DFID's work on education: Leaving no one behind Contents

4Improving the quality and equity of education

107.Attendance at school does not necessarily mean that a child will be actively learning, so it is important to acknowledge the quality of education rather than just counting numbers of students. The latest World Development Report, published yearly by the World Bank, addresses this issue, stating that “schooling is not the same as learning”. What is thus needed is a greater focus on improving the quality of education as well as learning outcomes, in order to ensure that every child is not only attending a school, but benefiting from an education.

108.This is a huge challenge, and testament to this is the fact that this year’s World Development Report focuses solely on this issue for the first time. The report gives three immediate causes of the shortfall in learning that it states is causing a “learning crisis”: children arrive unprepared to learn; teachers often lack the skills or motivation to teach effectively; inputs often fail to reach classrooms or affect learning; and poor management and governance can undermine schooling quality. In order to address these challenges, it presents three policy responses needed: assessing learning, acting on evidence, and aligning actors. In assessing how best to achieve SDG4, DFID should consider looking to these suggested policy responses to help frame its decisions

109.Equity is another huge problem, with many interventions merely continuing to reach more privileged children and leaving the most marginalised behind. In low-income countries in 2010–2015, for example, for every 14 adolescents in the poorest fifth of the population who completed lower secondary school, 100 adolescents in the richest fifth did. As Kevin Watkins told us, the focus now should be on setting equity targets that “turn the spotlight on the real barriers to accelerated progress”. These targets, Mr Watkins argued, could be one of the “great services” that DFID could provide in this area in dialogue with country governments. Measuring learning, according to the World Bank, can improve equity by revealing areas of exclusion that otherwise would be hidden.

Allocation of resources

110.DFID currently allocates around 44% of its education funding to basic education, 19% to secondary and 6% to tertiary education. Witnesses to the inquiry generally thought the balance was about right, although much of this was qualified with the fact that DFID should spend more on basic and early years education in future.Alice Albright emphasised to the Committee the importance of investing in basic education to give all children the opportunity to succeed:

We think about education…as a staircase. The idea is that the staircase is wide enough and not so steep that every kid can start at the bottom, regardless of whether or not they are a girl or a boy or have disabilities or live in a remote area…and get to the top of the staircase and be able to then jump off and lead a productive life.

UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, also expressed concern that some countries had got out of primary education too early, “before we had completed our commitment to get every child to school”.

111.It is important that children receive the skills necessary to enter the job market as part of their education. Lucy Lake, Chief Executive Officer of Camfed, emphasised that there is a real need to ensure schools are giving children the relevant skills required to enable them to make the progression into employment and entrepreneurship. In this way, children are able to explore a number of pathways to earning a living wage. Gordon Brown agreed with this sentiment, stating that in Africa and Asia in particular, economies are changing rapidly, and some jobs that people are being trained for are often becoming redundant in a changing market economy. It was important, he said, to help children “learn how to learn”. Vocational skills are increasingly important for changing economies, and education systems should be equipped to deal with this change.

Improving education systems

112.In its report on DFID’s work on marginalised girls, ICAI criticised DFID for not pursuing “system wide change” on girls’ education. It stated that the Department needs to strengthen the coherence of its approach and combine policy dialogue, system building and targeted interventions in order for strategies to be successful. The Springfield Centre also emphasised the importance of focusing on a system-wide approach if DFID is to see impact on a larger scale: “In seeking to change the education system, rather than the quality of a school, or learning outcomes or enrolment rates of a cohort of pupils, a systemic approach to education inherently sees scale of impact as one of its priorities.”

113.Supporting teachers is a key aspect of improving education, as they are ultimately the frontline practitioners involved. The Research for Equitable Access and Learning Centre states in its evidence that, in order to ensure marginalised children such as disabled children are not excluded from the classroom, it is vital that teachers are equipped with skills to teach in diverse classrooms. The Bond Disability and Development Group similarly states that training teachers helps strengthen their understanding of disability. It recommends that DFID should “help to ensure teachers have the training and resources needed to ensure that teachers are competent and equipped in inclusive education methodologies”.

114.The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) focuses on strengthening education systems, so is a useful tool for DFID to achieve this. GPE’s CEO, Alice Albright stated:

When we make decisions, it is not the G7 and the donor community telling the developing countries what to do. It is all of us sitting around the table deciding as a group, including the countries…how we ought to be reforming education systems. When we think about our governance, it has to keep that concept front and centre. Because education is so much about local delivery, if GPE begins to move in the direction of doing something such that the countries feel put upon and do not embrace it, we are not going to win.

115.UKFIET, an education and development forum, told us:

It is vital that decisions about educational investments by Britain should be developed in clear partnership with Southern governments and civil societies and should reflect their national priorities at their core. Timescales of interventions need to be extended in order to facilitate genuine partnerships and increased effectiveness.

Politically informed programming

116.Politics matters. ODI told us:

DFID’s support to countries on improving learning outcomes will need to be carefully adapted to the context in which they are working and take a systems approach that integrates an understanding of the political incentives, opportunities and barriers.

117.The Springfield Centre told us:

What is needed is a pragmatic and analytical approach cognisant of local social, economic and political realities, seeking locally appropriate, sustainable solutions to achieve impact at scale.

118.This is true of development in general, and education is no exception. A “one size fits all” approach cannot meaningfully improve education systems, although it is possible to learn lessons from certain contexts, which can be transferred to other countries and programmes. However, it is important that DFID are cognisant of country differences and build these into education programmes.

119.Key to ensuring this kind of approach are DFID’s education advisers. Most countries with a DFID country office will have an education adviser, but in recent years they have been moved out of some countries (for example in Kenya, where this post has been replaced with a regional adviser) and in some countries they are now shared (as in Zambia and Malawi). Following the oral evidence we heard from Minister Burt and DFID officials, the Department wrote that:

The education cadre has grown in recent years and now totals 43. Education advisers have also been redeployed around the organisation to respond to new and emerging challenges; such as the large scale-up of work around Syria.

120.There is clearly concern that DFID’s capacity to manage large-scale education programmes is limited. The British Association of International and Comparative Education told us: “We would also welcome a restrengthening of capacity within DFID itself to directly manage large grants to education.” By ensuring more consistency across the board, DFID’s education advisers can help with this process.

121.If DFID is to be effective in supporting partner countries to improve education systems, it should have a strong understanding of the context in which it is working. A thorough understanding of the political, social and economic circumstances of each of DFID’s priority countries should be at the centre of its education programming decisions.

122.To ensure programming is politically informed, DFID and Foreign and Commonwealth Office teams in country should be working closely together on education. To take full advantage of the range of knowledge and expertise within country teams, DFID’s governance advisers, as well as education advisers, should be instrumental in planning bilateral engagement on education.

123.DFID’s country-specific education advisers are essential to ensuring UK support to education is tailored to each country context, coordinating with other donors, international organisations and NGOs, and—most importantly—developing strong relationships with country governments. If DFID is to support systems reform in the countries it works in, these interlocutors with their intricate knowledge of countries’ education systems—from the national to the local level—are essential.

124.Where possible, DFID should maintain an education adviser in every country where it has a bilateral aid programme.

Data and research

125.If learning outcomes are to be improved, it is essential that more investment is made in data and research, to find out where the gaps lie and how they can best be addressed. DFID has increased its spend on education research over the past five years, and this budget has grown from £500,000 in 2012 to nearly £11 million now.Minister Burt told us that “we think we have established a leadership role in the international community’s efforts to raise the rigour, availability and use of education research”.This is a welcome position, and should be followed as an example by global partners in order to achieve SDG4.

126.DFID’s support for the Global Education Monitoring Report through its support to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics’ Global Alliance to Monitor Learning, as well as for research programmes like the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) programme are positive examples of DFID’s work in this area.These will make a huge contribution to improving education throughout the world, and should continue.

127.The Committee welcomes DFID’s considerable investments in research and data on global education. While access and learning outcomes are still poor, the Department’s investment in baseline data and evidence on what works to improve education is absolutely vital.

128.DFID should continue to support research on education, such as the RISE programme. It should also continue to support vital data collection, through the Global Education Monitoring Report and others.

17 November 2017