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Learning Series: 1

October 2022

Corina Gardner

Chief Executive Officer

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 SDG4.

According to the World Bank, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside conflict, climate, and price hikes, has “erased years of human capital progress and efforts to reduce inequality within and between countries.” As we mark International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we are faced with the alarming possibility of this generation of students losing “US$21 trillion in potential lifetime earnings in present value” as a result of lockdown learning loss. While progress towards SDG4 was slow before the pandemic, we are now in reverse. Rising out-of-school numbers and persistently poor learning outcomes are the biggest cogs in the wheel of perpetuating poverty, yet the solution to improving education provision remains clouded in debate. In this learning piece, IDP Foundation asks the question: how do we work together to support the growth of a mixed economy of education in the most equitable way possible?

The GEM Youth Report 2022: Non-state actors in education: who chooses? Who loses? highlights the significant cost of education in LICs and LMICs that is carried by families, “households cover 39% of the total cost of education, compared with only 16% in high-income countries… About one third of household primary and secondary education expenditure in low- and middle-income countries comes from households with children in public schools” (p.4, GEM Youth Report 2022). However, if governments in these countries are already stretched when it comes to education budgets, how can access to, and outcomes of, education be improved? How can the cycle be broken if the economic stability of a country means increased investment in education is out of reach, yet education is the key to long term economic growth?

It has never been more critical to leverage all financing available to ensure every child has access to quality education. The GEM Youth Report acknowledges that “Governments need to see all education institutions, students and teachers as part of a single system” (p.9). The proportion of children accessing private education is increasing across all education levels. Why? Because parents don’t want to wait for systematic change, they want better opportunities for their children now and will make sacrifices to try and provide the best possible path for them. Demand for quality education in LICs and LMICs is on the rise, the report notes: “In Central and Southern Asia, the share of private enrolment is 36% in primary and 48% in secondary education” (p.6). How do we meet this demand and therefore turn the tide on inequality? If a mixed economy of education provision exists, whereby the affordable non-state education sector (ANS), particularly single proprietor low-fee private schools (LFPS), has been born organically from communities who seek a better future for their youth, how can this varied landscape become a connected force for change?

The GEM Youth Report states that the vast majority of private providers are single proprietor schools and highlights the huge role they play in providing access to quality education. The report acknowledges that 350 million children are being educated due to the existence of non-state actors, yet they also raise concerns over the risk of private provision “undermining democratic norms and social cohesion by inviting the influence and decision making of actors not accountable to citizens over a universal right” (p.5). However, if the mixed economy of provision is recognized, integrated and supported into a single governed system, this risk would be mitigated and all actors would be connected in a coordinated effort to combat the education crisis. Put simply, all hands would be on deck focused on improving learning outcomes for all children in all settings. These independent low-fee private schools are far from profit-making ventures and instead are powered by education entrepreneurs who want a better future for their communities. As we highlighted in our recent Next Billion article published during the Transforming Education Summit, “while we all want free quality education for all children, eliminating fee-charging schools would mean reducing total education financing by up to 40%.” Ultimately, this is a means to an end — the eradication of poverty through education, which would result in robust economies and governments that could afford the provision of quality education to all children. We all want the same result: SDG4, but how do we put ideology aside to get there as efficiently and effectively as possible?


children are being educated due to the existence of non-state actors


While the GEM Youth Report focuses on global education, it is in LICs and LMICs where the non-state sector plays a critical role in providing education for children who might otherwise be out of school. Additionally, during times of crisis, governments in LMICs and LICs are even more dependent on support from international bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This support often comes with conditionalities that can limit national spending on education. Alongside other issues faced by LICs and LMICs, including lower GDPs and a high percentage of the population being younger, and therefore of school age, it becomes nearly impossible for national governments to meet the education financing needs of their countries. This perfect storm means we have to think outside of the box, as we have done in the past with healthcare, and see the education crisis as a threat we cannot put off for another day. But how do we make affordable non-state provision more equitable, and recognised as part of today’s solution towards fully realizing the human right of free access to quality education in LICs and LMICs? And what is free? Costs such as transportation, textbooks, and taxes mean education is never free, but if fees are affordable and the schools are monitored and supported, should parental choice not remain a freedom? If LFPS bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, alleviating pressure on governments so they can focus on the ‘emergency’ cases, such as out-of-school children and the most marginalized, should they not be integrated and supported so they can do this more effectively? If governments continue to struggle to meet demand, in terms of increasing populations and pedagogical needs, shouldn’t integrating more efficient and effective solutions be a priority? Could leveraging the contribution of all education providers and all sources of finance be the key to reversing the education crisis and disrupting the cycle of poverty? We certainly feel that the war on poverty can only be won when everyone fighting for SDG4 joins forces. It is why the Ghanaian Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service are both important partners of IDPF.

With the severe disruption to education spending caused by COVID-19, it is more critical than ever that governments are able to utilize every tool available to them to get children in school and learning. Governments should be enabled to leverage alternative financing from the private sector, philanthropy, and development assistance to improve access and quality across an integrated education system with both public and private provision delivered in an equitable way. So, how can we in the development community find ways in which to support national education agendas and carve a pathway for governments to leverage the contribution of non-state actors in achieving their goals? Can we work together as a collective to ensure that the ANS is understood and co-ordinated so it can respond not only to community needs but also the needs of its nation? Can we respond to the call of the youth voice with a collaborative solution that has a real impact on their future?

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.

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