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Learning Series: 3

July 2023

Claire England

Communications & Engagement Director

In this series, IDP Foundation reflects on new reports, events, articles, and key moments within education planning and discourse, asking questions of our partners and peers in order to learn and ideate on ways to improve the landscape and accelerate progress towards SDG 4.

Over the last year or so many of us have been busy getting back to face-to-face convenings and events, driven by a renewed sense of urgency since the pandemic, with the hope of a silver lining for education in the form of ‘building back better’. At IDPF we spent much of 2021 working internally on our Theory of Change and Strategic Objectives, creating a vision for how we believe education systems in the developing world could become more resilient by connecting and supporting all forms of education provision. What is central to our work is a commitment to the local collective voice holding power of influence over education discourse, and with partnerships at the heart of our vision we value listening and learning as a cornerstone of engineering change. We have talked to our peers, partners, and the local education entrepreneurs making a difference on the ground, to understand the problem better, and see how we can be more connected in our response. We spoke to our peers through a stakeholder survey and found that there exists strong support for the role of low-fee private schools within a small bubble of education stakeholders, however their role is not fully understood by education policymakers, nor are they well integrated into education systems.

Snapshot of results from IDP Foundation's 2022 stakeholder survey


 Many low-cost private schools are undeniably a response to need or quality failures by the state. I believe support for the sector should focus on: 1) Demonstrating the role the low-cost private schools play as a testbed for innovation and 2) Engineering subsidy models that enable them to take on non-paying learners, for example via voucher schemes.
Simon Graffy, Inspiring Teachers

The government acknowledges the role and contribution played by the school. However, the government does not make provisions or support them financially or with infrastructure.
Stephen Konde,
World Education Inc.

 There is no conscious effort to fully integrate low-fee private schools, though the education directorates are expected/mandated to provide technical/material support to these schools.
Jones Agyapong Frimpong, Bureau for 360 Research and Innovation

What is clear for all stakeholders is that the best way forward to engaging with policymakers is building a strong evidence base.

IDP Foundation believes that governments are responsible for providing quality free education for all children, however, in many developing countries this is not happening, despite often meeting, or exceeding, recommended benchmarks on budget allocation. We recognize the challenges the lack of data has on the affordable non-state sector and it’s role, yet we are also aware that UN figures on enrolment promoted by national governments as near on perfect (UNESCO Institute for Statistics reports school enrolment at primary level sits at 99% for Sub-Saharan Africa) can only be true if they include all forms of education provision, both state and non-state. So, the question remains, how can the sector be included here but then excluded from education planning, as well as government and many NGO interventions?

What we have learnt is that the non-state sector is often left out of the conversation – either willfully or due to a lack of awareness – amongst governments, stakeholders, NGOs, investors, and many education philanthropists. This may be because negative rhetoric on private schools has no sign of dissipating and likely never will, however the anti-private argument is somewhat redundant when we talk about education systems because a mixed economy of provision is already in existence. Low-fee private schools appeared organically as a response by communities to overwhelmed public education so ignoring them as part of the solution to improving access to education and learning outcomes is at best unhelpful and at worst damaging to those communities.

What is getting stage space and column inches is the need for localization, yet the distribution of power remains generally centralized. While IDP Foundation still have more to learn about what trust-based philanthropy really looks like on the ground, we have always had the empowerment of local actors at the heart of our strategy. Our work with local actors, such as micro-financiers supporting locally owned schools with tailored, affordable loan products complemented by school management and teacher training, has seen an improvement in student attendance and participation, as well as reduced costs and improved financial stability for these schools. The initial monitoring and evaluation of schools within the Ongoza program, a partnership between IDP Foundation, Dignitas and Premier Credit Limited, reported increased positive interaction between teachers and students, with teachers demonstrating over 70% gains in group work integration in lessons, while learner talk time increased to 34% from 60%.

Before joining the Ongoza program, I struggled a lot with different learning abilities in my class. I noted that my learners were bored and never participated in the lessons for the only teaching technique I was comfortable with was the lecture method… I am now able to vary teaching methods to suit classroom situations and to respond to my learners’ learning styles…This allows me to create a more collaborative environment, which encourages my learners to participate more frequently in the learning process.
Margaret Wahu, Trevors Academy, Nairobi

We have strived to do our part in catalyzing a market-based solution, supported with capacity building, that can continue to grow into a sustainable answer to a lack of access to quality education in low and lower-middle income countries. However, the next step is greater recognition, supportive regulation, and a seat at the table for the sector so that the education landscape is better connected, and all hands-on deck are working together, rather than in silo, for SDG 4. We believe that supporting the affordable non-state sector, both at a national government level and from philanthropies, private investors, and NGOs, will ultimately build resilience into the education landscape as a whole. Low-fee private schools can be positioned as hubs of innovations, where interventions can be trialed, tested, and adapted so we are able to build up evidence of what works and what doesn’t and create public goods for improving learning outcomes. However, if we are to commit to this inclusion we need to work with local actors, yet funders often favor the use of international intermediaries, even if there are strong local alternatives, due to issues of trust, bureaucracy or simply to save time. So how do we change this picture? Firstly, it requires the shifting of the local voice from the margins to center stage.

Insufficient financing and ineffective regulations exacerbate the issues facing education and the affordable non-state sector

The lack of funding to education in low-income countries means that teacher to pupil ratio in public schools can extend beyond 50, resulting in more parents choosing to pay to send their child to a low-fee private school where classroom sizes are considerably less. The affordable non-state sector is growing – in Ghana, the ANS is projected to represent nearly 30% of total school enrollments by 2025 and in Kenya low-cost private schools are estimated to be serving between 6 million and 10 million students, with most of these schools located in low-income urban and semi-urban areas – yet the collective voice of proprietors, teachers, parents and pupils of these schools languish at the sidelines of education systems. IDP Foundation is committed to changing this, albeit a small part in the global cog of education philanthropy, by listening to our local partners and focusing on solutions that make contextual sense.  It was talking to these proprietors that brought our attention to the impact of hunger on students on a daily basis, and the struggles they have with finding and retaining teachers, which is now further compounded by new qualification requirements. What we have learnt from our local partners and education entrepreneurs is that system change from above doesn’t always translate to positive change on the ground. For example, while we commend initiatives that strive to formalize the contribution of low-fee private schools to national education, regulation and integration often miss the mark and policies are not effectively implemented or are punitive.

How do we mitigate this ‘lost in translation’ issue? We can start by giving all forms of education provision a seat at the table. We as funders have to ask ourselves, how do we facilitate the amplification of the voice of the affordable non-state education sector so they can have effective influence over education discourse? At IDP Foundation this is why we fund the Global Schools Forum as a critical engineer of building that collective local voice. As part of this commitment we have been working with them on a research project that has looked at the activities of local actors in non-state education who have found effective ways to engage with national governments. This is being developed into a series of case studies, along with a framework and tool to guide organizations on how to better collaborate with regulators and policymakers. A key issue for the sector is its fragmentation, so leaning into greater collaboration and connection is an important step in unifying and raising the collective voice of local changemakers.

Ultimately what is needed is more data and collaboration, more local empowerment, more financing from multiple sources, and more innovations to improve learning outcomes. To get more we need to leverage all types of provision, actors, funding, and technology. So, the key question is: how can this be achieved in a more coordinated way? The education development community, alongside international aid, private investment, and governments can work together to catalyze funding, while supporting and maximizing all the forms of provision that make up the education landscape. If we create greater alignment with actors inside and outside of the education sector, then SDG 4 may feel less out of reach. IDP Foundation wants to join collaborators, funders, investors, innovators, advocates, and all education stakeholders who believe in getting all hands-on deck and supporting a local collective voice to change the tide on access to quality education and learning outcomes in low and lower-middle income countries. We strongly believe that together we can find ways in which to build evidence, be more inclusive, use data, empower, ideate, innovate, and create a better future for the world’s underserved communities.

IDP Foundation doesn’t have all the answers, far from it. We call upon our partners, peers, allies, and all education players to share their initiatives, ideas, responses, and approaches. Together we can find the answers, ask the right questions, and work together to shift mindsets, recognize pitfalls, and ultimately ensure that no child loses.

If you would like to discuss this or any other learning series, or the work of IDP Foundation please get in touch


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