Education plans: turning intent into action

   By Anton De Grauwe


Education plans serve several purposes: they bring a variety of stakeholders together around a common vision; they help ensure that this vision can be implemented through a careful identification of the most relevant and feasible strategies, and through well-argued estimates about the plan’s cost and financing; and they are tools for mobilizing the human and financial resources needed to improve an education system. 

But the simple existence of a plan is not enough. When plans are well designed but not implemented, the entire vision is threatened. While overly ambitious plans pose one challenge, the more pressing concern is that ministries of education and their partners often think their work is finished once the plan document exists. In this scenario, the plan is quickly forgotten and the original enthusiasm channeled into its creation may turn into disappointment, and even cynicism about the value of any plan. 

Plan implementation is, on the whole, more difficult than plan design. While the latter demands technical skills, as well as strategic and political intelligence, the work can be undertaken by a small group of centrally placed, usually like-minded, experts. However, turning the plan’s intent into action depends on a much wider group of people, working at different levels, with varying, at times contrasting opinions and interests. Implementation quickly encounters the constraints of an inflexible reality: limited budgets, insufficient institutional capacity, the power of habits, and the inevitable slowness of bureaucratic structures. 

An education ministry –and even less so an external partner – cannot guarantee the successful implementation of a plan, but they can and should develop strategies that will facilitate this. 

The feasibility of the plan itself is important. A plan has to take into consideration all of the risks and the financial, technical, and institutional limitations it could face in implementation. Those who will play an important role in bringing a plan to life should be present during the design phase, for this can help build ownership and improve the plan’s relevance from the start. 

During the execution phase, a ministry’s role shifts towards the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of the plan. The ultimate purpose of M&E is to learn about how the plan’s content and implementation can be improved. An effective M&E framework goes beyond the usual administrative reporting so that new lessons can be learnt, but does not become so heavy and demanding that an inordinate amount of time is spent on reports and review meetings and that professional staff feel overburdened by control. 

The linkage between plans and budgets – through the preparation of Mid-Term Expenditure Frameworks and operational plans – is also essential for creating the fiscal predictability needed to translate the plan into action. 

However, the main brake on putting the plan into effect is often not the scarcity of financial resources, but the weak capacity of the educational administration. Overcoming that weakness requires a profound analysis of its causes and a well-argued identification of appropriate strategies – an area of work that IIEP is turning into a systematic practice within any education sector analysis, which precedes or accompanies the design of the plan. 

One of those capacity constraints relates to the absence of technical expertise in the local offices, which are key to the plan’s success. Work to strengthen such local expertise, including through reinforcing national training providers, is crucial and valuable, especially in countries that are in a process of decentralization. 

The combination of these different strategies will help ensure that the education plan brings together not only central ministry staff and their close partners, but the whole education community. An education plan is not only a nicely presented document – the pride of the planning department –but a genuine tool for change that can guide action from the central ministry to the classroom. 



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