Brookings to donors: Middle-phase funding key for scaling quality education

By Jeff Tyson 15 March 2016

Rebecca Winthrop, senior fellow and director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution. Photo by: Paul Morigi / Brookings Institution / CC BY-NC-ND

Scaling up quality education in developing countries will require sustained funding beyond the pilot phase — the time when most projects now end, according to the Brookings Institution. Donors should coordinate with one-another to ensure short-, medium- and long-term funding is secured, the think tank recommends.

Speaking to reporters at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai on Saturday, Rebecca Winthrop, senior fellow and director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution gave a sneak peak into an upcoming report called, “Millions Learning: Scaling Up Quality Education in Developing Countries.”

Quality learning rather than simply access to education is a critical emphasis of Sustainable Development Goal 4, which differentiates it from the education Millennium Development Goal of the past.

The upcoming Brookings report examines cases around the developing world in which an improved quality of education was successfully scaled, whether through civil society efforts, government initiatives, development donor funding, private sector support, or the engagement of a variety of actors. The report is meant to highlight common characteristics and ingredients among these cases where quality learning scaled in order to provide a road map for future initiatives.

“In particular, one of the things that seems to hamper scale is not having the right middle phase funding,” Winthrop said, adding that “most development projects end at the pilot phase.”

Aid groups, foundations, philanthropies, governments, and private sector donors “need to organize themselves to figure out who is going to do the pilot phase … investment, who is going to do the middle phase, and who is going to do the long-term sustaining change investment,” Winthrop said.

There are some “clear actors” focusing on the pilot stage as well as the sustaining phase but few that fund the middle phase, the Brookings official added.

Winthrop doesn’t know of “any very systematic approaches for donors in the global education space to all come together and to create a better funding ecosystem,” she said, responding to a question from Devex. For the moment, there is no clear means to designate a “set of roles and responsibilities across different donors.”

In addition to middle-phase funding, the Brookings report finds that the support of political leaders, design programs that incorporate community resources, and accounting for cost per child have all been important common ingredients in past successful interventions.

Further, the report finds that successfully scaled quality education initiatives typically began “at the margins”. For example, a civil society organization, a district government or the private sector will adopt a new approach to learning that then spreads. Initiatives that scaled also included the engagement of a variety of actors, such as the private sector, civil society, governments, donors and academics.

The Brookings report officially launches on April 19 in Washington, D.C., on the heels of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund spring meetings.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Varkey Foundation financially and logistically supported the reporter’s travel to Dubai to attend the Global Education and Skills Forum. Nonetheless, Devex retains full editorial independence and responsibility for this content.

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About the author

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Jeff Tyson@jtyson21

Jeff is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, DC, he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the United States, and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.

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