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Learning Lessons and Looking Ahead: Options to Improve Education

Education expert Desmond Bermingham has suggested a transformation of the global education architecture. The former Head of the Secretariat for the Fast Track Initiative (a global partnership supporting universal primary education) argued at LIDC that such a transformation would be essential in order to mobilise new donors and help millions of children not going to school. He referred to the successful precedent of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which has raised more than $15 billion, including contributions from new sources like the Gates Foundation.

Bermingham, currently a doctoral student at the Institute of Education and a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development, Washington DC, also presented other options to strengthen the global education compact, and delivered a constructive critique of the FTI.

Fast Track Initiative
The FTI was launched by the World Bank and development partners in 2002. It was heralded as “an historic first step” towards transforming social and economic prospects by helping low-income countries achieve universal primary education by 2015 – a goal enshrined within the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All campaigns. As part of the FTI bilateral and multilateral donors harmonise additional support for robust education plans designed and implemented by developing countries. In 2003, 17 countries were invited to join and today 38 are taking part in the initiative built upon consensus.

However, Bermingham explained how the FTI’s “ambitious programme” and its rapid growth led to difficulties as it outgrew its monitoring systems. Tensions emerged between its different contributing donors, with the Europeans favouring budget support and building capacity as opposed to the US and Japanese preferences for supporting NGOs and external organisations. Other debates included the balance between domestic financing and aid, access to education and quality of education, and the local versus global dimension of policy negotiation.

The benefits and pitfalls of the FTI being a networked organisation were also discussed. Its principles are based on collaboration without a hierarchical structure, and although the secretariat is hosted within the World Bank, the FTI is not part of the Bank. Bermingham continued by explaining difficulties in practice: slow decision-making because of the need to build consensus, delayed implementation and lack of finances. He said: “The reality is that there was competition not collaboration in many cases.”

Principles and options for the future
Bermingham emphasised that  a strengthened global education compact should serve local needs, recognise local capacity as a priority, focus on results rather than inputs, and promote innovative financing, particularly as the donor landscape is changing with the rise of China and philanthropic foundations. He then presented four options, their merits and drawbacks for an improved global education compact:
  • Reform the FTI:  Achievable but would not solve entrenched problems.
  • Transform the FTI: New entity could be led by G20 and many G20 countries have valuable experiences of building up their own education systems.
  • Create a new Global Fund for Education: An ambitious vision would inspire donors and build on Barack Obama’s promise to commit $2 billion to such a fund.
  • Create a Global Education Financing Facility: A virtual fund which avoids the costs of setting up a new organisation and has the potential to leverage increased resources.

Victoria Turrent, a PhD student at IoE, was the discussant at the seminar on 19 November. Her comments echoed Bermingham’s regarding the challenges of global cooperation and she went on to focus on the severe problems in fragile states. She also spoke of the need for sustainable and predictable funding, greater ownership of policy at country level, and the need to include non-traditional donors (such as foundations), particularly as they are less risk averse to donating to fragile states.
By Guy Collender, Senior Communications Officer, LIDC