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DFID: Bilateral Support to Primary Education

The Department for International Development has successfully supported developing countries in progress against goals of universal enrolment in primary education and improved educational prospects for girls, according to a report published today by the National Audit Office. However, quality of education and levels of attainment remain low and pupil and teacher absenteeism is still too high. The report concludes that, given tight resources for education in developing countries, a greater emphasis on quality and cost-effectiveness to achieve good value for money is especially important.

DFID’s 22 priority countries have made significant progress towards universal enrolment: from typically 50 per cent of children or lower in the mid-1990s to 70 per cent to 90 per cent now. But pupil drop-out is high; typical drop-out rates are 10 per cent to 15 per cent in year one and completion of primary education is low, ranging from 57 per cent of children in Nepal to 17 per cent in Malawi. Because pupil and teacher attendance is poor, there are insufficient teaching hours. And, although pupil attainment has been poorly measured, the information that is available shows low levels of literacy and numeracy.

Since 2001 DFID, along with other donors and recipient governments, has focused on enrolment more than the quality of education. It has started to redress this imbalance but needs to focus more on key factors like teacher and pupil attendance, quality and attainment in its interventions.

Typically, salaries – mostly those of teachers – consume 90 per cent of education budgets in developing countries, yet pay is not routinely monitored. Wage-bills have reached levels which limit the affordability of educational expansion in DFID priority countries. There are other opportunities to work with governments to help raise cost-effectiveness: non-formal education initiatives designed to reach remote or migrant communities have features which could be applied successfully in formal schools.

"DFID support to primary education in developing countries has helped increase provision, with enrolment levels rising greatly, especially for girls. More emphasis now needs to be placed on quality, attainment and cost-effectiveness and DFID has begun to move in this direction. In my view it needs to do more and to take a tougher, clearer stance on the importance of cost and service performance information, and in particular indicators of education delivery and attainment if it is to make sure that its contributions achieve the maximum good effect."

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office

Notes for Editors

  • The UK is a signatory to ambitious United Nations Development Goals seeking primary education for all by 2015 and reduced illiteracy in developing countries, with all children able to complete a full course of good quality primary schooling.
  • DFID has committed to rising expenditure on education, which is planned to reach at least £1 billion in 2010-11. Some 69 per cent of this is bilateral support (country-to-country) and the rest is channelled through other organisations. DFID is one of the largest funders of primary education, alongside the World Bank and the Netherlands.
  • The NAO looked in detail at DFID's work in four countries: Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and India, which is where DFID has major education programmes and which represented, in total, 39 per cent of its bilateral education expenditure in 2007-08.
  • Fourteen of DFID's 22 priority countries are on track to achieve the enrolment goal by 2015 and progress on achieving equal numbers of boys and girls enrolled has been good, with eight countries already having achieved the goal.
  • Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  • The Comptroller and Auditor General, Amyas Morse, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 900 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

PN: 33/10