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Act at all levels

by D+C | E+Z
School kids in Malawi / Schulkinder in Malawi

School kids in Malawi / Schulkinder in Malawi

“Education for all” requires good teachers and well-designed institutions. In addition to imparting important skills to individual persons, capacity building is essential for better management of the education sector for the sake of quality control, performance-based human-resources management and South-South cooperation. [ By Ingrid Jung ]

Education is today generally recognised as an essential precondition for democracy and sustainable development. Two aspects are especially relevant: quality and access. All people deserve opportunities – regardless of their social standing, gender, faith, ethnicity or individual disabilities.

However, sensible recommendations are often only implemented slowly or not at all. This is not only due to diverging opinions on how to teach, it is also a matter of funding. The education sector is personnel-intensive, and it depends on an expensive infrastructure with school buildings, libraries and much else.

Not only developing countries suffer from shortcomings in the education sector. Recent admonitions by the OECD, the UN Human Rights Commissioner for Education or World Vision, a non-governmental organisation, point out problems in Germany. However, the need to act is especially great in countries where the population is growing fast.

Money and other worries

Ghana’s Finance Minister Anthony Akoto Osei reports that education spending amounts to almost a third of the country’s total budget. Even though Ghana is a so-called donor darling, which enjoys support from many rich-nation governments, donor contributions have never amounted to more than 10 % of education spending. Therefore, the donors need to ask themselves if they are providing enough money.

In Dakar in spring 2000, the world’s education ministers made a commitment to achieve “education for all.” This commitment goes beyond the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of universal primary education for all boys and girls by the year 2015, as defined later in 2000 at the UN Millennium Summit. “Education for all” includes pre-school attention to young children and adult literacy programmes, and focuses on quality.

In order to achieve these goals, the Fast Track Initiative - Education for All was started in 2002, with a secretariat based at the World Bank. The main focus is on universal primary education for children. The idea is to support Africa and developing countries elsewhere by means of finance and capacity development. Desmond Birmingham, who heads the secretariat, says that all governments involved are fully aware of capacity development being necessary. He maintains that many developing countries have drafted sector plans accordingly, but they often only refer to teacher issues; and while providing instructors with advanced training is certainly necessary, it is plainly not enough.

Anthony Livuza agrees. He is the Secretary for Education, Science and Technology in Malawi, a country that has expanded its primary school enrolment dramatically in a short period of time (net enrolment in primary schools went up from 58 % in 1992 to 73 % in 2006). Livuza stesses that, besides sound teacher training, coherent curricula and governmental information management also matter very much. Administration has to be efficient, if progress is to be sustained, Livuza argued at an international symposium organised by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation in October. As current chair of the G8, Germany is also co-chair of the Fast Track Initiative this year.

Weak provincial institutions

Joao Assale from Mozambique’s Ministry of Education knows a lot about capacity shortages at local levels. He mentions a lack of both qualified staff and suitable organisation, with the result of division of labour and allocation of tasks often remaining unclear. According to him, the weakness of provincial institutions reinforces a trend towards centralised decision-making, even though it is obvious that experts in the capital city cannot know precisely what is going on elsewhere at the local level. Other African government officials are only too familiar with such problems.

Indeed, capacity building needs to be applied at multiple levels, as is stressed by InWEnt (Jung and Mercker, 2006). Individuals must acquire specific skills, but the institutions they work for need to be organised sensibly. Responsibilities, procedures and jurisdictions have to be defined in ways that allow tasks to be actually fulfilled.

There is a financial dimension to this issue. If the civil service cannot afford to pay qualified staff and if careers are not promoted according to performance, good people will leave. That is especially likely once advanced training has improved their income prospects elsewhere. All too often, former civil servants work for donor agencies or consultancies in the capital cities – rather than where they would be making the greatest contribution to the development of their countries. Therefore, Birger Frederiksen, a World Bank consultant, believes that governments have an obligation to create the underlying conditions for performance-based human-resources management in order to retain competent professionals.

Critical parents

Civil society can make a difference, as Gorgui Sow from the African Campaign for Education for All stresses. According to Sow, schools perform better if parents keep a critical eye on what is taught and then tell teachers, directors and education authorities what they want. Furthermore, independent organisations contribute to checking education policy and controlling governmental cash flows. Sow argues that sector-wide capacity development is the key, and that donors should therefore earmark three percent of their education-related aid on training experts from civil-society associations.

While all governments always lack money, some governmental offices are sometimes overwhelmed by the task of sensibly allocating all funds at their disposal. In such cases, there are interesting approaches to how ministries can boost their ability to act (and spend in meaningful ways) by involving civil society. During his term as education minister in Senegal, for example, Mamadou Ndoye developed the “faire faire” model, whereby the ministry draws up contracts for the implementation of education measures. Of course, legally binding rules are necessary for such procedures and they must fit in with local conditions and requirements. Ndoye emphasises that smart procedures have to be developed.

International tendering, however, does not always bring the best results. From InWEnt’s point of view, it is regrettable that large publishers from rich nations tend to profit from text-book orders. An undesired side effect is that the money spent does not serve to strengthen the knowledge- and culture-industries of the developing countries themselves.

Nonetheless, Ndoye stresses the advantages of international networking. As executive secretary of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), a UNESCO-supported network of researchers, practitioners and politicians, he is currently promoting systematic exchange across borders.

Indeed, it makes sense to apply capacity building at the supra-national level too. According to the OECD Development Assistance Committee (2006), exchange among developing countries serves to quickly expand states’ abilities to act as well as to encourage a long-term, self-sustaining culture of learning. National programmes and bilateral cooperation are not sufficient.

A key challenge for all involved is monitoring measures. Since the nature of this task is very complex, one should presumably only try to record quantitative key indicators of an education system, and then bank on reviews by “critical friends”. This is another field in which South-South cooperation should prove useful. Therefore, “Kipus” is a promising initiative. This budding network was named after the knot-writing system of the Incas. It promotes exchange between researchers and education ministries on the topic of teaching in Latin America. Kipus is supported by the UNESCO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (OREALC).

There are more ways to strengthening education sectors, however. Tim Unwin of the Global Education Initiative of the World Economic Forum, in which UNESCO cooperates with representatives from the private and education sectors, suggests drawing on experiences from companies to improve management of schools and government bureaucracies. He considers private-sector companies partners with huge potential in implementing modern information and communication technology in teacher training. Unwin considers “multi-stakeholder partnerships” a promising way to complement public policies.