In this tenth post, we take stock of potential progress in prioritizing international aid, focusing on the education sector in sub-Saharan Africa.
First of all, let us recall the definition of aid: it is “material help given by one country to another”, and one “would expect aid to go to those most in need”1. Note that aid has remained at about 0.3 percent of donor countries’ gross national income for the last 15 years. In 2005, European Union countries committed to allocating 0.7 percent of their gross national income to official development assistance (ODA). However, of the 30 OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) countries, only five had met the 0.7 percent target by 20192.
Why make Africa a priority?
Many children in sub-Saharan Africa are still out of school. When they do attend school, they often do not acquire basic skills, as many surveys have revealed in recent years. Foreign aid, even if it is not commensurate with the overall budget of the states, is therefore necessary to carrying forth the development of education systems. This is all the more the case in the wake of COVID-19: National education budgets have experienced or will experience relatively significant cuts as a result of the pandemic2.
Aid to the region
Paradoxically, while the needs of many Sub-Saharan African countries are substantial, a surprising amount of aid goes to countries that are far from the poorest1. To illustrate this point, it should be noted that between 2000 and 2010, more than half the World Bank’s education funds were allocated to three countries: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh3. In recent years, aid has increased most in North Africa and the Middle East2.
However, aid to education in Sub-Saharan Africa, which had been falling until the first half of the 2010s, has been on an upward trend over the last five years. Between 2014 and 2019, aid to Sub-Saharan Africa increased from USD 1.4 to USD 1.7 billion (Figure 1). These figures may underrepresent the total allocated to Sub-Saharan Africa, as it is likely that a share of aid that is not allocated to countries in the OECD database (unspecified aid) flows to the region2.
Figure 1. Total aid to education disbursements, by region, 2009-2019 Source: World Bank & GEMR-UNESCO (2021)
Basic education still a priority for the region. And yet…
Let us look, in particular, at aid to basic education, which encompasses preschool, primary, early secondary, and adult literacy. It is at this level that students acquire basic knowledge and skills, including literacy and numeracy. This period corresponds to what is internationally recognized as the time when schooling should be compulsory.
While aid to this sector increased between 2015 and 2016, it has since fallen (Figure 2). This has been due, in part, to a lower allocation from the United Kingdom (-29%), much of which was for basic education. Another observation: while the needs are great for this educational sub-sector, more aid is destined for post-secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa, i.e., USD 1.27 billion as opposed to USD 829 million for basic education, which is a challenge in terms of social justice4.
Figure 2. Total aid to education disbursements, by level of education, 2009-2019 Source: World Bank & GEMR-UNESCO (2021)
What about marginalized populations?
Ainsi, non seulement l’aide ne cible pas nécessairement les pays et les Not only does aid not necessarily target the relevant countries and education sectors, but the most marginalized populations are not always the first to benefit from aid, either. For example, the poorest girls are 60 years behind the richest boys in terms of universal primary completion1. How effective, then, has the educational aid of the past 30 decades actually been? The same applies to disparities between populations living in rural and urban areas, with the latter being favored by aid. This is reflected, in particular, in the figures on school retention or on the level of qualification of the teaching staff in rural areas (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Percentage of the population with less than four years of education for the age group 20-24 years Source : World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE) (2021)
More aid… but more importantly, better management of that aid
Of course, an increase in resources is not enough to bring about change in education. Indeed, recent increases in public education spending have been associated with relatively small improvements in education outcomes. Although access to education has improved, according to the World Bank, 53% of ten-year-olds in low- and- middle-income countries are unable to read or understand a short, age-appropriate text. This is largely due to deficiencies in the management of resources by the States. From the perspective of resource management, few countries are able to communicate, in particular to UNESCO, how much they spend on primary, secondary, and tertiary education. Furthermore, countries like Chad and Niger spend amounts similar to those spent by Malawi and Sierra Leone, but achieve less than half the learning adjusted years of schooling.2.
IN CONCLUSION, IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THAT WHILE FOREIGN AID IS SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASING IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA, THE CHALLENGE IS TO ENSURE THAT IT SUFFICIENTLY AND EFFECTIVELY TARGETS COUNTRIES, SECTORS, AND POPULATIONS IN NEED. THIS IS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT GIVEN THAT DONOR COUNTRIES ARE LIKELY—AND SOME HAVE ALREADY BEGUN—TO SHIFT THEIR AID BUDGETS TO NATIONAL PRIORITIES RELATED TO UNEMPLOYMENT, AND TO BUSINESS SUPPORT MEASURES ADDRESSING THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE PANDEMIC. DONOR PRIORITIES MAY ALSO SHIFT TO HEALTH OR OTHER EMERGENCIES IN RECIPIENT COUNTRIES. SOME ESTIMATES PREDICT THAT EDUCATION AID COULD FALL BY USD 2 BILLION FROM ITS 2020 PEAK, AND NOT RETURN TO 2018 LEVELS UNTIL 2027.
1 Antoninis, M. (2014). Let’s clarify the definition of aid to education so that it benefits the poorest
2 World Bank & GEMR-UNESCO. (2021). Education Finance Watch 2021
3 RESULTS Educational Fund. (2010). World Bank Education Financing: Less or More for the Poor in IDA 16?
4 OECD. (2019). Development Aid at a Glance. Africa