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What is the UNICEF-Multi-Donor Education Fund (MDEF) partnership?

© UNICEF Myanmar/2013/Jim Holmes

UNICEF Myanmar started its unique partnership with the Multi-Donor Education Fund (MDEF) partners, comprising Australia, the European Union, DFID (UK Aid) - Denmark, and Norway, in 2007.   The partnership was established in response to the silent emergency Myanmar was facing in education. Although Myanmar has the largest child population in South East Asia region, estimated at 18 million, it had one of the lowest levels of investment in basic education. The strategic investment of UNICEF and MDEF has contributed to significant improvements in education quality and quantity in targeted townships, resulting in a 16% improvement in survival rate to Grade 5 in its first phase (2007-2011).

Building on positive achievements and lessons learnt from MDEF I, the Quality Basic Education Programme (QBEP) (2012-2015) was launched in January 2012, with UNICEF as donor and implementing partner, and with generous support provided by the MDEF donors amounting to USD 86 million over the four-year cycle. The second phase of the UNICEF-MDEF partnership provides support to improve education policy and systems, strengthen the quality of education at township level, and bring more children into education through formal and non-formal approaches. Increased access to quality early childhood development services is also a key equity intervention to boost children’s readiness for school and their long-term chances of academic success. Stronger monitoring and evaluation (M&E) will ensure that the successes of the programme can be demonstrated with hard evidence.

Over the next four years, the UNICEF-MDEF partnership will enable over three million girls and boys in Myanmar to benefit from quality education improvements.

MDEF II: Quality Basic Education Programme (QBEP) (2012-2015)

QBEP focuses on four key areas, covering education and learning needs of children from birth to age 17, through both formal and non-formal approaches:

Output 1:Expansion of coverage of quality Early Childhood Development (ECD) services, including development of a multi-sectoral, holistic ECD Policy and Strategic Action Plan to ensure that all children get the best start in life


Output 2:Improved quality of teaching and learning practices in basic education in targeted townships, including development of a Teacher Education Strategy to improve learning outcomes


Output 3:Enhanced planning, management, monitoring and evaluation and mentoring capacity, including support for the Ministry of Education’s Comprehensive Education Sector Review to inform education sector reform priorities


Output 4:Enhanced coverage, quality and relevance of second-chance, alternative education, including development of a National Framework for the Non-Formal Primary Equivalency Framework, which will give out of school children a chance to re-enter the formal system

Overcoming the impact of armed conflict and ensuring access to quality education for children in conflict-affected areas represents a major challenge for QBEP during this second MDEF phase. Upholding the key principle of ‘Do No Harm’ while providing support to children in affected areas will be critical in QBEP’s response to emergency situations.

Key highlights that QBEP has supported in 2012 include:

•       20,416 children (0-5 years old) in targeted townships accessed facility-based ECD  services, including 4,500 children affected by conflict in Kachin State

•       Over 700,000 primary school children were provided with essential learning materials, including children in Kachin State

•       8,178 primary teachers were trained on effective teaching and learning practices in 25 core townships

•       Over 10,000 secondary teachers were trained to deliver a learner-centered life skills program, benefiting over 900,000 lower secondary students

•       1,125 Grade 4 and 5 teachers were trained to deliver a Language Enrichment Programme in 3 townships in Northern Rakhine State

•       Parent-Teacher Association members and Head Teachers in 1,300 schools were trained to develop School Improvement Plans (SIPs) for improvement of school learning environments

•       More than 63 million kyats (US $76,000)  was mobilised for NFPE through public-private partnership

•       A baseline study on classroom practices and a student learning achievement test for 11,349 Grade 3 and 11,314 Grade 5 students was conducted in 864 sample schools to assess the links between improved teaching methods and student learning outcomes

•       Drafting of a holistic multi-sectoral Early Childhood Development Policy was completed through an inclusive, participatory process

•       The Ministry of Education’s Comprehensive Education Sector Review (CESR) was launched in October 2012 as a vehicle to catalyse education sector reform and coordination

•       Drafting of a National Teacher Education Strategy Framework  was initiated

•       The Township Education Management Information System (TEMIS) database became operational with data from 918 schools of 5 pilot townships

•       A Task Force for the development of National Framework for Non Formal Primary Education (NFPE) equivalency and certification was established

•       QBEP Support for Sector Reform

Under QBEP, UNICEF and the MDEF partners are playing a key role in shaping the direction of the Ministry of Education’s first Comprehensive Education Sector Review in nearly two decades, as well as providing critical technical assistance to this significant step toward education reform.

With extensive QBEP support and the coordinated technical assistance of a coalition of development partners, the CESR was formally launched in Nay Pyi Taw on 23 October 2012.  Chaired by the Deputy-Minister of Education, and Co-Chaired by the UNICEF Representative and AusAID’s Assistant Director-General, the landmark event sent a strong signal of shared commitment to support evidence-based policy and planning, improve equity, and strengthen education results throughout the system.

QBEP has strategically supported capacity development of the CESR team and conducted several analytical studies during the CESR’s first phase, which have informed the findings and recommendations of the Ministry of Education’s Rapid Assessment Report, and will also contribute to further in-depth analysis, policy development and planning during the education reform process. These studies include reviews of Basic Education policy, education law and legislation; a study on textbook policy; and analysis to support development of a national strategic framework for teacher education, thereby addressing a key policy gap. 

In all, the CESR has been a catalyst for fundamentally changing the way the Ministry of Education and development partners work together, forming a closer, more collaborative partnership. This has built trust, positive relations, shared ownership, and joint commitment to results. It has also helped develop a more focused, shared vision, and built Ministry confidence in its capacity to lead.  As a result, this process has positioned the education sector at the forefront of good development cooperation practices at a critical time in Myanmar’s evolution toward broad reform. QBEP support has played a strategic role in delivering these results so far. Through its continuing support to the coming phases of the CESR, QBEP is well-positioned to leverage influence on sector reform and promote more equitable, sustainable education outcomes for children in Myanmar.

•       QBEP – Reflections so far

At this early stage in the QBEP programme, a crucial focus in 2012 has been on building a firm, evidence-based foundation to provide comparative data with which to measure improvements in education quality by 2015. Numerous baseline surveys have been conducted, including:

•       a survey of the number of school-based Early Childhood Development (ECD) facilities meeting minimum quality standards;

•       a study on classroom teaching and practices to assess teachers’ methods and effectiveness;

•       a study on learning achievements in maths and Myanmar language for Grades 3 and 5.

Significant efforts have also been made to strengthen other aspects of M&E, including through capacity building and improved field data collection/supply monitoring.

QBEP strategic partnerships with a broad array of actors have also been strengthened, especially with local NGOs working in ethnic-minority and remote areas, where access to ECD and Non Formal Education (NFE) services are very limited.

•       QBEP – Looking Ahead

QBEP aims to reach an estimated 5,500 primary schools in 37 core townships (25 from MDEF 1, plus 3 in Northern Rakhine States and 9 townships in Mon State) to improve access to and quality of education. It also aims to work in 88 townships to support ECD programmes, and to continue increasing access of out-of-school children to non-formal and alternative education, while Secondary Life Skills curriculum is to be implemented in all post-primary and secondary schools by 2015.

Planning is also under way for a ‘whole State approach’ in Mon State. This major addition to programme implementation has begun in early 2013, and will support the development of State and township capacities for decentralized education planning and management, using a conflict sensitive lens to ensure greater inclusivity of all education actors and a ‘Do No Harm’ approach. In 2013, the QBEP will support a comprehensive situational analysis of Mon State, which will inform further operational planning.

•       MDEF I: Improving the Quality of Basic Education (2007-11)

A range of challenges posed by vast geographical, ethnic and cultural diversities, coupled with rapid political transition and changes in governance, low government investment and limited ODA assistance for basic social services made for a complex programming environment under MDEF I. Despite these challenges, significant achievements were made possible by the UNICEF-MDEF partnership’s support.

Highlights from MDEF 1 include:

  • Rapid improvement in primary enrolment from 352,000 in 2007 to 680,000 in 2011
  • Reduced costs of education to families through  supply of essential learning materials to more than 1 million children
  • Increased access to ECD services for more than 300,000 young vulnerable children - the percentage of children entering Grade 1 with prior ECD experience increased from 10.6% in 2006 to 25% in 2011
  • Survival rate to Grade 5 increased by 16%
  • Improved school performance and Myanmar language learning achievements of children in targeted townships
  • More than 190,000 non-Myanmar speaking children supported through the ground-breaking Language Enrichment Programme (LEP)  in border areas
  • Increased access of out-of-school children to non-formal primary education from 2,703 to 12,600
  • Access to extended and continuous education and learning (EXCEL) increased from 19,610 in 2005 to 89,000 in 2011.
  • Strategic innovations piloted to improve education quality long-term, leading to models of good practice that can be used for system building and scaling up and for evidence-based policy dialogue  e.g. Language Enrichment Programme, School Self-Assessment/School Improvement Plan [SSA/SIP], Let’s Read Initiative, Township Education Management System [TEMIS])
  • Institutionalisation of the Child-Friendly Schools framework promoted to address the poor quality of primary education
  •  School performance systematically monitored to generate evidence to support decision making at different administrative levels

In sum, MDEF I created a broad, innovative partnership for success, modelling a new, inclusive mechanism for coordination and experience-sharing among UNICEF and all the MDEF partners, which has the potential to be adopted by other partners in other education sub-sectors. The successes and lessons of MDEF I have provided a strong basis for the design and implementation of QBEP, and helped inform a continuing process of mutual learning and improvement.

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