Lessons from a review of 30 GPE-funded programs

What do we know about the effectiveness of GPE implementation grants and how can we use this information to make improvements? A review of GPE-funded programs completed between 2016-2018 provides some answers.

March 30, 2020 by Anne Guison Dowdy , Global Partnership for Education Secretariat and Nidhi Khattri, Global Partnership for Education
4 minutes read
Young girls play in the school yard during recess.  Kenya. Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Young girls play in the school yard during recess. Kenya
GPE/Kelley Lynch

A recent review examined the key outcomes for 30 programs funded by GPE implementation grants that were completed between 2016 and 2018. The review drew insights from program completion reports and related independent reviews.

Although the programs were designed and began implementation prior to GPE’s current strategy, the review provides insights that will be applicable for our forthcoming strategy currently under development.

The review reflects a mosaic of programs as diverse as GPE: covering preprimary, primary and secondary education, with a diverse pool of grant agents (World Bank, UNICEF, DFID and others). Two-thirds of programs were in low-income countries and more than half in countries listed as “fragile.”

What did the programs achieve?

The objectives and interventions were mainly consistent with the broad GPE themes of learning, equity and efficient systems, and, by and large, the programs achieved their intended objectives, as measured by the key performance indicators articulated in their results frameworks. 

  • Improving education quality

19 out of the 22 programs aiming to improve quality achieved their intended outcomes. The aspect of quality improved and the indicators selected varied greatly among these programs. Some for example improved student learning—a specific GPE 2020 strategic goal— while most others improved the learning environment.

The most common interventions included teacher training and upgrading of teaching standards, curricula and materials. In Vietnam for example, the program sought a systematic improvement in the teaching-learning process in the classroom, by placing students at the center of the learning process and promoting active learning and collaboration.

  • Increasing access to education

17 programs had outcomes related to increased access. Of these, 14 achieved their intended results, mainly increases in absolute number of students enrolled and in net and gross enrollment rates. The most common intervention related to education facilities, such as construction or rehabilitation of classrooms, as well as ancillary facilities such as latrines, water points and administrative offices.

In Cote d’Ivoire, the rehabilitation and construction of additional classrooms was a key activity, given the severe degradation of facilities during the prolonged civil conflict. Half of the programs also supported wellbeing programs, generally school feeding. In Mali, the program delegated management of school canteens to the local school management committee, including the cost-effective purchase of locally-sourced food and training mothers in school health activities.

  • Improving education equity

8 out of 14 programs fully or partially achieved their objective of improved equity. Most grants focusing on equity addressed issues in girls’ access (generally, the demand-side obstacles to girls’ enrollment), and fewer than half supported children with disabilities or other special needs.

In Cambodia, the program provided scholarships to more than 142,000 poor upper primary/lower secondary students; as a result, the lower secondary enrollment rate increased from 35% to 42% beyond the target of 37% and the dropout rate decreased among scholarship recipients (to 2%), while the national dropout rate was 9.4%.

Strengthening capacity

All 14 programs that aimed to strengthen institutional capacity met their objectives fully or partially. They generally targeted capacity at the central level, such as on program management, fiduciary functions, financing flows, monitoring and evaluation, and communications. Two-thirds of programs also targeted capacity at decentralized levels, mainly via training school management committees. Half of these 14 programs supported education management information systems.

For example, in Pakistan the lack of timely and accurate data on key school-level indicators was considered a major factor in understanding the underperformance of schools. To address this, the program financed the establishment of a school monitoring system and a human resources management information system, as well as interventions to ensure the dissemination and use of the information generated by the new systems.

While risks to achieving the programs’ intended outcomes were, on the whole, assessed as low, there remained concerns, mostly regarding the fiscal capacity of the central government to maintain, let alone expand, activities that were initiated through the programs.

What needs to be improved?

The report provides suggestions to enhance GPE programs’ effectiveness, including:

  • Assessing the effects of supply-side interventions: Programs generally focused on supply-side interventions (teacher training, classroom construction, etc.). For such interventions, in addition to reporting on outputs produced, for instance the number of teachers trained, the programs could be designed to provide information on the uptake and effects of the intervention on the intended beneficiaries (e.g., improvements in teaching quality).
  • Clarifying the level of ambition in outcomes: Programs’ objectives related to quality and equity often appeared multifaceted, were wide-ranging, and varied in their level of detail or ambition. In such cases, program objectives and results frameworks could clarify which facets of these goals are being addressed for maximized impact and key indicators could be more ambitiously outcome-oriented.
  • Emphasizing the need for good data: Education sector data are key inputs to decision-making. Therefore, their timeliness and reliability, starting from the school level and up, are vital to ensure program success. GPE’s support to monitoring and evaluation could include further communication on, and demonstration of, the important role of data, as well as data-related capacity building for decentralized entities.
  • Building broader ties between GPE programs and education sector processes: Program completion reports largely focused on reporting on achievements of programs themselves, which generated valuable lessons. Two-thirds of the reports also acknowledged linkages between the programs and the countries’ sector plans and half referenced the crucial role played by local education groups and joint sector reviews in implementation. Future assessments could include more explicit reflections on these prominent aspects of the GPE model, to better understand how programs relate to the broader reform landscape (e.g. discussion on the program’s contribution to the plan’s outcomes, on how the program’s M&E interlocks with sectoral dialogue/monitoring mechanisms, etc.).

These findings and observations are being factored into GPE’s new strategy, particularly focusing on improving monitoring and evaluation and learning from evidence.

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