This 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.
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.