Education sector analysis in Africa: an evolving case in mutual North-South learning - Lene Buchert1
Mutual learning and understanding in inter-cultural contexts have become a dominant part of the development discourse and of concrete development work. This is reflected in the way concepts, such as partnership, policy dialogue, ownership, empowerment and participation, pervade the debate and, increasingly, also action in the field. A critical dimension of all of these concepts is capacity building and development, understood as a continuous long-term interactive process at individual, organizational and institutional levels, and in national and international contexts (Marope, 1997a). Mutual knowledge and understanding among all parties involved in the development process may contribute to ensuring enhanced capacity development.
The emphasis on mutual learning reflects the fact that there is no one way to transfer knowledge and expertise. Improving knowledge and understanding as a basis for improved action requires proper management of learning experiences based on learning strategies that permit learners to learn in the way most appropriate for them. Teaching is no longer enough; instead knowledge and expertise available in all contexts and at all levels must become part of the learning process that is a pre-condition to improving development. This realization has been reached in the North partly because of a lack of fulfilment of common development objectives in earlier decades which, in their execution, depended strongly on foreign expertise and training activities. In the South, there is increased recognition by national governments and nationals that they have to recapture the initiative for their own development relying increasingly on local expertise and indigenous knowledge (see, for example, Buchert, 1997).
It is the purpose of this paper to describe and analyse how, within the umbrella of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), the Working Group on Education Sector Analysis, led by UNESCO, is developing new ways of operation in the undertaking and utilization of education sector analysis in Africa. This includes, among others, interactive dialogue, participation, and listening and learning among three critical education constituencies in Africa: (a) national governments; (b) international funding and technical assistance agencies; and (c) the educational research community. The Working Group is, in this sense, a learning laboratory for mutual learning processes and viable long-term capacity development.
Linking research and development through policy-making
There is a long-standing discussion concerning whether and how educational research can support education policy formulation in order to improve overall development in Africa and elsewhere. As has often been pointed out, the relationship between research and policy-making is far from linear, but is rather complex and must be understood in its specific social, cultural, economic and political context. Research can, for example, assist and lead to improved and informed decision-making, but research can also be used to justify particular decisions or become an excuse for not making others. The tradition of using research in decision-making varies from context to context, and often reflects whether particular societies are accustomed to involving all stakeholders in processes of decision-making. In some societies, the link between research and decision-making is understood to be rather strong, whereas in others its use in decision-making is less common and less institutionalized (Reimers, McGinn & Wild, 1995).
With respect to developing countries, several obstacles to the positive use of research in policy-making have been pointed out. These include, among others, weak linkages between researchers and policy-makers, weak diagnostic capability in many ministries of education and high dependency on international expertise (Namuddu, 1998). These obstacles are partly due to: (a) the deterioration of funding and other circumstances encountered at most universities and research institutions in Africa; (b) lack of training of researchers in policy-making; and (c) lack of use of existing capacities in policy analysis, whether by ministries of education or other institutions, in particular international funding and technical assistance agencies in specific countries.
The collapse of many universities in Africa has diminished their traditional role as a critical agent for the creation of new knowledge and has led to a depletion of local research resources. Many academics have moved to other areas of activity— often in other countries. Many African academics now find themselves as employees of international funding and technical assistance agencies and, increasingly, of local consultancy companies and other non-university and non-research institutions (Buchert & King, 1996). Thus, as a consequence, there may not be a sufficient critical mass in Africa for research in education. Furthermore, the capacities that are available may not contribute much to the kinds of knowledge that are needed to sustain a locally determined policy and development process. One of the major differences between traditional university and consultancy-oriented research is that the former increases knowledge of fundamental issues in the long term, whereas the latter focuses on short-term problem-solving. While traditional university education research is more likely to be embedded in the national context and form part of the continuous long-term systemic development of education, consultancy work often responds to immediate needs and priorities that represent single elements of the wider system.
The priority to short-term problems and needs is particularly evident in the education sector situation analyses undertaken by international funding and technical assistance agencies, which have long served as a starting point to formulate specific educational development activities. Research and evaluation forms part of every stage of the standard project cycle of the international funding and technical assistance agencies. This research has come to play a—if not the—dominant role in the production of knowledge on education in Africa, partly because of the simultaneous deterioration of independent research at African academic and research institutions. This is the case particularly with research and evaluation undertaken by the World Bank, but also concerns that of bilateral agencies, such as, for example, the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (King, 1991).
Reviews by the Working Group on Education Sector Analysis of education sector studies undertaken in the 1980s and 1990s have pointed to a number of shortcomings resulting from the described practice (UNESCO, 1989; Samoff, 1994; Samoff & Assié-Lumumba, 1996). They include the lack of partnership of African ministries and other institutions in the formulation and undertaking of education sector analysis initiated by funding and technical assistance agencies and, consequently, a lack of national ownership of their agenda, the key issues of concern and the recommendations for future direction. They also concern the underutilization of national capacities in carrying out these situation analyses. The reviews have shown that nationals are seldom involved from the beginning to the end of a research and evaluation activity undertaken by the agencies, and seldom occupy a leading position, for example as team leaders. Local experts have rather primarily provided knowledge of the local context, the key issues having been predefined by the agencies. Nationals have, therefore, in many ways been used to legitimize an activity, rather than provide a critical perspective on particular issues. Since the education sector studies in a given country remain mostly unknown to the national government and are rarely utilized in interactive policy adjustment processes between the government and the agencies, they often bear little if any relationship to national policy development.
Towards the 'Africanization' of education sector analysis
In the present context of redefining the boundaries between the North and the South, there is appreciation among many agencies of the fact that national development in the South must be controlled and largely carried out by the South. Efforts are being made to shift the centre of gravity in development work towards the South, to include all key constituencies in specific development efforts and to increase capacities locally for policy formulation, implementation and evaluation of specific activities. This concerns education, as well as other sectors of society. These efforts are based on the notion of mutual learning, understanding and listening, often recognizing that agencies have to step back, leave the stage to the actors in the South and adapt their pace and procedures of operation to the particular reality. This is exemplified in the principles for partnership in development co-operation in Africa outlined by the Swedish development minister following an interactive process with, among others, African representatives of the academic community, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. These principles are as follows: (a) changes of subject-to-subject attitudes; (b) sharing values; (c) transparency in interests; (d) clear contractual standards; and (e) equality of capacity (Sweden. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1997). They are also reflected in inter-agency discussions concerning the need to develop a code of conduct and modalities for new partnerships between the North and the South, and codes of conduct for education sector funding agencies, such as that developed for the member States of the European Union (International Institute for Educational Planning, 1997; for further discussion on these issues, see King & Buchert, in press).
One of the important fora to reinforce an African perspective on education sector work in this continent is ADEA. Founded in 1988 by the World Bank as the Donors to African Education (DAE), it initially sought to foster collaboration and exchange of information among development agencies, of which some fifty were then members. In 1992, its Secretariat moved to UNESCO's International Institute for Educational Planning in Paris to foster a broad sense of ownership among all ADEA members and to ensure the full confidence of African ministers. The association is now focusing on reinforcing African ministries' leadership capacities as they work with agencies and on developing agencies' awareness that their practices should be adapted to the needs of nationally-driven education policies, programmes and projects. The association includes in its Steering Committee agency representatives and African ministers of education and training, the latter elected by the Caucus of African ministers of education and training which comprises all African ministers and which is supported in its work by ADEA (ADEA, undated).
One of the strategies applied by ADEA to reinforce African capacities, leadership and changes of agency practices has been the setting up of eleven working groups, each concentrating on different critical education themes, for example statistics, financing, female participation, and books and learning materials. While most of the working groups are agency-led, they all work in different ways with African partners. They are autonomous in the definition of their work areas and the setting up of structures for this work. The work of the Working Group on Education Sector Analysis is undertaken in the light of stipulated objectives to develop the quality and use of education sector analysis, and to promote African capacities and leadership in this area. This is intended as a means to design relevant national education policies and development co-operation programmes. In its design and implementation of activities, the Working Group is attempting to further partnership, ownership and capacity-building—or to use a current catchword, promoting the 'Africanization'— of education sector analysis employing several strategies and approaches.
Development through mutual learning
An implicit assumption of the Working Group is that partnership in and ownership of the national education development process can be enhanced partly through promoting dialogue and understanding among the key constituencies in education sector analysis: national governments; international funding and technical assistance agencies; and educational researchers. By using and enhancing the capacity of the educational research community, the link between research and development can be strengthened and, thus, education sector analysis will constitute a proper foundation for the policy-making processes.
As mentioned above, a current deficiency in many contexts is that the national policy-making process does not link research and development: national policy-makers are rarely scholars or rarely make use of existing local research capacity; on the other hand, scholars are rarely policy-makers or trained in policy formulation. Similarly, in conducting education situation studies international funding and technical assistance agencies have rarely used the national capacities that are available. As argued by Namuddu (1998, p. 298): 'The most critical and immediate challenge for the [African] research community is to define itself as the most important and indispensable partner of policy-makers and to present itself as the most credible intellectual resource in the subsequent process of defining, designing and implementing such a policy'. According to Namuddu, African researchers need to improve in practice their individual and collective research competencies and participate visibly in policy development and the implementation of reforms.
One way in which African educational researchers have attempted to improve their collective research competencies is through the establishment of education research networks in Eastern and Southern Africa (ERNESA) and West and Central Africa (ERNWACA). The research networks have national chapters in a large number of African countries and seek collaboration with other research networks, for example in the North with the Northern Policy Research Review and Advisory Network (NORRAG). Their work seeks to improve the relationship between educational research and policy-making. ERNESA and ERNWACA are both partners of the Working Group on Education Sector Analysis which sets out to improve the quality, relevance and utilization of education sector analysis in Africa—a partner- ship that is still evolving as both the networks and the Working Group are seeking to improve their organizational arrangements. An initial collaboration is expressed in the presence of the co-ordinators of networks in the Steering Committee of the Working Group. The Steering Committee, which plays a crucial role in defining the priorities and direction for the activities of the Working Group, includes furthermore representatives of the other two key constituencies of the Working Group: African ministries of education and international funding and technical assistance agencies.
Capacity development in education sector analysis
During the first phase of its work, in the period 1989-95, the Working Group concentrated on undertaking the inventory and analytic overviews of education sector studies referred to above. Three inventories have been produced: the first one comprised thirty-four sub-Saharan studies conducted during 1985-89 (UNESCO, 1989); the second included thirty-six sector and sub-sector studies in South Africa undertaken during 1993-95 (Samoff, 1994); and the third analysed approximately 230 sector and sub-sector studies, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, undertaken during 1990-94 (Samoff & Assié-Lumumba., 1996). The overviews included studies undertaken and provided mostly by international funding and technical assistance agencies and, to a smaller extent, by national governments. They covered different categories following the individual agency's or government's definition of what constituted a relevant education sector study. In the 1996 review, this led to an overall categorization of the material into studies, reports and papers which focused on one of the following areas: (a) the education sector as a whole; (b) specific sub-sectors of education, such as higher education; (c) special educational themes, such as girls' education; (d) multi-sector studies, involving, for example, both the education and health sectors; or (e) general studies involving more than one country. The relative distribution was as follows: 75% of all included studies related specifically to education, the relative proportion being 19% on the education sector, 19% on education sub-sectors and 37% on specific educational themes. Seven per cent of the studies were multi-sector studies and 17% were general studies.
The purposes of the inventory and analytic overviews were two-fold: (a) to explore the magnitude of the studies and, subsequently, to make them known to the most important stakeholders, in particular African education ministries, funding and technical assistance agencies and the education research community; and (b) to draw lessons from the global analyses concerning similarities and differences in, for example, approaches, methods, process, content and themes, as well as concerning major gaps in the studies.
As mentioned above, one of the outcomes of this analysis was the realization that the predominant part of the examined education sector studies was initiated and undertaken by external agencies using external experts to set the framework. Africans, on the other hand, were mostly employed in responding to tasks defined by the external experts. This had major consequences concerning, among others, the relevance and contextuality of individual studies (for a recent analysis of the implications of education sector studies in the period 1990-94, see Samoff, 1997). During the ongoing work of the Working Group (since 1995), priority has, therefore, been given to 'Africanizing' education sector analysis, partly through strengthening individual and institutional capacities in education sector analysis and partly through strengthening the dialogue among the key constituencies: ministries of education and other government institutions, international funding and technical assistance agencies and the education research community, as a means of improving practice. This re-orientation will involve joint application of analytic, advocacy and capacity-building strategies (for a recent analysis of all strategies applied by the Working Group, see Marope, 1997b).
The objective of the applied set of strategies is to create in the longer term a more conducive climate for policy dialogue concerning education sector analysis among education ministries, international funding and technical assistance agencies and the research community. This will be based on an identification of constraints to and opportunities for improved analysis in specific national contexts. In most cases, achieving this objective will necessitate changes of the national policy environment and of agency dispositions because of a present lack of co-ordination in the design, process and utilization of education sector analysis between the national governments and the international funding and technical assistance agencies, as well as inadequate use of national research capacities. It will probably also necessitate specific capacity development efforts, partly to cover gaps where they may exist and partly to continuously update capacities that do exist taking new developments into account. The work of the Working Group is therefore presently planned to cover three major areas: country-based initiatives; analytic work; and skills development.
The country-based initiatives fall into two main categories: (a) national reviews of education sector studies undertaken by national teams of researchers funded and facilitated by the Working Group; and (b) technical support by the Working Group of innovative initiatives, in particular new approaches and methodologies in education sector analysis undertaken or funded by international funding and technical assistance agencies. The overall purpose of the two sets of initiatives is to explore in specific country contexts the issues analysed in a global sense in the inventory and analytic overviews.
Of particular importance in the case of both the national reviews and the innovative initiatives is to ensure that they become stepping stones for changed practices in policy-making on a national level. The basis for this is partly to heighten the awareness of the key constituencies of the need to adopt new approaches to the process of education sector analysis and to change practices, and partly to strengthen dialogue, co-operation and co-ordination of such studies in the future. This may also be achieved through individual and institutional capacity-building in education sector analysis that is expected to follow from the reviews, assuming that increased capacity development also leads to increased utilization of the established national capacities. Follow-up mechanisms to the national reviews are critically important to ensure that the review is not regarded at the national level as 'just another' study, but rather considered to be showing the way to continuous improvement of practices and wider capacity development.
The approach adopted by the Working Group when initiating the country-led and country-undertaken reviews of education sector analysis is one of open dialogue and participation of the key constituencies from start to end of the process. This ensures the sense of national ownership which has been largely absent from the agency-initiated and conducted education sector studies. Countries have been selected on the basis of a number of substance and geographical criteria, including: (a) the existence of an adequate number of recent education sector analyses; (b) the presence of a considerable number of international funding and technical assistance agencies; (c) the existence of individual and institutional capacity to undertake the review; (d) different country-specific situations which would allow for cross-country comparisons; and (e) the expressed need by countries for a national review.
An initial exploratory visit aims at confirming the feasibility of the national review and, in particular, at ensuring the commitment to a review on the part of the national governments and the international funding and technical assistance agencies active in that country. It is also useful to ascertain the interest in undertaking a review on the part of the educational research community. Self-constituted national teams develop their proposals in a competitive bidding environment. The proposals respond to a framework for a review which is developed by the Working Group and which stipulates general areas of concern rather than specific 'Terms of Reference' (for a concrete example, see Samoff & Buchert, 1998). The winning proposal is selected by a specially set up selection committee, which includes representatives of the key national constituencies (government, agencies and research community) and of the Working Group (Steering Committee and Secretariat). The key constituencies are encouraged to provide support during the undertaking of the review through a specially set up reference committee that provides advice and monitors the process in interaction with the Working Group.
ANALYTIC WORK AND SKILLS DEVELOPMENT
Along with its activities at country and regional level, the Working Group regularly summarizes the lessons from its ongoing activities and feeds these lessons into the design of new activities. The successive versions of different kinds of analytical work is discussed in different international fora and is disseminated to the key constituencies of the Working Group for wider information. This process also generates ideas for new analytic work in order for the Working Group to continue to be in the front line of conceptualization and in introducing new practices in education sector analysis. In order to ensure maximum benefit from the analytical work undertaken by the group, it will also provide the basis for inputs to skills development for the key constituencies of the group.
At present, the Working Group is planning to develop a systematic picture of the approaches and practices of the international funding and technical assistance agencies concerning education sector analysis, including the recent sector-wide approaches of agencies, such as the World Bank, the European Union, Sida and Danish International Development Assistance (Danida). This is to assist in clarifying whether, since the finalization in 1994 of the analytic work contained in the last inventory and analytic overview, new approaches have in fact been adopted by the agencies and, if so, whether they have led to changed practices. The outcomes of this work, as well as those of the national reviews and of a broader analysis of other innovative and successful experiences, are expected to form the basis for the development of guidelines, and process and outcomes indicators for 'good' education sector studies.
The analytic work will also be the basis for the development of teaching materials in education sector analysis to complement existing ones. The Working Group is planning to contribute modules to relevant courses in evaluation and research methods and in educational planning in order to heighten capacities in education sector analysis among its key constituencies. Other ways of transferring the skills and knowledge of the Working Group in a more concrete sense will be regional seminars at which comparative lessons will be drawn from the national reviews. The regional seminars will also contribute to a much needed cross-fertilization and 'internationalization' of African expertise in and knowledge of education sector analysis.
Conclusion and perspectives
Mutual learning is central to the thinking and action of a number of international funding and technical assistance agencies, although concrete efforts are perhaps still piece meal and ad hoc, rather than continuous and systemic. Mutual learning demands critical contextual sensitivity and empathy, as well as transparency of underlying understandings and ideas and of overall objectives and strategies. Therefore, the national expertise available must be acknowledged and expanded. The commitment and capacity of national governments to take the initiative for their own development process, based on inclusion of all national constituencies, must be strengthened. An open understanding of the role of the international funding and technical assistance agencies in specific national contexts must also be created. While interactions between the North and the South may have to be explicitly focused and mutually agreed, the ultimate objective must be that international funding and technical assistance agencies complement and supplement national endeavours within a framework determined by the national governments.
One may question the likelihood of this happening in the present inter-dependent global context and in countries suffering from political and economic instability. Indeed, dependency on international funding may also mean dependency on external decision-making and procedures, or internal political rivalries may stifle mutual efforts in national development. Arbitrary decision-making and the laying down of important conditions on the part of international funding and technical assistance agencies have been known to affect planning and implementation of national development efforts in many countries in the South. The same effect results from local abuse of public and international funding for private purposes. However, if the point of departure is—as outlined in the principles advocated for Swedish partnership with Africa—that, despite global inequalities, clear contractual standards and equal capacity in setting such contractual standards can and must guide development co-operation between the North and the South, then the reassurance of capacities for national policy formulation based on national interpretation of needs and priorities in the South is a core issue.
While international funding and technical assistance agencies have to look critically at the constraints of their own organizations in developing equal partnerships, for example abandoning the self-interest underlying demands for purchases of equipment and personnel from the North, national governments have to provide powerful leadership acting in the interest and enjoying the support of the wider civil society in the implementation of a nationally formulated vision for development. Linking national researchers with national policy-makers is one way forward. Linking national researchers with national policy-makers and representatives of international funding and technical assistance agencies who are honest brokers of equal partnerships is a potentially more powerful way forward. Capacity development of all three constituencies in undertaking policy formulation and in creating transparency of attitudes, values and interests is, however, most fundamental to working towards mutual objectives within a mutually acceptable framework and according to mutually applied strategies.
1. This paper is a revised keynote address presented at the 1997 NASEDEC conference on 'Learning in Intercultural Contexts', Sida-Sandö, Sweden, 30 October-2 November. It has been written in a personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO.
Association for the Development of Education in Africa—ADEA. Undated. New approaches to co-ordination and partnership. Paris, UNESCO/International Institute for Educational Planning/ADEA.
Buchert, L., ed.. 1997. Education policy formulation in Tanzania: co-ordination between the government and international aid agencies. Paris, UNESCO/International Institute for Educational Planning.
Buchert, L., ed.. 1998. Education reform in the South in the 1990s. Paris, UNESCO.
Buchert, L.; King, K., eds. 1996. Consultancy and research in international education, the new dynamics. Bonn, DSE/NORRAG, 1996.
International Institute for Educational Planning. 1997. Selected issues in development assistance to education. Meeting of the International Working Group on Education (IWGE) Nice, France, 6-8 November 1996. Paris, UNESCO/International Institute for Educational Planning.
King, K. 1991. Aid and education in the developing world: the role of the donor agencies in educational analysis. Harlow, UK, Longman.
King, K.; Buchert, L., eds. In press. Changing international aid to education: global patterns and national contexts. Paris, UNESCO.
Marope, P.T.M. 1997a. Capacity development through ADEA Working Groups: applicable practices and lessons. (Paper presented at the 1997 Biennial Meeting of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa, Dakar, Senegal, 15-18 October.)
Marope, P.T.M. 1997b. Capacity development in sub-Saharan Africa: lessons for future work of the Working Group on Education Sector Analysis (WGESA). (Paper prepared for the WGESA meeting in Dakar, Senegal, 13-14 October.)
Namuddu, K. 1998. Research methodologies and education policy and reforms. In: Buchert, L., ed., op. cit., p. 271-99.
Reimers, F.; McGinn, N.; Wild, K. 1995. Confronting future challenges: educational information, research and decision-making. Paris, UNESCO. (International Bureau of Education. Studies in comparative education.)
Samoff, J. 1994. After Apartheid, What? A review of externally initiated, commissioned, and supported studies of education in South Africa. Paris, UNESCO.
Samoff, J. 1997. Co-operation, but limited control and little ownership. (Paper presented at the 1997 Biennial of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa, Dakar, Senegal, 15-18 October.)
Samoff, J.; Buchert, L. 1998. Review of education sector analysis in Ghana: request for proposals. (Developed for the Working Group on Education Sector Analysis of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa.)
Samoff, J.; Assié-Lumumba, N'D.T. 1996. Analyses, agendas and priorities for education in Africa: inventory and analytic overview of education sector studies in Africa, 1990-1994. Paris, UNESCO.
Sweden. Ministry for Foreign Affairs. 1997. Partnership with Africa: proposals for a new Swedish policy towards Sub-Saharan Africa. Stockholm.
UNESCO. Action Group on Sector Studies. 1989. Review of recent sector studies and preparation of a sector study data base. Paris, UNESCO.
[Українська] [англiйська] [росiйська]