Foreign aid and education sector: A propitious connection


Himalayan News Service

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First, a definition and some quotations are in order in relation to education. Broadly speaking, education is the vehicle through which the aspirations and proclivities of a group of people exists from one epoch to another. Conventionally, it materializes through any episode that has a pliant clout on the procedure one conceives, feels or behaves. In its confined, technical gist, education is the methodical process by which mankind intentionally communicates its cumulative wisdom, aptitudes, habits and merits from one era to another. Let us sample quotations from a couple of luminaries. According to the Late Martin Luther King Jr. : “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.” Nelson Mandela underscores: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” 

It is pellucid that education has a vital role to play in national development and individuals’ lives-it has a high rate of return as a form of investment, and its value ramifies into health and family planning, into agriculture, industry and government. Hence, education has received a gargantuan chunk of aid resources. Annual bilateral commitments from Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have been almost US $4 billion in recent years. About 10 per cent of aggregate aid has been disbursed in the education sector. 

North American-based donors such as Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) have conducted the evaluation of aid in the education sector. It has been disclosed that most of the education projects met their targets in terms of physical outputs, namely, the number of schools built and the number of enrolments. 

Broadly speaking, technical assistance (TA) seems to have quite a favorable impact on education. An IBRD evaluation of TA in fifty-five education projects found that (i) most borrowers observed that the projects assisted to furnish policy cohesion and discipline in enforcement; (ii) the projects were predominantly capable in their administration bolstering targets; (iii) the effect on educational planning was ambivalent; (iv) the effect on income distribution was broadly equitable and (v) project schools were more effective (for instance, lower rates of drop-out and grade repetition) than system averages. Though the TA projects attained a fair number of objectives, the IBRD study concluded that the developing countries need to revivify the management of their education systems, among others, to further boost efficiency and productivity. 

Nepal has been receiving foreign assistance for development of education since the initiation of foreign aid programs. In the earlier years, aid was provided entirely in the form of grants. However, since 1977/78, aid has been received in the form of soft-term loans also. Aid to the education sector has soared from a trickle to a torrent. In Fiscal Year (FY) 1975/76, total foreign aid disbursement in the education sector was tantamount to a modest Rs 21.9 million entirely in the form of grants. It formed 4.3 per cent of total aid provided then. By FY 2008/09, the aid figure had jacked up to Rs 8.752 billion—Rs 6.309 billion in the form of 

grants and Rs 2.443 billion in loans. In terms of percentage, grants and loans formed 72.1 per cent and 27.9 per cent of total aid, respectively. During this fiscal year, aid to the education sector formed 24.1 per cent of total aid. 

Between FY 1975/76 to FY 2008/09, total aid furnished to the education sector stood at Rs 50.233 billion—Rs 31.780 billion in the form of grants (63.3 per cent) and Rs 18.453 billion in the form of loans (36.7 per cent). During this tenure, aid disbursed in the education sector was equivalent to 13.6 per cent of total aid. Recently, in FY 2009/10, compared to other sectors, Nepal received foreign aid in the education sector to a whopping $ 202.8 million or nearly Rs 16.9 billion.

Though there has been a copious augmentation in the amount of foreign aid extended to the education sector, major educational output indicators have invariably been poor in the country. 

The primary reason for this state is corruption. Like in other foreign-aided projects in most developing countries, corruption is rife in Nepal in general and in education sector in particular. Corruption occurs at various levels such as the line ministry or the Ministry of Education, region/district level, school level and classroom/teacher level. They range from nepotism to the employment of ‘ghost’ teachers. The actual damage to a community happens when whole generations of youths are mis-educated to believe that personal success emanates not through excellence and hard work, but through favoritism, graft and deceit. Such lessons have the power to debilitate civil society well into the future. Hence, it is inordinately exigent that corruption be eradicated though it may appear to be a Sisyphean task. 

Dr. Pant is a free-lance consultant

(Source: The Himalayantimes)