By David Edwards, General Secretary – Education International
The Education Outcomes Fund (EOF) is set to launch its first operations in just a few months’ time. As the preparations ensue, Education International, the voice of over 32 million teachers and educators from across the globe, wants to make it clear that it rejects the Fund in its current design and invites EOF to urgently reconsider its plans.
EOF is a joint initiative of the Education Commission and the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment. The fund aims to use development impact bonds (DIB) to finance private actors in education in Africa and the Middle East by paying for results. This means that private actors profit from tax-payer money. The model transforms education into a market commodity and promotes its privatisation.
According to the latest design guide, EOF will focus on ECE, TVET and primary education. It will fund ancillary services, remedial services, and public-private partnerships in education (PPPs) as well as core delivery of early childhood education (ECE) and technical and vocational education (TVET). Funding the core provision of ECE and TVET through private actors constitutes direct interference with the role of the state. It promotes further privatisation of these sectors, encouraging the state to rescind its responsibilities for provision.
The ECE provision funded by EOF will be “low-cost”. Supporting fee-charging provision of ECE violates the global commitment as part of SDG 4 to ensure all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development. It disregards the evidence demonstrating that free ECE is the only way to ensure that children from all backgrounds are able to get the educational start in life that they deserve and that no-one is left behind. Mandating governments in low- and middle-income countries to contribute funds towards enabling private provision of ECE is a woeful distraction when drastic increases in expenditure are urgently needed in this sector. In 2014, governments in Sub-Saharan Africa spent only 0.01% of GNP on ECE. Governments must invest in improving and expanding public ECE rather than experimenting with short term, unsustainable solutions through private provision.
EOF claims to be a “game changer” in education financing. However, it will not actually generate any new money for education – DIBs simply enable aid money to be spent forward (see Lewin 2018). What is more, the use of results-based financing for education is also not as innovative as is suggested. RBF has become widespread over the last decade but evidence shows it has not achieved the desired results. Meanwhile, multiple risks have been identified. It creates perverse incentives for service providers to invest in narrow, short-term gains rather than long-term holistic development of individuals. It may stifle innovation in teaching and learning, and encourages service providers to prioritise easy-to-reach, easy-to-teach students, to cut costs, or even to game the system.
According to the design guide and the Education Outcomes Fund website, the Fund is “engaging with teachers associations and unions in the design of EOF.” This is highly misleading, almost to the point of comedy. The next paragraphs explain why.
In September 2018, upon hearing about the proposed fund, Education International formally wrote to EOF’s principal, Jared Lee, expressing alarm about the fund’s focus on non-state actors and detailing our concerns. EI lamented that EOF’s design “blatantly ignored the evidence which shows that outsourcing does not improve access to nor outcomes in education” but instead “deepens inequality and segregation, denying the right of all children and youth to quality education”.
Soon afterwards, numerous teacher unions sent letters to Mr Lee expressing their deep concern about the proposed Fund and its promotion of education as a market commodity rather than a fundamental human right and public good. Unions in proposed pilot countries wrote to their governments urging them not to participate, whilst unions of donor countries urged their governments not to use government aid money to be outcomes funders.
EOF is set to be launched in April 2020 with the first programme in Ghana. Contrary to EOF’s claims of ‘engaging with’ teachers, teachers in Ghana were not consulted about the fund’s arrival in their country. As soon as they heard about the fund, education unions in Ghana released a statement expressing ‘trepidation’ that Ghana was listed as a target country for the fund. The Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) and the Teachers and Education Workers Union (TEWU) together with the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition (GNECC) denounced the fund’s promotion of private actors in education and the increasing commodification of education. They called on the Ghanaian government to instead operationalize the “Ghana Beyond Aid” mantra by plugging the loop-holes in tax mobilisation, eliminating harmful tax-exemptions and prioritising education expenditure. Their message was clear – the Ghanaian education system and Ghanaian students should not be used as guinea-pigs in an attempt to demonstrate EOF’s ‘proof of concept’.
SDG 4 can only be achieved by expanding and strengthening the provision of inclusive and equitable quality, universally accessible, free public education for all. The funding of private service providers in education through development bonds is in clear contravention of the global commitment made through Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4. EOF disregards democratic governance of education and turns education into a market commodity. Education unions from across the world appeal to its creators – reconsider now and instead focus efforts on supporting governments to strengthen their education systems to ensure that no child is denied their right to free, quality public education.
Image: EOF logo
 See the Design Guide p.48
 Including: ETA (Ethiopia), KNUT (Kenya), SADTU (South Africa), SYNAFETP (Ivory Coast), SNECDT (Morocco), ISTT (Egypt), FGESRS (Tunisia), PPSTLL (Lebanon) and GUPT (Palestine) among others.