But where does the money actually go? – Aid flows for Youth and Adult Education

Raquel Castillo
Stakeholder Partnerships for Education and Lifelong Learning (SPELL),
The Philippines



– While the Education for All (EFA) goals supposedly address the learning needs of children, youth and adults alike, this article examines how much the international community actually acknowledges this and subscribes to a Lifelong Learning paradigm. It looks at how civil society has asked donors and governments to look at EFA, not as discrete and separate goals but as indivisible and holistic, and advocates for an equitable share of investment across all sub-sectors of education and skills development. A look at recent education strategy papers of some major donors show a marked neglect of Adult Education and Learning (except for the EU), while the post 2015 official global discourse is proposing expanded access indicators to include up to lower secondary education only. The latest available data on official aid flows are analysed to show how these trends are reflected in general, and how very much less support there is for basic life skills, adult literacy, and vocational-technical education. The article concludes with a strong caution that decreasing financing support for education in general and for investments in Youth and Adult Education in particular – because of the financial crisis and the changing priorities of donors – will reverse the EFA gains we’ve had so far and stymie our ambitions for sustainable development goals beyond 2015.

When the discussions are over and global agreements signed, the work of the negotiators is done. Now begins the long and tricky road to implement the decisions. How does that happen? There are many methods. Let us look at one of them. The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) has been called a model of “multi-stakeholder partnership in practice to deliver quality education”1. The GPE Fund aims to “finance the development and implementation of education plans in developing countries and the dissemination of knowledge and best practices in education at the global and regional levels”. With a current annual budget of around $3 billion, it provides longer term funding support to 70 eligible, low-income countries. The funding is phased out when national income rises.

As of the 1st quarter of 2013, there were 18 country donors contributing to the GPE Fund, with the UK, Netherlands, Spain, Australia, Norway, Sweden and the EC as the biggest contributors (GPE 2013). It directs funds to a single local education group led by the ministry of education. This group includes educators, development agencies, corporations (domestic and global), regional development banks, state education ministries, civil society and philanthropic organisations, sometimes UNESCO and UNICEF representatives, as well as other experts.

In 2008 in the Asia-Pacific region, more than a hundred education advocates, national education coalitions and civil society formations gathered together in Manila, Philippines, to debate on issues in education financing and on Official Development Assistance (ODA) for education.2 These are funds provided to developing countries to promote their economic and social development and come in the form of either grants or concessional loans carrying a lower rate of interest than the market and a longer repay ment period. As a result of the debate there was a specific call on the donor community, the World Bank, and in particular the EFA Fast Track Initiative (FTI, now known as the Global Partnership for Education or GPE in its new incarnation), to undertake key reforms to make it more responsive and reach out to more countries in need of resources to meet all the EFA goals. The gathering wanted the Fast Track Initiative (now GPE) to expand its coverage beyond the two Millennium Development Goals on universal primary education and gender equality in education. They wanted GPE to include the full EFA agenda.

Why did the meeting in Manila suggest this? It has a lot to do with the gap between the six Education for All goals and the actual funding of education.

Who is the “All” in Education for All?

Civil society has for a long time insisted that donors and partner governments adhere to the Dakar Framework for Action for Education for All (EFA) in financing education plans. The six EFA goals are significantly interlinked and the accomplishment of any of them requires action on all of them: early childhood care and education, universal primary education, youth and adult Lifelong Learning and life skills opportunities, adult literacy, gender equity and quality. Recognising this indivisibility, the global and regional movements for EFA asked countries to take the goals together as a plan of action and not prioritise one or another of the goals to the detriment of the others.

The problem seems to be that when civil society advocates to the multilateral donors (and also bilateral donors) on this issue, donors point to governments and say that they are only acceding to what the partner governments (and their ministries of education) ask for in their funding proposals. This is in line with the Paris Aid Effectiveness principle on country “ownership” of the agenda. But when civil society organisations engage governments, they are told that ministries of education need to also take into consideration and take their cue from the expressed focus areas of the donors when developing and submitting their education sector plans for aid support. Thus we are caught in a Catch-22 paradox.

There is one case that civil society organisations were able to use as a precedent whenever they advocated for governments and FTI/GPE to embrace the full Education For All agenda and include adult learning in financing national education plans. The case is Mali. Mali is a country where 70% of the population is illiterate. Following the Africa Network Campaign on Education for All (ANCEFA) 2009 study called “Étude Sur Le Niveau de Realisation des Objectifs de L’ept Au Mali Cas de l’Education Non Formelle”3, the Mali Coalition launched a well-coordinated advocacy campaign. As a result the Government of Mali increased funding for adult literacy from 1% to the interna tional benchmark of 3% in the financial year 2009/2010 4.

But ANCEFA also pointed out that this was a “rare case”. During the transition from FTI to GPE, the partnership underwent reforms, and civil society organisations were hoping to influence changes within the funding partnership. But a rundown of its current strategic goals, formulated after the reform process, would show that GPE kept its previous bias for children’s education, at the expense of youth and Adult Education. Its goal on “Access for All” meant only access for all children to safe, adequately equipped space to receive an education with a skilled teacher. Its goal on “Learning for All” referred, again, only to children mastering basic literacy and numeracy skills by the early grades. The goal on addressing equity was reduced to “Reaching every Child”, ensuring that resources are focused on the most marginalised children, which is commendable per se, but which does not really address the education needs of all disadvantaged people in a society (GPE 2013). The expansion of access, in line with the dominant official discourse in the post 2015 education agenda, covers mostly increased support for secondary education for youth (apart from early childhood education). There is almost nothing on Adult Education.

“A concerted effort for The Big Push for EFA in the last laps would still require aid from the international community.”

A crucial role to play

The EFA Global Monitoring Report of 2012 observes that aid is a vital component of education spending in poor countries. “While national spending provides the most important contribution, aid amounts to as much as one-fifth of education budgets in low-income countries on average” (UNESCO 2012). The amount of resources developing countries invest in education will have an impact on how much they can complete their “catch-up” plans just before the 2015 deadline of EFA goals and targets. It also determines how much they can join the new sustainable development goals being envisioned beyond 2015. The GMR 2012 points out that “most countries that accelerated progress towards EFA during the last decade did so by increasing spending on education substantially or maintaining it at already high levels”. Many low-income countries strive to increase their domestic revenues and find ways to rely more on local resources to fund education but they need to build up their capacities to do this. In the meantime, a concerted effort for “The Big Push” for EFA in the last laps would still require aid from the international community.

Dilemma between an emphasis on basic education and upholding the Lifelong Learning paradigm

The Global Campaign for Education has spearheaded civil society advocacy to increase the share of basic education in national budgets as well as in donor aid to the sector. This is because basic education provides the foundational learning and skills needed by unreached groups as a first significant step in overcoming their multiple layers of disadvantage and claiming for themselves a role in the country’s sustainable development. On average, about 41% of total aid goes to basic education (Castillo 2011). The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) defines basic education as covering

  1. early childhood education,
  2. primary education and
  3. basic life skills for youth and adults.

There is much critique against low-income countries that devote their scarce resources in a misplaced bias towards higher (tertiary) education when millions of their children are not in school and are dropping out and millions of their vulnerable women cannot read, write nor calculate numbers.

The high political traction that support for primary education got globally during the last decade was principally due to the reduction of the EFA goals to only two education goals in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), one of which was on Universal Primary Education (the other being gender equality in all levels of education).

“Does the EFA advocacy mean that Lifelong Learning is only for developed countries and that basic education is for low-income and developing countries?”

On the other hand, civil society advocating for transformative education and learning have come to embrace the concept of Lifelong Learning. The UNESCO Institute of Lifelong Learning (UIL) thinks that “Lifelong Learning for All implies not only a holistic and sector-wide educational reform in which all sub-sectors and elements of the education system should be designed to cater to lifelong and life-wide learning, but also the creation of learning opportunities in all settings or modalities (formal, non-formal and informal) for people of all ages (infants, children, adolescents and adults)”. With such a perspective, a more thought out balancing of the needs of different age groups in society – difficult though it may be under stringent resources – needs to be worked out in line with the development aspirations of the local communities and the country as a whole.

There is another dimension to this. In discussions with youth groups in developing countries, a question has been posed: Does the EFA advocacy mean that Lifelong Learning is only for developed countries and that basic education is for low-income and developing countries?  There is a whole slew of equity questions behind that.

A regional seminar on National Policy Frameworks for Lifelong Learning in the ASEAN Countries (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) was held in Hanoi, Vietnam 10–11 January 2013. The event was co-organised by the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) and UNESCO Vietnam with the support of the UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education in Bangkok and the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association (DVV International). The seminar produced an advocacy brief addressed to the member countries of the ASEAN. One of the strong recommendations was to increase financial resources in alignment with legislation and policy to promote Lifelong Learning for all and to allocate an equitable share of investment across all subsectors of education and training.

Examining aid flows

An analysis of the aid flows to education shows the gap between the sub-sectors.

Data was trawled from the OECD International Data Statistics databases, in particular the Creditor Reporting System (CRS), where direct aid to education can be found. Disbursements of aid in constant 2011 US dollars was chosen instead of commitment amounts, as there can be significant discrepancies between the two when allocations are disbursed in tranches over more than one year or when they are delayed for some reason.

Direct aid to education, as defined by the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC), are allocations made to:

  1. Basic education – covering early childhood education, primary education, and basic life skills for youth and adults;
  2. Secondary education – covering both general secondary education and vocational training;
  3. Post-secondary education – covering higher education and advanced technical and managerial training;
  4. Education, level unspecified – covering any activity that cannot be attributed solely to the development of a particular level of education, such as education research, teacher training, and general education programme support such as education policy and administrative management, education facilities and training.

In trying to determine shares of Youth and Adult Education in contrast to children’s education, the following groupings of aid flows were studied (See Table 1):

  1. Aid for children’s education – to include:
    • Early childhood education
    • Primary education
  2. Aid for Youth and Adult Education – categorised in 2 tracks:
    • Formal, general education track – to include:
      • General secondary education
      • Higher education
    • Alternative track – to include:
      • Basic life skills for youth and adults
      • Vocational training
      • Advanced technical and managerial training

Donors were classified as:

  1. Bilaterals – countries that provide development assistance directly to recipient countries. Most are members of the DAC, a forum of major bilateral donors established to promote aid and its effectiveness.
  2. Multilaterals – international institutions, development banks such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Fund, UN agencies, regional groupings such as the EC.
  3. Non-DAC donors – include the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and the Czech Republic.

(See Table 1)

The total aid disbursements to education for all developing countries and including aid to unspecified levels of countries that report to the DAC in 2011 is USD 12.48 billion. Subtracting scholarships and imputed student costs from this would amount to USD 9.42 billion. The share of children’s education in this would be about 35.5%, for youth and adults 26.2%, for unspecified levels 38.1%.5 (See Chart 1) In fact, not all aid for General Secondary Education should count as “aid for youth education” because the age bracket of Lower Secondary Education would still fall under the UNESCO definition of “Children” (18 years and below). This would make the actual share of aid for youth and adult education even smaller.

Using the same process of analysis, the estimates for Asia show much less share for Youth and Adult Education in ODA, at only 16.2%. Aid for children’s education as a percentage of total aid to education (without imputed student costs) would be about 31.8% while that for unspecified education levels would be 52%.

We can also see that almost 4/5 of aid for the education of youth and adults is flowing to the formal, general education track, while only a fifth goes to the alternative life skills-vocational-technical track. The share of this in the latter, in total aid to education, would be estimated at only 8.4% in 2011. Basic life skills would only be 1.5%.

Note that Aid for Adult Literacy is not being monitored separately in the DAC. In DVV International’s Bonn Confer ence on Financing Adult Education for Development last 23–24 June 2009, one of the important policy requests was for OECD to set up a specific account item reporting for aid towards adult literacy under 112: I.1.b Basic Education. This was in part requested because 775 million non-literate adults remain in the world today, two-thirds of them women.

“Almost 4/5 of aid for the education of youth and adults is flowing to the formal, general education track, while only a fifth goes to the alter native life-skills-vocational-technical track.”

The biggest donors and Lifelong Learning

In the Asia region, the major bilateral donors to education aid are Germany, Japan, UK, US, France and Australia. The biggest multilateral donors are the World Bank (IDA), the Asian Development Fund (ADB), and the EU.

The EU’s Strategic Framework for European Cooperation in Education and Training 2020 says that “... Lifelong Learning should be regarded as a fundamental principle underpinning the entire framework, which is designed to cover learning in all contexts – whether formal, non-formal or informal – and at all levels: from early childhood education and schools through to higher education, vocational education and training and adult learning.”

This is the strategy that comes closest to the civil society perspective. The long-term strategic objectives of EU education and training policies for Europe include ‘making Lifelong Learning and mobility a reality’. Two of the benchmarks for 2020 are:

  1. The share of 15-year-olds with insufficient abilities in reading, mathematics and science should be less than 15%; and
  2. An average of at least 15% of the adults (age group 25–64) should participate in Lifelong Learning (Lifelong Learning is mentioned 17 times in the document).

The World Bank Education Strategy 2020 acknowledges Lifelong Learning as a basic premise, but quickly provides a caveat by identifying the early years as the most crucial, and therefore the stage meriting the most resource support. “The new education strategy is built on the premise that people learn throughout life. However, the period between birth and young adulthood is especially critical because the ability to learn that is developed during this period provides a foundation for Lifelong Learning...” (Lifelong Learning is only mentioned twice in the entire document.)

The Asian Development Bank/Asian Development Fund’s strategy paper “Education by 2020” had no mentions of Lifelong Learning at all. There is a marked difference in its sub-sectoral allocations between the previous period 2000–2009 and the Work Program Budget Framework for the period 2010–2012. The share of aid going to tertiary and higher education increased from only 2.6% to 31.8%. Pre-primary education, which was not there previously, is now getting 8%. The originally small aid for non-formal education at 5.2% suddenly got wiped out. Secondary education support got focused on upper secondary only. And technical education and vocational skills remained flat at 16%. (See Chart 2)

There was a marked opacity and lack of details in the CRS reporting on ODA-funded interventions and projects by each donor country. However, a scan of the CRS microdata revealed a few of the projects in the pipeline.


  • Under advanced technical and managerial training: Scholarship Program for Personnel in Development Work in Asian Countries through the Asia Social Institute, ASI; Indigenous Learning Institute – A Regional Inter-Peoples Learning and Empowerment Programme among Indigenous Peoples in Asia.
  • The regional cooperation platform (RCP), as a forum for regional professional exchange in the field of vocational teacher education, is established and the institutional capacity of the RCP’s members to contribute to regional integration processes is improved.
  • Innovation Network South East Asia for TVET (technical and vocational education and training) and Sustainable Development.
  • USD 4.47 million for the promotion of basic Adult Education.


  • Most were for scholarships in Japan, though there was mention of a small core support for NGOs, other private bodies, Public Private Partnerships (PPP) and research institutes on vocational training.


  • Strengthening institutional capacities of public and private higher education institutions including research institutes, teacher-training colleges and institutes, universities, community colleges and the relevant official departments and ministries responsible for higher education) to teach, train, conduct research and provide community service; to contribute to development; and to promote professional development opportunities institutional linkages and exchange programess. [through Nathan Associates Inc., Academy of Educational Development, Inc, JBS International, Inc]
  • Improving early childhood education, primary education and secondary education delivered in formal or non-formal settings. It includes literacy, numeracy and other basic skills programmes for youth and adults. [through Personal Services Contractors – USAID, RTI International]

Big ambitions, tight flows

As a whole, a worrying trend is that for the first time since 1997, total aid fell in 2011. In the eight years until 2010, aid to education increased by a hefty 77%; in 2010 it started to stagnate. The three donors that made the biggest increases in 2009 reduced their funding in 2010 (UNESCO 2012).

The expectation is that aid for the education sector will likewise do the same since it has always received a relatively constant share of total aid since 2002, and by inference a similar thing will happen to aid for youth and Adult Education, especially for the already marginalised non-formal sector.

At the threshold of a new global chapter of common dreams for a new future – though we hemmed and we hawed and we debated with passion for a new set of development goals – we are at risk of getting stymied in our efforts. We may be facing a reversal in gains we’ve had so far in pushing for quality education and Lifelong Learning for all: children, youth, women and men. It must be remembered that there are now 7 billion reasons to keep the lifeblood of resources flowing.



1 / The Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post2015 Development Agenda titled: “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development”

2 / They agreed on The Manila Statement on ODA for Education which is available at http://bit.ly/17Pr1Hf

3 / Study On The Level of Realisation of the Objectives of EFA in Mali regarding Non-Formal Education

4 / More Information at http://bit.ly/144luPm

5 / Some donors like ADB, China and India, do not report to the DAC.

6 / Total percentages do not add up to 100% due to rounding errors.


Castillo, R. (2011): Developing Civil Society’s Policy ‘Asks’ on ODA for Education. In: ODA for Education in Asia and the Pacific. ASPBAE.

Global Partnership for Education (2013): Consolidated quarterly Financial Report for the Quarter ending 31 March 2013. Available at http://bit.ly/1byILe4

Global Partnership for Education: Strategic Plan 2012–2015: Available at http://bit.ly/141CZA6

High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (May 2013): A New Global Partnership: Eradicate poverty and transform economies through sustainable development. The Report of the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Available at http://bit.ly/1aF1nGJ

UNESCO (2012): EFA Global Monitoring Report 2012, p. 134–145.


About the Author

Raquel Castillo has worked for two decades with civil society on policy research, policy advocacy and lobbying. She was the first National Coordinator of E-Net Philippines, a coalition campaigning on equitable access for quality Education for All (EFA), alternative learning for youth and recognition for the work of grassroots educators. Ms. Castillo was the Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator of the Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE), and helped mobilise ASPBAE’s constituencies to maximise regional and international platforms such as the CONFINTEA VI, the ASEAN Summits, the Asia-Europe Meeting, the UNESCO/UNICEF-led Thematic
Working Group on EFA. She was also part of the Working Groups on Decent Learning and Decent Work of the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE). She continues to advise ASPBAE on advocacy issues, particularly around Lifelong Learning, quality education, recognition and accreditation of prior learning. She has recently initiated a network of individual professionals in the Philippines who volunteer their specific expertise to promote Stakeholder Partnerships for Education and Lifelong Learning (SPELL).


Stakeholder Partnerships for Education and Lifelong Learning (SPELL)
Unit 4 Casal Bldg, No. 15 Anonas St., Quezon City 1102
The Philippines


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