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Base de datos de evaluación

Evaluation report

2003 Global: Local Solutions to Local Challenges: Towards Effective Partnership in Basic Education - Joint Evaluation of External Support to Basic Education in Developing Countries

Author: Freeman, T.; Dohoo Faure, S.

Executive summary


In the sequels to the World Education Forum held in Dakar in April 2000, a Consultative Group of Evaluation Departments, representing thirteen international and national funding and technical assistance agencies, agreed to undertake a joint evaluation of external support to basic education in developing countries. They were subsequently joined in this effort by four partner countries: Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Uganda and Zambia. The joint evaluation was itself an effort at effective partnership.


To examine the process of external support to basic education provided by international and national funding and technical assistance agencies to partner countries in the South, including its intents, forms, uses, results and consequences in order to draw lessons for policy and programme improvement. The three main components were:

  1. an assessment of the nature and evolution of external support to basic education from 1990 to 2002
  2. an assessment of the effectiveness and efficiency of externally-supported basic education activities in selected countries
  3. a review of efforts to re-conceptualise external support as partnerships for basic education development and their consequences


Findings and Conclusions:

  1. There has been a strong tendency for external agencies to place increasing emphasis on the use of external support for accelerating progress in basic education, especially in relation to the education goals of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to the Education for All (EFA) goals. This tendency has been accompanied, at times, by a reliance on blueprints, templates and prescribed solutions that has been detrimental to a commitment to partnership, has been inconsistent with the capacities of partners and has sometimes limited the relevance of programmes and projects. There is a need to place greater emphasis on the relevance of external support to local needs and capacities – for more tailored local solutions within a global consensus on goals.
  2. The movement to programme support and Sector-wide Approaches (SWAps) is one of the most significant trends in the provision and use of external support to basic education. It has been intended, at least in part, to contribute to strengthened national ownership and to improve partnership (and thereby improve the effectiveness of the provision and use of external support). In a real sense, the shift to programme support is an indication of the commitment of external agencies to strengthen partnership. However, this form of support does not necessarily improve partnerships if implemented as a blueprint rather than a process. It has, in some cases, contributed to increased tensions and divisions among distinct groups of external agencies. On the positive side, it has led to some improvements in the sense of national ownership and to better coordination of external assistance.
  3. The movement to supporting basic education through SWAps and other forms of programme support needs to be accompanied by an understanding of the positive role of project assistance, especially in supporting innovations and in providing targeted support to marginalized groups. There is considerable evidence that project forms of support can be more effectively integrated into programme approaches with the consequent effect of strengthening the positive aspects of both modalities.
  4. The movement to programme approaches in supporting basic education has not always been accompanied, at least in the short term, by a reduction in the administrative burden for host governments. A very heavy burden of planning, coordination and monitoring has been made more difficult by uneven progress in the development of common administrative procedures among external agencies and a reluctance to accept local processes as adequate.
  5. Although there is agreement on the broad range of components included in basic education, in reality the focus of most activities of both external agencies and national partners has been placed on formal primary schooling, with negative effects on other areas of basic education. Further, while progress has been made in providing access to primary schooling, there are serious persistent problems in improving the quality of basic education.
  6. There has been a sustained agreement within the international community, including external agencies and national partners, on the priority of basic education, but funding levels from the external agencies have not kept pace with expectations or implied commitments. This is, at least in part, a reflection of the complexity of planning and resource allocation processes surrounding the provision of external support and to problems in the absorptive capacity of partner governments.


As noted, there are six key evaluation conclusions. For each conclusion, the evaluation team has identified a set of implications. These implications provide the initial framework for a discussion of the implications for the organizations represented on the ESC.

Conclusion 1 Implications
Clearly, the most important implications of this conclusion all concern how external agencies, and national and local partners can find ways to identify, develop, design, fund, execute, monitor and evaluate programmes in basic education that are truly reflective of national and local needs and capacities while remaining true to the global commitment to provide access to all facets of quality basic education. A scan of the evaluation findings suggests that some key strategies for developing more effective programmes that are more relevant to national contexts would include:

  • Ensuring wider and more meaningful participation by a more diverse group of stakeholders in the development of national programmes (including SWAp arrangements)
  • Placing, in particular, students, parents and teachers more centrally in the process of programme design and development and, more specifically, avoiding measures that reduce the professional standing of teachers
  • Allowing for genuine flexibility in the scheduling of reforms and expansion in the system of basic education so that local capacities (inside and outside the system of formal schooling) are developed, which keep pace with change and which allow communities to benefit fully
  • Actively pursuing experimentation and innovation in areas outside formal, primary schooling with a concurrent commitment to follow up on successful innovation with investment at a national level so that basic education can be made more relevant to the needs of learners
  • Recognizing that, while external agencies may be in an inherently stronger negotiating position due to their access to financial and technical resources, the policy direction and operational design of major programmes in basic education must be grounded in national and local needs and priorities

Conclusion 2 Implications

The major strategic shift required in the development of SWAps in basic education, so that they may better contribute to both partnership and more effective basic education, is a commitment to view SWAps as an ongoing process of cooperation rather than a blueprint for programmatic action. Application of the process approach to SWAps in basic education would include subsidiary strategies for both external agencies and partner countries, including:

  • Ensuring that national stakeholders outside central line ministries of government take part in the development of SWAps relating to basic education
  • Taking active steps to include the full range of external agencies with technical expertise and policy experience in dialogue on programme development, management, monitoring and evaluation in basic education
  • Ensuring that policies on budget support, programme support and SWAps recognize the cross-linkages and compatibilities between projects and programmes
  • Providing either project or programme assistance in support of innovation integrated into the national plan and programme for basic education
  • Cooperating with governments and external agencies to harmonize administrative and operational norms and standards, and to reduce their administrative burden on partner agencies
  • Allowing for full participation by all external agencies supporting basic education in coordination mechanisms and joint review processes
  • Recognizing the importance of sector-wide planning, including both secondary schooling and teaching education
  • Ensuring that the Ministry of Education and other ministries involved in basic education participate in public sector reform programmes

Conclusion 3 Implications

The potential positive interrelationship of project and programme support to basic education was a common theme in all four of the countries participating in the evaluation, and was further reinforced by the results of the document review. Surprisingly, there is a persistent tendency for some host governments and external support agencies to more or less automatically view project support as a negative factor in the transition to effective programmes. There is also sometimes an arbitrary approach to the assessment of which situations best favour programme or project support on the part of some external agencies. What is clearly required is a more pragmatic approach that recognizes the positive role of project support in the development of innovative strategies and approaches, and in reaching marginalized groups.

On the other hand, project proponents must also recognize the limitations of the project form in supporting basic education on a national or regional scale, and the dangers, pointed out in the Burkina Faso case study, of a culture of continuous pilot projects that are never taken to scale. In a certain sense, the development of programme approaches to supporting basic education may be seen as an important advance in the effectiveness of projects themselves since they can now be better linked to national efforts. The main requirement is for external agencies and governments alike to adopt a pragmatic approach to the mix of project and programme support, and to place less emphasis on blueprints and dogma.

Conclusion 4 Implications

At first glance, it seems difficult to accept that the movement towards a reduction or elimination of project support, with its requirements for host government oversight and the disparate systems of project development, approval, implementation and follow-up of the external agencies, would not be accompanied by substantial reductions in the administrative burden felt by partner countries.

In practice, however, the procedures and systems required to plan, negotiate, implement, monitor and evaluate programmes supported by multiple external agencies represent another type of administrative load for partner countries. At least, during the early stages of SWAps to supporting basic education, this burden is actually very substantial. It is made even more significant when the movement towards programme support is not accompanied by a strong commitment among external agencies to simplify and harmonize their administrative and procedural requirements, including requirements for monitoring and evaluation.

It is important that the external agencies that are committed to a move to programme support as a key strategy in more effective external support to basic education, make a similar commitment to simplifying and harmonizing their administrative requirements and procedures with other external agencies and with partner governments.

Conclusion 5 Implications

Meeting the international commitment to the broad scope of basic education requires the support of both external agencies and national partners. They must ensure that the policy environment, within a specific external agency and at the partner country level, promotes and encourages all components of basic education and progress towards the EFA goals. For the first element of this problem, expanding beyond formal primary schooling, strategies may include:

  • Reiterating the emphasis on the full range of EFA goals in statements and guidelines on policy and practice in education and basic education
  • Advocating for the full range of EFA goals in international conferences and meetings, and in inter-agency negotiations on programmes. In particular, while the MDGs should be supported, external agencies and national partners should advocate to ensure that the education goals of the MDGs are not used to discourage support for other EFA goals
  • Increasing financial and technical support to areas of EFA beyond primary schooling
  • Ensuring that funds to non-formal education and adult literacy are not entirely channelled through NGOs
  • Re-emphasizing the importance of gender parity in policies on basic education
  • Providing capacity development and other TA to agencies responsible for non-formal education and adult literacy
    National partner governments may seek strategies to ensure that the national context is amenable to developing all components of basic education. These may include:
  • Encompassing early childhood education, youth and adult life skills education, and adult literacy goals in national policies and strategies for education 
  • Supporting and advocating for the full range of EFA goals in international meetings and conferences, and in negotiations with external agencies
  • Ensuring national agencies responsible for non-formal education and adult literacy are included in the programme and SWAp arrangements

Within the current focus on formal primary schooling, external agencies and national partners are being exhorted to address not only the supply side, but also the demand side of basic education. This requires additional attention to questions of quality and relevance. Typical strategies may include:

  • Continuing to fund projects and TA within the framework of programme or sector-wide support that allow for the testing of innovative ideas to address quality and relevance
  • Providing financial and technical support to better use monitoring and evaluation in the improvement of the relevance and quality of basic education
  • Supporting research efforts and reviews of promising initiatives that allow for more explicit links between basic education and poverty reduction in the development of policies

Partner countries may seek to implement strategies to better integrate external support into national efforts to address the quality and relevance of basic education, including, among other things:

  • Ensuring that national policies on basic education emphasize quality and relevance, in addition to access
  • Developing and implementing policies requiring the use of monitoring and evaluation for the assessment of pilot projects in basic education
  • Making the approval of pilot projects conditional on their relevance for national policy and programming
  • Using monitoring and evaluation to assess promising initiatives and link project results to national programmes and SWAps
  • Promoting a culture of innovation and change within ministries of education that supports efforts to improve quality based on the results of formative and mid-term evaluations
  • Strengthening programme components aimed at supporting participation in school management and accountability structures by parents and learners, in an effort to ensure the relevance of basic education provided in schools

Conclusion 6: Implications

In order to overcome the apparent gap between the national and external financial resources needed to provide quality basic education to all and the volume of resources currently available, external agencies and partners, together, will need to find strategies to overcome the apparent problem of the longer-term sustainability of expanded systems of basic education. While this challenge continues to prove extremely difficult, as shown in the experience to-date of the FTI, it is possible to suggest some elements of a strategic approach to securing the needed resources. These might include:

  • Recognition by external agencies and national partners alike that investments in capacity development must be linked to increases in both external and national resources dedicated to basic education – thus providing a strategy for overcoming absorptive capacity limitations which, in turn, inhibit the flow of external resources
  • Placing increased emphasis on the feasibility and stability of national policies in basic education as a direct incentive to increased flows of external resources
  • Greater recognition by both external agencies and national partners of the link between governance, civil service reform and the volume of external assistance to basic education (and to other sub-sectors of education)
    • International recognition of the need to link goal-setting at a global and national level more directly to the duration of external commitments so that longer term goals are not subject to dramatic fluctuations in short-term external support
  • Efforts to simplify the process of planning national strategies and programmes along with reducing the burden of programme planning imposed by external agencies
  • Efforts to broaden the base of projects, programmes and activities in basic education so that resources can be used outside the system of formal schooling

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Report information






CIDA, DFID, Department of Foreign Affairs Ireland, EC, BMZ, JICA, DANIDA, SIDA, UNESCO, World Bank, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Norway, Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs




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