Nickeled & Dimed

Penny for your thoughts?

We are accepting articles on our new email:

The effectiveness of aid in primary education landscape in Mozambique



The education sector in Mozambique is highly dependent on foreign aid and has been benefited by large amounts of financial inflows. However, the quality of education has been falling in Mozambique due to a number of factors, including the lack of clear policies and qualified staff, poor evaluation and monitoring criteria, and a very inefficient management of external aid resources.

In this context the present work intends to discuss the effectiveness of aid in primary education in Mozambique. The main objective is to assess the implications of foreign aid on the development of primary education in Mozambique.

To reach the objectives the paper is going to have the following structure: the first section will bring historical background of aid effectiveness, the second section will discuss why effectiveness matters, the third section is an overview of aid effectiveness in education, and finally the fourth section is the assessment of aid effectiveness in the case of Mozambique.

Aid effectiveness

  1. Historical background

The international aid system was born out of the ruins of the Second World War when the United States used their aid funds to help rebuild Europe. The system came of age during the Cold War era from the 1960s to the 1980s. During this time, foreign aid was often used to support client states in the developing world. Even though funds were generally better used in countries that were well governed, they were directed toward allies.

After the end of the Cold War, the declared focus of official aid began to move further towards the alleviation of poverty and the promotion of development. The countries that were in the most need and poverty became more of a priority. Once the Cold War ended, western donors were able to enforce aid conditionality better because they no longer had geopolitical interests in recipient countries. This allowed donors to condition aid on the basis that recipient governments make economic changes as well as democratic changes. It is against this background that the international aid effectiveness movement began taking shape in the late 1990s. Donor governments and aid agencies began to realize that their many different approaches and requirements were imposing huge costs on developing countries and making aid less effective. They began working with each other and with developing countries to harmonize their work in order to improve its effectiveness. 

According to OECD1, the aid effectiveness movement picked up steam in 2002 at the International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico, which established the Monterrey Consensus. There, the international community agreed to increase its funding for development but acknowledged that increasing the funds alone was not enough. Donors and developing countries alike wanted to know that aid would be used as effectively as possible. They wanted it to play its optimum role in helping poor countries achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the set of targets agreed upon by 192 countries in 2000 which aimed to halve world poverty by 2015. A new paradigm of aid as a partnership, rather than a one-way relationship between donor and recipient, was evolving.

In 2003, aid officials and representatives of donor and recipient countries gathered in Rome for the High-Level Forum on Harmonization. At this meeting, convened by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), donor agencies committed to working with developing countries to better coordinate and streamline their activities at the country level. They agreed to take stock of concrete progress before meeting again in Paris in early 2005. In Paris, countries from around the world endorsed the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, a more comprehensive attempt to change the way donor and developing countries do business together, based on principles of partnership. Three years on, in 2008, the Third High-Level Forum in Accra, Ghana took stock of progress and built on the Paris Declaration to accelerate the pace of change. The principles agreed upon in the declarations are, however, not always practised by donors and multilateral bodies.

The Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness happened in Busan, Korea (29 November-1 December 2011), over 3000 delegates met to review progress on implementing the principles of the Paris Declaration. They also discussed how to maintain the relevance of the aid effectiveness agenda in the context of the evolving development landscape. Busan declaration for the first time established an agreed framework for development co-operation that embraces traditional donors, South-South co-operators, the BRICS, civil society organizations and private funders.

Riddell & Niño-Zarazúa (2016) argue that efforts to improve aid effectiveness have gained significant momentum in the health sector, due in large part to the work of the International Health Partnership (IHP+). Created in 2007, IHP+ is a group of partners committed to improving the health of citizens in developing countries. These partners work together to put international principles for aid effectiveness and development cooperation into practice. IHP+ mobilizes national governments, development agencies, civil societies and others to support a single, country-led national strategy in a well-coordinated way.

Critiques of the effect of aid have become more vociferous as the global campaigns to increase aid have gained momentum, particularly since 2000. There are those who argue that aid is never effective. Most aid practitioners agree that aid has not always worked to its maximum potential but that it has achieved a significant effect when it has been properly directed and managed, particularly in areas such as health and basic education. There is a broad agreement that aid is only one factor in the complex process needed for poor countries to develop and that economic growth and good governance are prerequisites.

According to Michaelowa & Weber (2007), for aid to be maximized efficiently and most optimally, donations need to be directed to areas such as local industries, franchises, or profit centers in third world countries. By doing so, these actions can sustain health-related spending and result in growth in the long run.

The OECD has explored—through peer reviews and other work by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) – the reasons why aid has and has not worked. This has resulted in a body of best practices and principles that can be applied globally to make aid work better. The ultimate aim of aid effectiveness efforts today is to help developing countries build well-functioning local structures and systems so that they are able to manage their own development and reduce their dependency on aid.

  1. Why effectiveness matters?

As recognized by the OECD’s Working Party on Aid Effectiveness, at the beginning of the 21st century it became apparent that promoting widespread and sustainable development was not only about amounts of aid given but also about how aid was given.

Aid flows have significantly increased over the last decades, but at the same time aid has become increasingly fragmented. There has been an explosion in the number of donors, and while the number of projects has multiplied, their average size has dropped. Small projects being often limited in size, scope and duration, they result in little lasting benefit beyond the immediate effect. With more players, aid has become less predictable, less transparent and more volatile.

According to Kharas (2008) information, at the donor’s and the recipient’s level, is often poor, incomplete and difficult to compare with other data. Beneficiaries’ feedback and formal project evaluations are also rare. Aid is predictable when partner countries can be confident about the amount and the timing of aid disbursement. Not being predictable has a cost: The deadweight loss associated with volatility has ranged on average from 10% to 20% of a developing country’s programmable aid from the European Union in recent years.

The governance of aid presents itself as complex, bureaucratized and fragmented, with evident diseconomies of numbers and coordination, which have meant an increase in transaction costs. This is true for recipient countries, forced to neglect their domestic obligations to cope with requests and meetings with donors (given the lack of capacity at the country level and the precedence given to responding to donor demands) but also for donors and, ultimately, for beneficiaries. In fact, each project has fixed costs of design, negotiation and implementation, which reduce dollars available for final beneficiaries.

Some critics argue that aid has encouraged kleptocracies, corruption, aid-dependency and a series of detrimental economic effects and vicious downward spirals of development in developing countries. Furthermore, this easy money offers governments an exit from the contract between them and their electorate: the contract that states that they must provide public goods in exchange for taxes. In short, it allows the state to abdicate its responsibilities towards its people.

Burnside and Dollar (200) provide empirical evidence that the effect of aid on GDP growth is positive and significant in developing countries with “sound” institutions and economic policies (i.e. open trade, fiscal and monetary discipline); but aid has less or no significant effect in countries with “poor” institutions and policies. As economists at the World Bank, Burnside and Dollar advocated selectivity in aid allocation. They argue that aid should be systematically allocated to countries conditional on “good” policy.

There is an increasing number of studies and literature that argue aid alone is not enough to lift developing countries out of poverty. Whether or not aid actually significantly affects growth, it does not operate in a vacuum. An increasing number of donor country policies can either complement or hinder development, such as trade, investment, or migration.

Another issue that is pointed as a determinant for aid effectiveness is transparency. Transparency can be defined as a basic expression of mutual accountability. Mutual accountability can only work if there is a global culture of transparency that demands provision of information through a set of rules and behavioural norms, which are difficult to enforce in the case of official development cooperation. In particular, for emerging economy donors and private development assistance, these norms are only at a nascent stage. Transparency offers a valuable answer to insecurity, making aid “predictable” and “reliable”. Transparency has been shown to improve service delivery and to reduce opportunities for diversion and therefore corruption.

Several critics suggest that donors should agree on adopting a standardized format for providing information on volume, allocation and results, such as the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), or other similar standards, and commit to improving recipient countries’ databases with technical, financial and informational support. Making aid data public and comparable among donors, would likely encourage a process of positive emulation towards a better usage of public funds.

According to Droop et al (2008), to improve accountability while building evaluation capabilities in aid recipient countries and systematically collecting beneficiaries’ feedback, different mechanisms to evaluate and monitor transparency should be considered, such as independent third-party reviews, peer reviews or mutual reviews.

  1. Aid effectiveness in education

It is internationally agreed that education is not only a relevant objective in itself but also a potentially highly important factor driving overall economic development. The “Education for All” (EFA) World Conferences in 1990 and 2000, and the education specific UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG 2) focus in particular on primary education, which can be considered as a basic human right. Generally, basic education is recognized as part of any multidimensional concept of poverty reduction.

Existing literature about the impact of development aid on educational outcomes provide some evidence for a positively significant relationship, but the impact appears to be far below what would be necessary to reach the EFA objectives and MDG 2. Empirical results for the education sector also suggest considerable differences in aid effectiveness depending on political governance.

The question whether development aid is effective in improving living conditions in poor countries has been examined for the last few decades. With the recent availability of better data and estimation techniques, many authors establish a positive impact of foreign aid on development. This is in sharp contrast, however, to other authors who argue that aid is rather ineffective.

An initial analysis of aid effectiveness in the education sector was carried out by Michaelowa and Weber (2007). They provide some evidence for a positive effect of total aid spent in the education sector on primary enrolment and completion. Their estimations suggest that, on average, an increase in aid for education by 1 percent of recipient country’s GDP implies an increase in primary completion rates by 1.6 percentage points per year.1 However, this effect is quite small given that total aid to education as a share of GDP currently varies between 0.3 – 0.5 percent. According to these estimates, to reach an aid induced increase in primary completion rates by 1.6 percentage points, aid allocated to education would thus have to increase at least by 200 percent.

If the aid effort was maintained over about six years, this would lead to a 10 percent increase in primary completion. The most favourable coefficient estimate of 2.5 would imply that this 10 percent increase could be reached within four years.

Burnside and Dollar (2000) analyzing broadly the effectiveness of aid claim that aid might work, but only under favourable political and institutional conditions in recipient countries. In the same line Weber (2006) suggest that aid effectiveness in education clearly depends on various dimensions of governance.

One possible explanation for the rather weak relationship could be that aid to education is not effectively oriented towards the central objective of universal primary education, and that much aid has in fact been allocated to the secondary and tertiary level.

Riddell & Niño-Zarazúa (2016) argue that there is a positive contribution that aid has made to education in aid-recipient countries, the most tangible outcome of which is the contribution that aid makes to expanding enrolments, especially of basic education. However, there is a considerable gap between what aid does and what it could potentially achieve, especially in relation to its contribution to improvements in educational quality.

Foreign aid to education can both focus on and contribute greatly to some of the building blocks to improved learning, but drawing a direct causal connection between the foreign aid provided and learning achievements involves far more than merely counting the number of pupils enrolled in primary school and assessing progress towards universal enrolment, one of the Millennium Development Goals.

Riddell & Niño-Zarazúa (ibid) argue that there is little doubt that global development efforts have contributed to the significant progress towards achieving the goal of universal primary education.

Primary school enrolment rates have improved in every single region of the world since 1990. In the developing world, in particular, it increased on average from 80% in 1990 to 90% in 2012. In sub-Saharan Africa, the world region with lowest primary school enrolment rates figures considerably improved, from 52 to 78% in the same period. Girls have benefited greatly from this process. The gender gap in primary school enrolment has nearly disappeared in all regions.

For aid to be effective at improving the quality of education, a system-wide approach involving more actively the governments of recipient countries, NGOs and other actors such as the private sector, will be required. This will be challenging though as a donor (and incumbent governments in recipient countries) are driven by the desire for quick and demonstrable results, which oftentimes lead to the heavy reliance on short-lived projects that limit the capacity of aid agencies to build sustainable institutional capacity. A major challenge for the future global education agenda will be to reconcile the discretionary objectives of donor countries (and the priorities of developing countries) with the ambitious goals and targets of the SDGs.

  1. Aid effectiveness in education – the case of Mozambique

External assistance to the education sector in Mozambique has since 1998 been provided in the context of a sector program, first the Education Sector Strategic Plan (1998-2005), focusing mainly on primary education, and then the current Strategic Plan for Education and Culture (2006-2011), with a more comprehensive coverage of the sector. At the level of policy and strategy issues, dialogue between the Ministry of Education and the donor agencies have gradually matured towards a clearer shared understanding of the appropriate roles of both parties, resulting in increased Mozambican ownership of the sector program. A growing number of donor agencies have joined a system of pooled funds (FASE) that have been included in the Government of Mozambique budget. Parallel to FASE, bilateral project arrangements and NGO projects continue to operate, albeit on a diminishing scale.

Projects have increasingly been identified and planned to fit into the framework of the sector plans, whereas FASE has been an instrument of flexible funding to various components of the plans. The great majority of the education sector donors are participating in sector coordination. Capacity has been a constant concern throughout the lifetime of the sector plans. Important achievements are evident in building capacity, but the broader context of public sector administration is not conducive to utilization of the capacities that are being developed.

Takala (2008) argues that The Education Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP) of Mozambique was designed as a result of a consensus, achieved between the Government of Mozambique and the principal donor agencies providing support to the education sector, concerning adoption of the Sector-Wide Approach (SWAp).

The three main objectives of the ESSP were: 1) to expand access to and equity in education; 2) to improve the quality and relevance of education; 3) to strengthen institutional capacity in the education sector. In terms of coverage of the sector, the focus of the plan was on primary schooling, but activities in non-formal education for adults, secondary school construction and development of a strategy for vocational education were also included.

The emergence of the EFA Fast-Track Initiative (FTI) as a source of additional funding created initially a confusing situation, where the requirements of the FTI for analysis, planning and negotiation were superimposed on the already ongoing sector program process. Mozambique submitted its first FTI proposal in November 2002. Subsequent to a positive assessment of a revised plan, the international FTI donors´ meeting of March 2003 endorsed the Mozambican plan as qualifying for additional funding, but also communicated the message that additional work would need to be done on both policy and implementation issues.

In 2006 the new sector plan was introduced which entitled a Strategic Plan for Education and Culture (SPEC) and covers the period 2006-2011. In primary education, the quantitative targets of the SPEC were to raise the primary level net enrollment ratio from the 81 % figure of 2005 to 97 % in 2010 and the rate of primary school completion (among those children that are admitted at Grade 1 from the 33 % figure of 2005 to 69 % in 2010. The SPEC document projected that external funding to support the education sector in Mozambique would more than double in the period 2006-2011. In 2007, the decision was made to grant a substantial amount of additional funds to Mozambique from the FTI Catalytic Fund, financed by the agencies already supporting SPEC. As a result, the total volume of external support is approaching half of the entire funding of the education sector. Takala (ibid).

Many authors argue that there is a problem of low learning outcomes in primary schools in Mozambique. Given the current political unrest, economic hardships, and problems with gender parity, primary education has suffered in quality. Among other reasons, these contribute to poor literacy instruction and therefore, low reading outcomes for children in primary school.

Fortunately, Mozambique has shown great improvement in gender parity in primary school. Gender Parity Index (GPI) increased from 0.76 in 1990 to 0.91 in 2012 for enrollment, but girls are still at a disadvantage. GPI for completion of primary school has also increased from 0.64 in 1990 to 0.86 in 2012, despite a decrease in 2001, but still lag behind enrollment. In spite of successful efforts to increase the access to education in Mozambique and enrollment rates in the primary school, problems with student retention still exist. A potential cause for high dropout rates could be due to poor learning outcomes. If a child cannot understand the material taught in class, there is a higher chance of them dropping out of school.

The rapid expansion of Mozambique’s primary education system has placed intense pressure on school management, teaching personnel, and the overall quantity and quality of effective classroom instruction, resulting in a large number of overcrowded multi-shift schools, growing student/teacher ratios, and plummeting reading and math test scores. (UNDP, SARDC, UEM, 2000).

Finally, it is important to underline that the expansion of increased access is a positive achievement for Mozambique’s education system, but unfortunately, it comes at the cost of quality. In turn, literacy rates remain low and the cycle of illiteracy continues. There are many challenges to improving the education system in Mozambique, and specifically learning outcomes among children in primary education.


List of citations and references

Burnside, C & Dollar, D 2000,” Aid, Policies, and Growth” The American Economic Review. 90 (4): 847–868. doi:10.1257/aer.90.4.847.

De Renzio, P & Hanlon, J 2007, Contested Sovereignty in Mozambique: The Dilemmas of Aid Dependence, University College, Oxford.

Droop, J, Isenman, P., and Mlalazi, B 2008, “Mutual accountability in Aid Effectiveness: International-Level Mechanisms”, Briefing Note, n.3, Oxford Policy Management.

Edgren, G 2002, “Aid is an Unreliable Joystick”, Development and Change 33(22): 261-267.

Hanlon, J 1991, Mozambique: Who Calls the Shots? Indiana University Press. London.

Kharas, H 2008, “Measuring the Cost of Aid Volatility”. Wolfensohn Centre for Development, Working Parper 3, Brookings Institution, Washington D.C.

Manning, C & Malbrough, M 2009, “Bilateral Donors and Aid Conditionality in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: The Case of Mozambique”, Journal of Modern African Studies, 48(1): 143–169. Cambridge University Press.

Michaelowa, K, Weber, A 2007,” Aid Effectiveness in Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Education In: Background Paper Prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2008”, Education for All by 2015: will we make it?(2008/ED/EFA/MRT/PI/51).

Mcgillivray, M, Feeny, S, Hermes, N. and Lensink, R 2006, “Controversies over the impact of development aid: it works; it doesn’t; it can, but that depends”, Journal of International Development, vol. 18, no.7, p.1031–1050

Riddell, A & Niño-Zarazúa , M 2016, “The effectiveness of foreign aid to education What can be learned?” , International Journal of Educational Development, V. 48, pp 23–36.

Takala, T 2008 “Government and Donor Efforts for Improved Aid Effectiveness in the Education Sector – A Case Study of Mozambique”, Background paper prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2009.

UNDP, SARDC, UEM, 2000,” Mozambique, National Human Development Report 2000: Education and Human Development:Trajectory, lessons and challenges for the 21st Century, p.


Dionísio Missomal, the author, is a student of O.P. Jindal Global University 

Featured image source: World Education Photo Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: