Itad led on the delivery of eight prospective country studies1 across Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia for GPE, a multi-stakeholder partnership set up to support and finance education in low and middle-income countries. Our work highlighted three ways GPE could improve and be more impactful as a partnership at the country, regional and global level, from adapting to country contexts, through strengthening civil society and engagement, to building a flexible and resilient financial model.
1. Continue to adapt to country contexts
The evaluations found that GPE had contributed significantly to increasing the quality of sector planning at the country level. However, it is less clear whether the increase in quality has been translated into a more effective implementation of strategies that result in stronger systems. We found that balancing consistency in approaches with the need to recognise differences in country contexts has made meaningful, system-level change a challenge.
An example that we saw in our work on the prospective evaluations was the challenge GPE funding faced in adapting to variations in the structures of education governance. The GPE funding model has been built around providing support to planning, dialogue, monitoring and implementation through agencies that in many cases had a strong relationship with the national government, but little consistent presence or influence at the sub-national level. In countries such as Nepal, Kenya and the DRC, the increasing transfer of responsibility to decentralised governments has challenged the effectiveness of GPE’s financial and technical inputs, particularly its support for improved planning, dialogue and monitoring. The refreshing of the GPE Strategy 2020 offers the opportunity to build a partnership that is adaptive to context and can play an active role in strengthening education sector governance at all levels.
2. Strengthen civil society and build platforms for regional engagement
We found that support to civil society coalitions such as ECOZI in Zimbabwe or the Elimu Yetu Coalition in Kenya through the CSEF (Civil Society Education Fund) grant was fundamental to their growth and established them as key voices in advocating for improving education systems2. In the next strategic phase, GPE has the opportunity to create a broader and more inclusive partnership nationally and globally. Initiatives like the regional hubs established through the Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX) window or webinars held with ministers of education3 are a good start and show the convening value of GPE and the potential of platforms that facilitate cross-country engagement.
The introduction of a new advocacy and social accountability fund, Education Out Loud, will continue to provide core support to civil society coalitions, while also presenting an opportunity to rethink the GPE’s funding approach. Building on the success of CSEF, it will allow for increased funding for transnational coalitions to create a bridge between the grassroots and the global stage. Extending and strengthening civil society voices in education nationally and globally should be a key goal for the 2020-2025 strategy.
3. Build a flexible financing model that supports resilience building
Findings from our Zimbabwe Study show the importance of funding redirected in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, which, at the time of writing, was being used for essential school re-construction. For COVID-19 response, GPE has created a 500 million USD emergency fund for countries to adapt to the new reality. This kind of responsive funding is key for ensuring system recovery by plugging short term gaps with recent grants being processed in less than a week.
Beyond the need for an immediate response, this crisis raises an issue around how resilient a results-based financing model can be to future shocks. GPE introduced its ‘variable part’ funding as a results-based portion of all new sector plan implementation grants4, with 30 per cent of new grant amounts being linked to the achievement of outcome targets. The rationale was to strengthen results-focused dialogue and planning by country partners, encourage ambitious targets that were realistic and evidence-based and could, ultimately, spur improvements in equity, efficiency and learning outcomes.
We saw positive preliminary results of this funding model, which created incentives for outcomes-focused dialogue and monitoring5. However, in many countries, the current COVID-19 crisis threatens to completely erase any recent gains in education outcomes. The challenge for GPE in the next five years is to create a system that offers meaningful incentives, while also recognizing the shock-vulnerability of results-based financing. Collaboration and communication will be key to creating such a system.
Moving forward – an important five years for GPE
Our engagement with GPE over the last three years highlighted the importance of the partnership at country-level, as well as the challenges faced in continuing to grow and build upon achievements so far. The next strategic window will be crucial for GPE to establish its model, mandate and position within the global education architecture. Global collaboration to tackle education challenges is becoming more and more important and GPE should play a central role in convening actors at the national, regional and global level. To play this role meaningfully, GPE will need to continue to evaluate its impact, engage in dialogue with stakeholders at all levels, and constantly update its model to adapt to dynamic and fluctuating systems and contexts.