From Jordan to Guinea, unearthing the results of education sector plans

16 February 2021

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The Telimele school in Conakry, Guinea.

Behind the teacher, the canteen meals, textbooks and school libraries, and increasingly, online classes, are educational plans and policies. It is here – behind the scenes – that IIEP-UNESCO supports countries with educational planning and management. From creating a vision to setting feasible goals, this support boosts the capacities of national education actors to spearhead change and foster equitable and quality educations systems for all. In Jordan, this has led to strengthened leadership during the COVID-19 crisis, and in Guinea, a strong base to advocate for a major increase in national spending for education.

Results are an important aspect of educational planning: how does a plan improve learning outcomes? How does it address disparities? Results are also important for IIEP: it reveals how and where the Institute’s work develops the capacities of education ministries and their planning departments to better plan and manage education systems. That is why IIEP has recently begun pursuing outcome harvesting as a new way to unearth the results of IIEP’s capacity development work.

Better evaluation, better results

Outcome harvesting collects evidence of change – like a new policy or professional practices – and then works backwards to analyse and assess what led to it. “This is a rigorous evaluation method that has become mainstream in recent years,” explains IIEP programme specialist Anna Haas. “We train and coach ministry staff so they can perform their jobs better. But first, we – at IIEP – need to know how well we are doing our job. Then we can adapt and evolve our offer.”  

Already, Haas has led outcome harvesting for IIEP’s capacity development projects in Jordan and Guinea. “We spoke to the people who had the most knowledge about IIEP’s support, and asked them to pinpoint what has changed as a result of their Ministry having a sector plan, and the impact it has had on planning practices.” Each outcome was further verified by two individuals – or substantiators – including a senior government official and a development partner.

Reinforced planning capacities in Jordan

In Jordan, the exercise harvested 23 outcomes. A handful of these underscored a greater level of coordination within the education sector. For example, during COVID-19, all the members of the Education Sector Working Group used the education sector plan as the core reference document for creating the Emergency Plan for the pandemic. According to Haas, it is not very often that we see such diverse actors come together around the education sector plan. “The interviews with Ministry officials highlighted the convening power of the sector plan, and as a result Jordan’s Emergency Plan is not a stand-alone document, it is aligned with the country’s long-term goals and objectives.”

Leadership and the Ministry’s capacity to monitor sector performance have also been strengthened since the launch of the sector plan in 2018. For example, the Ministry now conducts an annual joint sector review of the plan to monitor progress, and the team behind the Educational Management Information System (EMIS) created a new dashboard with 40 indicators.

“The dashboard is a quantum leap for the Ministry, as for the first time we are able to put all the data on a big dashboard. It is available online and can be accessed by all decision-makers at different levels of the education system.” A senior Ministry official in Jordan

Ministry officials also reported a greater level of legitimacy to act and lead the sector. “This has direct links with IIEP’s participatory approach to planning, one where national ownership of the planning process is encouraged,” said Haas. In an interview, one official said that for the first time the Ministry designed the sector plan instead of external consultants, setting the foundation for improved plan implementation.

 “The way that the IIEP-UNESCO team worked with us in the Ministry was new to us. A big team from the Ministry was involved, around 50 people worked together. As a result, staff from all directorates now stand for and defend the plan.” A senior Ministry official in Jordan

Advocating for education: it starts with a plan

Outcome harvesting was also done in Guinea, where it looked specifically at IIEP’s support to the 2020-2029 ten-year education sector plan. While fewer outcomes were harvested – nine in total – they pointed mainly to changes at the institutional level. For example, a new regulation implemented this year has helped define the responsibilities of the ministerial units involved in planning.

“The technical support IIEP provided for the sector analysis – and in particular the institutional analysis – clarified the confusion over responsibilities in the planning process,” explained Haas. “This has now been resolved and several interviewees said that IIEP’s facilitation of discussions with key stakeholders made this important change possible.”

Another key milestone to emerge from Guinea was a strong commitment to increase the education budget going forward. In July 2020, the Prime Minister of Guinea announced a 20% increase in the 2021 budget allocations for the education sector compared to 2020, with explicit mention of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) as a national priority. This announcement came after three of the education sector ministries and their development partners advocated for greater mobilization of domestic resources for education to the Prime Minister and finance ministries. Their key argument: education now had a unified sector plan, and to meet its ambitious targets, a greater allocation of the national budget would be paramount.  

Going forward

Outcome harvesting has underscored two important elements of IIEP’s support to UNESCO Member States. First, the sector plan’s primary function is not to mobilize external recourses. Rather, it is about promoting improvements to the internal functioning of a ministry – in this sense, it is about developing sustainable capacities so countries can better plan and manage their education systems.

Second, IIEP’s participatory approach is an important asset that should not only be encouraged, but be part and parcel of every intervention. As one senior Ministry official in Guinea said: “The originality in the development of the education sector plan was that, although the national team was accompanied by IIEP, its experts never imposed their choices on the team. The strategic choices were entirely proposed to decision-makers by the national team.”