-donor health funds such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), as well as other philanthropic organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. However, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) does not report its disbursements to the OECD-CRS despite recent moves to reach a solution.
Based on the information we have been able to find, it seems that GPE is a relatively significant donor to pre-primary education: of the US$4.5 billion in total funding that GPE has disbursed to education since 2002, 4% was for pre-primary education – equivalent to approximately US$180 million, making GPE the second largest donor after the World Bank over the period 2002-2016.
As long as GPE does not report its aid disbursements to the OECD-CRS, it remains difficult to effectively track progress on what it is spending on early childhood education. In addition, it is difficult to evaluate how timely GPE disbursements are to partner country governments in receipt of funding. Currently, spending on GPE is generally included within reporting of individual bilateral donors. So, for example, Norway reports its contribution to GPE within its reporting to OECD-CRS. However, this makes it difficult to monitor what resources pledged by the international community are spent on each year, and so how much is allocated to early childhood education. The absence of reporting also makes it difficult to track whether GPE’s disbursements align with its strategic vision that emphasises the key role of pre-primary education, and whether spending on this has changed over time.
What is the way forward?
In recognition of the importance of ECD in leaving no one behind within the SDG framework, we provide three recommendations to enable the OECD-CRS reporting system to keep track of spending on ECD and its components to ensure donors can be held accountable for their commitments:
- Agree on a definition of ECD for donor reporting and provide clarity of how donors should report on this;
- Make it easier for donors to report on sub-components on early childhood development than the current approach to the purpose codes allow;
- Enable GPE to report to OECD-CRS to ensure better tracking of their spending against priority areas, including ECD.