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24 Mar 2014

Understanding EFA within a Political Economy Perspective By Grace Akukwe

By Grace Akukwe, American Institutes for Research (AIR).

EFAAs the 2015 MDG deadline approaches, the development community is focused on whether we will achieve the Education For All (EFA) targets or not. One major concern about the EFA targets which have been under less scrutiny is the differing institutional structures that support EFA implementation and how these are affecting progress. Institutional capacity and ownership have serious implications for the attainment of the EFA targets especially as we consider what needs to change beyond 2015. The lagging progress in the EFA goals is as a result of multiple factors amongst them weak government institutions.

As the global community looks beyond 2015, it is important to understand the broader political and economic circumstances of developing countries and how their governments’ institutional arrangements affect the implementation of EFA in terms of translating EFA targets into action. The presentation I made at the recent Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) annual conference highlighted EFA from a political economy perspective and the need for increased investments in institutional infrastructure.

The prohibitive finance gap of $26 billion for achieving Education For All is not the only threat to the vision of universal access to basic education. The issues of ownership and capacity of governments who signed on to EFA are also major challenges.

Attention to the ownership issue was drawn by Kenneth King (King, 1992) when he examined the relationship between aid and capacity-building.  King posited that education reform in aid-recipient countries was initially propped by “enclave projects managed and protected” by special donor-appointed agents whereas there is now a move to promote local sustainable institutions (p. 257). King’s paper made critical observations about the place of external agendas in national education planning in aid approaches – e.g. whether the shift to supporting local institutions had strengthened the local agenda enough to displace the donor’s own global education agenda. King elaborates how the narrowing of the original Jomtien agenda of Schooling for All (SFA) to Education for All (EFA) was donor determined due to resources available and also a powerful lobby for primary education by multi and bi-lateral agencies such as World Bank, UNICEF, USAID and ODA (now DFID); and further demonstrates an external agenda that was not driven by aid-recipient governments.

Following the Paris Declaration and Dakar Framework, King observed in another paper that alignment of EFA targets and indicators to national planning architecture is a critical issue when considered in terms of ownership and the broader national objectives of the aid-recipient governments (King, 2004); King challenged whether Ministries of education identify the MDG and EFAs as their own agenda.

That being said we agree that the rapid enrollment drive during the EFA put intense pressures on government education systems personnel to meet all the conditions for access. Many countries are hindered in their EFA efforts by the lack of enforcement of reform frameworks and isolated policy reviews (UNESCO, 2012). Many government institutions are not adequately equipped to manage multi-faceted data and policy directives or they have not sufficiently evolved to work in an interfaced and integrated manner to tackle the competing demands within their operational environments. This is especially true in countries where the central government Ministries of Education are not strong to begin with and yet have devolved or decentralized management functions to the lower tiers of their governance structures.

To address these two problems, Sinclair (2013) proposes the idea of linking targets to different conditions of countries –i.e. to match goals with developmental status and delineated by three or four levels. Another approach being proposed is universal and tiered goals that are linked to human rights and feasible for recipient government with the appropriate operational support.

Despite the many reports that cite High Level Panels, Task Teams, Civil Society, government and international development agencies in the participation of the EFA agenda, we cannot simply accept high level participation in international fora as a proxy for demonstrated political will and or capacity to implement and achieve the EFA targets. Macro-level support doesn’t automatically translate into micro-level execution.  Beyond 2015, more support is needed to enhance the capacities of ministries of education to develop and implement EFA policies and programs as well as to generate reliable data with which to monitor and evaluate educational performance.

This blog is based on a paper presented by the author at the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) 2014 Annual Conference, on a NORRAG-organised panel on ‘Big data on education and the hegemony of counting’ (Tuesday 11/3/2014). For the paper and list of citations referred to above, please contact the author on the email below.

Grace Akukwe is a principal project specialist with the International Development, Education, and Research Program at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Email:

Views and opinions expressed in blogs are those of the authors and are not intended to represent the view of all NORRAG members.



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