#05 Ownership or turnkey models in international cooperation in education?

Several articles in this blog will be devoted to the notion of ownership, which is fundamental to acting in the field of international cooperation, and which is more in the education sector. In this article, we will focus on the definition of ownership and some observations.

To define the concept of ownership in the field of cooperation, we can refer to the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness1, which established it as a key principle:

It is now the norm for aid recipients to forge their own national development strategies with their parliaments and electorates.

Source: OECD

We see that ownership implies not only the involvement of national decision-makers, but also (and the difficulty is to know to what extent) local education actors, such as teachers, school principals, parents, etc., who are well placed to know what is relevant to be put in place in this field2. This means that international cooperation can succeed only in the long term if stakeholders in developing countries consider externally funded projects or programs as their own and are closely involved in their design, implementation and evaluation. In short, they must take ownership of the actions to be carried out in education.

This concept also reflects the idea of balanced partnerships between national/local and cooperation actors. We will have the opportunity to come back to this notion of « partnership » in a future article.

But what about the ‘ownership’ in practice of international cooperation in education (ICE)?

Despite changes in the methodology of development assistance, which appeared in particular after the above-mentioned declaration, many criticisms are levelled at the ICE. A common criticism is that projects or programs are still too often thought of in a top-down way, without setting up real participatory processes at the different levels (design, implementation, and evaluation) that would allow, among other things, this ownership at the national policy level, but also and especially at the level of beneficiaries. Indeed, very often in international cooperation projects, decisions are rarely made with local actors3.

Based on two studies we have conducted in recent years, we will demonstrate the difficulty for international cooperation actors to respect this principle of ownership.

The first research project focused on the design and implementation of the Competency-Based Approach (CBA) in French-speaking West Africa. Without going into detail, this approach, whose purpose is to ensure that learners not only learn knowledge, but also build skills, was supposed to be the miracle cure for the poor quality of education systems. Among its characteristics, it is a question of moving from a traditional, transmissive pedagogy to an active pedagogy, « a pedagogy of learning »4. What we must remember in our discussion is that this approach did not emanate from the will of national or local actors, but was driven by international cooperation in contexts where countries are historically accustomed to an exogenous presence (dependence linked to colonization and then to international aid). The institutions supporting the adoption of CBA were as follows: UNESCO, UNICEF, CONFEMEN, European Union, African Development Bank (AfDB), Belgian, Canadian and French cooperation etc. Expertise offices have also specialized in promoting CBA in Africa (including textbook writing as in Senegal), often arriving with turnkey models, but in technical language that is difficult for national decision-makers to understand. These offices operate with the funding offered by international cooperation. This strong international influence makes this approach explicit in the curricula of a very large number of countries on the African continent as a result of this impetus from international cooperation (countries in green on the map below).

Source : United Nations

The low national and local ownership led to many implementation difficulties: the available resources did not meet the requirements of CBA (teacher training, equipment, languages of instruction, etc.), and the populations directly concerned were not sufficiently mobilized to understand the value of this approach. For more details on the research

A second research that allows us to illustrate the challenges of ownership highlighted the practices of ICE actors in Switzerland*. Almost all our interlocutors (mainly NGO representatives) believe that their actions are explicitly linked to national and local priorities, and above all that they are based on the needs of their beneficiaries. Some people nevertheless noted that the projects or programs are designed according to a model specific to the cooperation structure, without any real ownership by national and local actors:

We have developed a tool in one country that we will use it in other countries. That is not my vision. […] You can’t come in and then think that the system can integrate that.

This led us to address another crucial issue related to ownership, namely the sustainability of activities beyond their intervention of the ICE. Indeed, the local actors must have sufficient ownership of a project or program in order to be implemented in a sustainable manner once the ICE withdraws. Indeed, Enée (2010) notes that massive aid, coming from outside, contributes to favoring a certain assistance and, finally, produces perverse effects in the long term5. However, even if it is interesting to note that the ICE in Switzerland gives itself the means, not all practices go in this direction:

There is never any guarantee that the actions will continue. (…) And when there is no permanent monitoring, quality decreases, especially in emergency situations.

More details about the results of this search in the video.



1 OECD. (2005). Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness

2 Lauwerier, T. (2015). Relevance and basic education in Africa

3 Lauwerier, T. & Akkari, A. (2019). Construire et mettre en œuvre un projet de coopération internationale en éducation

4 Altet, M., Paré-Kaboré, A. & Sall, H. N. (2015). OPERA, Observation des Pratiques Enseignantes dans leur Rapport avec les Apprentissages des élèves

5 Enée, G. (2010). Les ONG au Burkina Faso: une référence dans le champ du développement africain?


*The results of this research, soon to be published, will also be the subject of other articles in this blog .


#04 Global Education Monitoring Report 2019: What lessons for international cooperation?

On the occasion of the official launch of UNESCO’s 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report, this article aims to promote the first interview of 𝗲𝗱𝘂’𝗖’ 𝗼𝗼𝗽, conducted with a member of the team that produced it, Dr. Nicole Bella, statistician and senior policy analyst. The interview focuses on the contribution of international cooperation to progress in the education sector and on areas that should receive increased attention from cooperation.

In part 1, Nicole Bella reminds us of the role of the report. This includes monitoring progress related to SDG 4 on education. From this point of view, it makes it possible to inform international cooperation actors not only about progress but also about global challenges. Beyond this monitoring, the report focuses on a specific theme each year. In 2019, the issue of migration, displacement, and their links with education is being addressed in greater depth.

Despite undeniable progress at the global level, many challenges remain in the education sector, according to the report, including:

  • Access to education (at all levels);
  • Girls’ schooling;
  • School completion;
  • Literacy;
  • Quality of learning.

Quality of learning, an SDG 4 priority, increasingly mobilizes international cooperation (part 2).

In part 3, the interview highlights the contribution of international cooperation to global educational progress. The SDGs provide for enhanced action by cooperating in the fight against poverty, including providing support for education. While noting that States remain the main donors to the sector, international assistance remains necessary for low-income countries, even if it does not target them as a priority (for example, aid to basic education in these contexts decreased from 36% in 2002 to 22% in 2016). Among the major initiatives to mobilize international funds for education to reverse this trend, Bella discusses the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), Education Cannot Wait and the Commission for Education. As the report focuses on migration-related issues, it focuses on supporting international cooperation for refugees and more inclusive education systems.

Finally, in part 4, the interview turns to possible actions for international cooperation in education to address the specific challenge of migration (knowing that there is a greater concentration of migrant flows within low-income countries despite what the intense media coverage of this issue in the North suggests). Among the recommendations made in the report, Bella highlights:

  • Respect for the right to education;
  • Development of inclusive education systems;
  • Promotion of the diversity of the teaching staff;
  • Strengthening humanitarian aid for education.

#02 Why are international cooperation organizations so interested in education?

These few slogans promoted by international cooperation organizations emphasize the change that education can bring to individuals and/or societies. This article focuses on the vision of « change » that is adopted by cooperation actors.

The discourse in the recent Incheon Declaration, initiated by major international organizations and focusing on international educational goals by 2030, also indicates this idea of education for change: « Our vision is to transform lives through education, recognizing the important role of education as a main driver of development and in achieving the other proposed SDGs ». The idea of change is associated with the notion of « development »1. However, behind this notion lie many visions. We propose below to present the most common visions of development2.

The first one, the liberal capitalist paradigm, stresses the need to emphasize economic growth in the context of globalization. The strategy is to modernize institutions and economic activities, to change attitudes, and to improve workers’ competences and productivity. This paradigm is located within a very economic-centred vision. Next comes the marxist paradigm, often contrasted with the previous paradigm, which promotes the idea of granting liberty to peoples and individuals in a context of economic exploitation. Particularly for developing countries, the strategy is to break the ties of dependence on the former—sometimes even modern—colonial powers. A third paradigm is postcolonialism, which is mentioned less frequently. The idea is to achieve a different structure of society as perceived by others by dismantling the dominant conceptions of development. It is aimed particularly at former colonial countries. A fourth paradigm, liberal egalitarianism, corresponds to the official vision of the institutions of the United Nations system. Its key concepts are human rights, equality, fundamental freedoms or well-being. The strategy is to establish constitutional guarantees and international obligations in order that these principles are respected. Finally, the last paradigm is radical humanism, which has for vision the transformation of consciousness for the emancipation of the people and the creation of a just society. To achieve this objective, the strategy is to empower individuals and societies, particularly through education or various political initiatives.

It should be made clear that the paradigms we have just presented are, by definition, fixed models lacking flexibility. Indeed, some of these paradigms may overlap: we are thinking particularly of the Marxist and post-colonial models. Furthermore, the features of different paradigms may be identifiable in the development policies in a particular context. Finally, the first paradigm presented—liberal capitalism—is often considered as the dominant development model at the international level. For Morin (2011), « growth is perceived as the most obvious and dependable motor of development, and development as the most obvious and dependable motor of growth. The two terms are at the same time a means and an end of each other »3.

If we simply take three influential organizations in the field of education at the international level, namely the OECD, UNESCO and the World Bank they have shared (to varying degrees) this vision of development for at least three decades, which has implications for education4.

All citizens through learning become more effective participants in democratic, civil and economic processes (OECD, 1997); It is through education that the broadest possible introduction can be provided to the values, skills and knowledge which form the basis of respect for human rights and democratic principles, the rejection of violence and a spirit of tolerance (UNESCO, 1996); Development of specific content in curricula and educational materials to promote acceptance and integration of minorities, and use of minority languages in instruction (World Bank, 2005)

Education to improve economic growth (which should help to lift people out of poverty)

The increasing emphasis on the role in economic growth of people’s knowledge and skills, or ‘human capital’, has helped make education and training more central to the concerns of governments (OECD, 1997); UNESCO plans to study the issues arising from the transition to a knowledge society and to examine its effects on the organization, forms and content of knowledge […]. ICTs represent a strong lever for economic growth (UNESCO, 2002); Only by raising the capacities of its human capital can a country hope to increase productivity and attract the private investment needed to sustain growth in the medium term (World Bank, 2005)

Education as preparation for the job market

How much do various forms of education contribute to people’s employment prospects, to the literacy skills they need in everyday life, or to their prospective earnings? (OECD, 1997); Knowledge-based societies […] where knowledge and information increasingly determine new patterns of growth and wealth creation (UNESCO, 2002); Education must be designed to meet economies’ increasing demands for adaptable workers who can readily acquire new skills rather than for workers with a fixed set of technical skills that are used throughout their working lives (World Bank, 1995)

Education to improve economic growth (which should help to lift people out of poverty)

All citizens through learning become more effective participants in democratic, civil and economic processes (OECD, 1997); It is through education that the broadest possible introduction can be provided to the values, skills and knowledge which form the basis of respect for human rights and democratic principles, the rejection of violence and a spirit of tolerance (UNESCO, 1996); Development of specific content in curricula and educational materials to promote acceptance and integration of minorities, and use of minority languages in instruction (World Bank, 2005)

Even for UNESCO, which is often described as defending a humanistic vision, its positioning actually falters between progressive and economically-centred conceptions of development, blurring its expectations for education.

In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) actively involving the three organizations, there is a tendency to broaden the vision of development by taking additional social or environmental aspects into account. However, the economy is key, even when it would seem that social aspects have been taken into consideration. The importance of education for economic growth and for acquiring the skills needed for the labor market has not disappeared. To give an example that concerns a large number of international cooperation institutions (see video below), 𝙜𝙞𝙧𝙡𝙨’ education is too often utilitarian (= gender inequalities will improve on their own as women become economic partners in development). A little limited, no? It is very rare to see in the discourse of cooperation agencies the desire to tackle in depth the roots of gender disparities.

Thus, many contradictions need to be highlighted in the discourse of international organizations: for instance, they wish to reverse the ecological model while promoting economic models that are destructive for the planet and societies (as recognised by UNESCO in its recent Rethinking Education report5). It is therefore crucial to step back from the ambitions of international cooperation: what world do we want through education? Should it not explicitly promote a humanistic education whose aim is the well-being of individuals and societies rather than a predominantly instrumental education whose main aim is economic production and consumerism?


Global Partnership for Education


1 UNESCO, Republic of Korea, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women et al. (2015). Education 2030: Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4

2 McCowan, T. (2015). Theories of Development

3 Morin, E. (2011). La Voie. Pour l’avenir de l’humanité

4 Lauwerier, T. (2018). What education for what development? Towards a broader and consensual vision by the OECD, UNESCO and the World Bank in the context of SDGs?

5 UNESCO. (2015). Rethinking education: towards a global common good?


#01 Aid to education: To the right destination?

Update: 20.05.2019

This article focuses on the priorities of international cooperation in education, and it raises the question:


To answer this question, let us clarify 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.

A positive point is that aid to education increased by 17% between 2015 and 2016 and reached its peak in 20162.

This increase has not been confirmed since between 2016 and 2017, this aid fell by 2% (-US$288 million). The budgets of governments in low-income countries are not particularly increasing to offset this decline9.

Let us look in particular at aid to basic education (Figure 1), which encompasses preschool, primary, early secondary, and adult literacy. 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. Sixty-one million children in the world are still out of primary school, and tens of millions of those who attend school do not receive even the most basic education. Therefore, focusing on basic education further counterbalances the trend of previous years that was counterintuitive in terms of social justice, namely the high priority given to higher education.

However, while aid to this sector increased between 2015 and 2016 (Figure1), the overall decline between 2016 and 2017 was partly due to a lower allocation from the United Kingdom (-29%), much of which was for basic education.

Figure 1. Total aid to education disbursements, by level of education, 2002–2016 Source: GEMR-UNESCO (2018)

As UNESCO points out, many donor countries have not kept their promise to allocate 0.7% of their gross national income to foreign aid: « Doing just that and allocating 10% of that aid to primary and secondary education, would have been enough to fill the US$39 billion dollars annual financing gap »9. The Global Campaign for Education estimates that aid for preprimary, primary, and secondary education will have to increase by at least six times compared to the current situation, particularly in low- and lower-middle-income countries4.

In terms of priorities for basic education, aid has moved to the right destination in recent decades, as a large proportion of investments in school infrastructure, including school construction, have helped meet the high demand for education. Indeed, as mentioned above, we can still identify many people excluded from school throughout the world, which made it possible to justify the emphasis on access, particularly after the international Education for All (EFA) initiative in 1990. Its main objective was universal primary enrollment (a goal that is still far from being achieved almost 30 years later). However, the following testimony by a manager of international cooperation projects in a large European city (anonymized identity) provides a more pragmatic justification for actions mainly related to infrastructure rather than to the quality or governance of education systems.

“We most often finance infrastructure. we can easily see the effects of our support. after one year, we have a report with indicators, such as a number of schools have been built. donors are proud to go to the inauguration of such a school in Africa. They can bring in the journalists to see their actions. on the other hand, we fund few projects that would result in a change in people’s behavior, such as peace education in conflict areas. these are changes over time. Even if we are convinced that this type of project is relevant and necessary, it is difficult to see the fruits of our intervention, which makes donors cautious”

This leads us to make an initial criticism of the priorities accorded by aid, which does not take the quality of education seriously enough. To take the example of one of the most powerful actors in international cooperation, the World Bank has contributed to increasing access to education and improving equity, while fewer than half of its projects have achieved objectives related to the quality of education. Especially since improving the quality of educational inputs (textbooks, teachers, and so forth) has not necessarily contributed to improving learning5.

But even if international cooperation chooses to prioritize access over quality, it does not take into account the populations, areas, or sectors that are most in need. Indeed, nearly one-fifth of what the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) considers to be aid never leaves donor countries, as revealed by the research group Development Initiatives. In addition, a surprising amount of aid goes to countries that are far from being the poorest1. To illustrate this point, it should be noted that between 2000 and 2010, more than half of the World Bank’s education funds were allocated to three countries: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh6.

On closer examination, we can see that the share of basic education aid to low-income countries has fallen from 36% in 2002 to 22% in 2016. This is reflected in the long-term decline in the share allocated to sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for half of the world’s out-of-school children (Figure 2). Moreover, non-formal education programs, which are perceived by international cooperation as a possible alternative to address out-of-school youth, are not supported by aid, whereas the budget for these programs represents no more than 5% of the total national education budget in many countries8.

Figure 2. Share of low income countries and least developed countries (LDCs) in total aid to education and to basic education disbursements, 2002-2016 Source: GEMR-UNESCO (2018)

Not only are the poorest countries not targeted for aid but the most marginalized populations do not necessarily receive aid as a priority. For example, the poorest girls are 60 years behind the richest boys in terms of universal primary completion1.

The same applies to disparities between populations living in rural and urban areas, the latter being favored by aid, which is particularly reflected in the figures on school retention (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) (2018)

And once again, when an organization is concerned with populations in need, it is to provide answers that are not always appropriate, as revealed by the case of « low-cost » private schools supported by many international organizations, even though the schools often do not meet minimum quality standards7.

Still on the priority sectors, while current events remind us of the existence of refugees around the world, particularly in low-income countries, humanitarian aid recorded a fourth consecutive year of increase in 2017, but the amount allocated to education represented 2.1% of the total amount of this aid2.



1 Antoninis, M. (2014). Let’s clarify the definition of aid to education so that it benefits the poorest

2 GEMR-UNESCO. (2018). Aid to education: a return to growth?

3 UNESCO. (2017). Global Education Monitoring Report 2017/8. Accountability in education: Meeting our commitments

4 Global Campaign for Education. (2015). Education Aid Watch 2015

5 World Bank. (2011). World Bank Support to Education Since 2001: A Portfolio Note

6 RESULTS Educational Fund. (2010). World Bank Education Financing: Less or More for the Poor in IDA 16?

7 Srivastava, P. (2015). Low-fee private schools and poor children: what do we really know?

8 Mercer, M. (2013). Donor policies, practices and investment priorities in support of education, and post-2015 prospects: a review

9 GEMR-UNESCO. (2019). Aid to education falls slightly in 2017, shifts away from primary education