In its first meeting of the New Year, GPE’s Grants and Performance Committee reviewed and recommended for approval an innovative grant to support early grade learning in Papua New Guinea. The GPE Board of Directors approved the grant last week.
Like every GPE grant, this funding helps support the government’s own efforts to get children into school, keep them in school, and ensure they’re learning while in school.
But in this case, regular GPE funding was supplemented with additional funding from the GPE Multiplier, an innovative financing instrument that helped to unlock further co-financing from the Government of Japan.
To access a Multiplier allocation, countries work with other donors to secure new resources to invest in their education sector plan while leveraging additional financing from GPE. It’s a simple twist on standard grant-making.
National progress - and national challenges
Papua New Guinea is serious about education. The sector’s share of the national budget (after debt service) has crept up from about one in five government dollars in 2010 to nearly one in four (24%) in 2017. Supplemented by essential work by faith-based organizations, this investment has raised enrollment. More than three in four primary-age children are in school.
But more needs to be done. Enrollment drops off sharply after primary school for boys and to a greater extent for girls. More broadly, PNG’s education system struggles to turn enrollment gains into better learning. The Pacific Islands Literacy and Numeracy assessment reports that only one in five Grade 5 students meet or exceed the proficiency standard for reading and writing and that just one in two meet it for maths.
Getting children into school won’t fully translate into human development unless they’re also developing numeracy, literacy, and critical thinking skills. The global community faces a crisis of learning, not schooling.
PNG’s national plan is trying to tackle the problem on several fronts.
It will do so by strengthening teacher training, especially for female teachers, and by providing early grade textbooks to children.
Better partnership, better results
The Government of Japan enabled PNG to access the GPE Multiplier-- in addition to a standard grant-- by bringing an additional US$10.5 million. Crucially, all the funding crowds-in behind the national objective of better learning outcomes by supporting a coherent national plan.
The more than US$20 million collectively invested by Japan and GPE isn’t a trivial amount. But national governments are by far the largest and most important education investors. This means it’s critical to support the national education plans, themselves robustly supported by a constellation of GPE partners.
In Papua New Guinea, this includes Australia DFAT and civil society organizations, including Save the Children Australia, the organization selected to manage and disburse GPE’s funding on the ground.
It also makes good financial sense. Japan, as a donor, unlocks more multilateral resources from GPE than would otherwise be available, and GPE leverages our scarce resources to mobilize more and better support for Papua New Guinea.
No single grant or innovation will transform any country’s education system. For one thing, there’s robust evidence that the gains from more inputs like textbooks are positive but ultimately limited.
Instead, our hope-- so far borne out in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere-- is that the Multiplier continues to bring new capital, partners, and innovations to bear, concentrating external support behind national priorities so that partner countries reap the rewards of more productive, equitable, and capable societies.