Learning from the Dutch contribution to basic education

14 March 2012
A decade of successes, but challenges remain still high


Marjan Kroon du ministère néerlandais des Affaires étrangères lors du débat stratégique

On 8 March 2012, IIEP organized a Strategic seminar focusing on the Dutch contribution (1999-2009) to the development of basic education within 18 partner countries.

Phil Compernolle, of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explained that a policy review (undertaken by the Ministry in 2008) was able to demonstrate major achievements in the partner countries, in particular in terms of provision of access. The review also emphasized the improvements that still need to be addressed in terms of quality and equity. In particular, it stressed the need to find ways to reach the many children who are still out of school.

To illustrate these conclusions, Patrick Mangenda Lufunda, a senior planning officer and current IIEP trainee from Zambia, presented the findings of the review concerning Zambia, a major partner country of the Netherlands. Both the Government of Zambia and major donors have made basic education a priority since 2000, and enrolments in Zambian basic education have increased from 1.7 to 3.5 million pupils in 2010. Examination results and pupil performance tests, however, show that learning achievement remains low, probably due to the fact that the system has been accommodating many more children from disadvantaged backgrounds who need stronger support. The support to basic education in Zambia was thus considered to be “unfinished business” in the Dutch evaluation, as well as by the speaker.

But who will be able to help countries like Zambia meet their goals remains an open question needing to be addressed. Indeed, Marjan Kroon, basic education expert at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, announced during the debate that basic education has now ceased to be the top priority of the Dutch development cooperation, and that funding for it has already been cut back considerably. Funding to education will now need to be justified, she explained, within the context of the new priorities of the Dutch development cooperation – education and peace building, food security, sanitation and water and sexual and reproductive health and rights. 

The lively discussion following the presentations focused on how the development of education systems necessitates long-term vision and support, and the danger that the sustainability of some major achievements may be compromised in the present context of an emerging “donor fatigue” to education.


Overview of the Dutch contribution

In the period 1999–2009, the Netherlands contributed more than €3.5 billion to basic education, becoming the world’s fourth-largest donor in the sector. The bulk of funding went to education in partner countries, but a substantial amount was also channelled through multilateral agencies, such as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE, formerly the Fast Track Initiative) and UNICEF’s Education in Emergencies Post-Crisis Transition Program. In order to reach out more directly to the local levels, NGOs and educational institutions were supported as well. In its partner countries, the Netherlands favoured the sectoral approach to education, and its support thus aimed to be aligned with the principles of donor harmonization and coordination as established in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.