Towards a global education fund?

Towards a global education fund?

In a few days, a Millennium Development Goals summit will be held in New York. MDG’s objective 2 is to ensure primary education for all. The school coverage has improved, particularly in Africa, but « the pace of progress is insufi cient to ensure that, by 2015,  all girls and boys complete a full course of primary schooling », according to a recent UN report.

In the World Bank education statistics, the proportion of students completing primary education increased by nearly 15 percentage points between 2000 and 2008 in Africa and South Asia. The ten countries with the lowest completion rates are all in Africa. In Chad, only 30% of pupils complete primary school, others have little chance of becoming literate.

Development aid has greatly contributed to these results, but are just a small part of funding needs. The Fast Track Initiative set up in 2002, helped to allocate more resources to education, to develop well structured investment plans and facilitated donors support harmonization. What is this?

The FTI and the harmonization of aid

From a project approach, where each donor funds directly activities, sometimes outside of government structures and with an effort duplication risk, donors have shifted to support programs or long-term plans implemented by the administration. State budgets receive direct support, from the European Union in particular, to foster other types of actions than projects driven ones (paying salaries to teachers, for example). This financing mechanism also poses other risks … In simple terms, projects are « A la carte », while program or budget supports are « Au menu » and FTI was initially a french driven « cuisine ».

The idea is to pool technical expertise and funding from donors, through « shared or catalytic funds » and to ensure greater consistency of technical and financial support, though mulitple meetings and joint missions. In the field, things have changed quite favorably, but with a background of rivalry between major donors. In practice, most donors prefer bilateral aid (from one state to another), without going through the « shared funds » box. Some donors have mainly project driven assistance, as the USA. According to Oxfam, « Cambodia had in 2006, 16 donors supporting 57 projects in education … » France has virtually abandoned the project approach (Fonds de Solidarité Prioritaire) turning to program and budget support by the AFD (Agence Française de Développement). Meanwhile, AFD took over the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in the USA, the G. W. Bush Millenium Challenge Account took over USAID, so far….

The amount spent by the Fast Track funds is approximately $ 2 billion in 42 countries, a water drop when estimating the ocean needs to $16 billion per year. The time between the decision to allocate funding and their arrival has been shortened from 1 year to 6 months. Spain, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are the main contributors to the Catalytic Fund, while France only participates in a manner quite marginal and United States simply don’t. These are the two largest donors to education in developing countries.

This education fund is not truly global in terms of participating countries and scope. It targets mostly primary education, while the secondary financial needs and social demand are enormous. Emerging countries such as India and Brazil do not participate and have their own aid mechanisms. Moreover, the issue of financing Indian education system has largely stirred debates in the creation of the initiative. Should a state of a billion people, with nuclear weapons and whose computer engineer compeete with those of Silicon Valley, be funded? Today, India is at the top of technical assistance to developing countries, in the area of reading and litteracy through the work of the Pratham NGO. In a 2009 FTI meeting, India was well placed as a key technical partner rather than a demanding country. Check the ASER site.

Critics made to the FTI

Two reports from NGOs have heavily criticized the initiative recently. In a typical alarming NGOs style, Oxfam report title is:  » How reform of the Fast Track Initiative should lead to a Global Fund for Education «  while the Global Campaign for Education, more softly states  » Envisioning a Global Fund for Education » .

The Global Campaign for Education has been awarded $ 17.6 million under the Civil Society Education Fund in 2008 but Fast Track fundings is intended primarily to governements. A very different mode of operation from the Global Health Fund … What about giving to NGOs, who charge management fees or to goverments, which may also take some… or international organizations?

The main criticism of Fast Track is about the funds governance which are almost all managed by the World Bank in countries, applying « bureaucratic » procedures. The initiative evaluation report even states about « potential conflicts of interest ». Gap between pledges and actual donations are pointed out, a classic, and countries emerging from crisis or in a post conflict situation are not dealt with appropriately. How to ensure that funds for education are not diverted to arm child soldiers militias ?

On FTI web site, reforme commitments clearly are listed on the homepage and the evaluation report is made public. See here the full version of the evaluation report, a sort of mea culpa. Geopolitical rivalry somewhat « diluted » the good intentions of the begining: « Especially Because Of The Quest for consensus decisions, this Has Often result fromthis in long negotiations marring the FTI’s Operational Effectiveness and Diluting sacrifice part of the FTI’s original intentions. »

Obama to save the world again

The most surprising is that a UNESCO report takes the same speech and stressed the important role the U.S. could play in financing and in leadership of a possible global fund education. (See page 266 of UNESCO report).

Several years were necessary for the high-level Fast Track and Unesco meetings to be merged… eternal UNESCO / World Bank rivalry. According to Oxfam, « Although a Global Education Fund for the project should be not of any one donor, the U.S. is well placed to provide strong leadership politique for a Global Fund for Education. »

President Obama has promised during his campaign to fund education in developing countries. Commitments confirmed by Hilary Clinton, who herself proposed a senate bill to fund the education for all. « The action Since Then ? » wonders Desmond Bermingham, former FTI director : « Disappointing. The high-level U.S. Commitment Has eroded politique, ou partly Because Of A Lack of clear vision in the education community on how best to use potential support. « 

Can we believe that the U.S. will really contribute further when in the list of public school supplies, American parents were surprised to see included « toilet paper » in September 2010? See here for comments from the One NGO (led by Bono) on the promises of Obama.

Private foundations to the rescue

The recent declaration of several American billionaires wanting to give half their fortunes to deal with global issues are good news. Giving pledges already amount to $ 115 billion, but have only a moral value « The Pledge Is a Moral Commitment to give, not a legal contract. »

The private foundations are taking over from the States. Rather than paying taxes, billionaires finance their own projects, through donations (which are not taxable). This is probably a more efficient, less bureaucratic education funding way. Bill Gates is already investing more than WHO in health services. Several U.S. foundations have already committed to support education in developing countries.

The example of the Global Health Fund to fight against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

If a global education fund is created, it should make more room for private financing and would be guided by the Global Health Fund experience, that relies heavily on calls for projects and less on government spending circuits. Check here for online application procedures. The financing mode is alike what prevailed in education before the FTI, but with more flexibility, apparently.

What are the recent changes proposed in the architecture of global health funding?
« The New Architecture will could grant the Global Fund in a better position to support a national program approach, which will allow Improved alignment with national cycles and systems. « Lead to reduced transaction costs and better for implementers enable country coordinating mechanisms reasons to be effective oversight. »

It is exactly what FTI is seeking for… but FTI evaluation report says: « The move towards use of more instruments aligned Relying on System Has not Been country strong. »
The new instrument should be called Global Fast Track Education Fund in order to please everybody.

In short, the discussion continues in the areas of education and health so that the money will arrive safely, while noting the political commitments to reduce poverty vary across countries. Look at this memo from the Brookings Institution.
Unscrupulous NGOs use « Global Education Fund » as their name or for their website. While calling for vigilance, we note the beginnings of a positioning battle to get the money.

The main challenges faced by developing education systems are building schools in the bush, ensuring teachers are paid, teachers and students are sufficiently present at school and that school textbooks are distributed ? They are far from being all resolved, wheter there is a global fund or not. However, the promises of private donations, the pooling of resources and greater aid effectiveness through the FTI put several countries on the right track.

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Pierre Varly

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