By Jonathan Jourde, Communications Officer, IIEP Pôle de Dakar


When determining education policy goals, political ambitions and high expectations can often be at odds with limited resources. Policy-making seeks to reconcile both of these conflicting forces by engaging in trade-offs. 

Identifying education policy goals inevitably means coming to terms with budgetary parameters. This involves identifying which goals are realistic and what possible means of achieving them should be adopted. Trade-offs in education policy are based on this process of weighing up various scenarios that focus on the aims of the education sector. This means pinpointing the needs of each educational level – from early childhood to higher education – and estimating their implicit costs. Such needs assessment and education policy option cost estimates are central to action taken by IIEP Pôle de Dakar in support of national staff teams. In practice, this needs assessment exercise is based on a financial simulation model of main education system indicators. The model may contain several hundred possible options and objectives that need to be defined.


A needs assessment is inherently factoriented. For example, to achieve a given level of sectoral coverage – say, 100 per cent of children enrolled in primary schools – it will look at how many schools will have to be built and how many teachers recruited, how much will be needed in terms of teaching and play facilities, and how many administrative staff should be employed. It also estimates what levels of financial resources will be required to achieve these education policy goals. Various scenarios for achieving these goals will then be defined and quantified, in terms of school construction, the average salary of teachers, the number of teaching hours and the amount of scholarships. A key variable affecting all concerns is the student-teacher ratio. Achieving smaller classes means employing more teachers, thus leaving a smaller budget earmarked for other expenditure. It is important to fix a relatively competitive salary to attract quality teachers while also enabling the recruitment of enough teachers to achieve acceptable ratios without compromising attainment standards. If these two needs are not reconciled, the system will tend to regulate itself, either through the student-teacher ratio as it moves upwards, or through the recruitment of community teachers paid directly by parents (to compensate for the lack of government-paid teachers). In the long-term, the effects may be highly problematic.


Technical and financial questions such as how many schools will need to be built continually arise during the course of education policy trade-offs. However, it should be emphasized that such questions do not only concern technical experts. On the contrary, the political dimension is central to any decision. For example, if a country with a 60 per cent completion rate in primary education is determined to reach 100 per cent and the government is politically committed to this target, 100 per cent becomes a non-negotiable objective. One response here may be to postpone its achievement and set a target date compatible with the resources on hand. However, the political goal is always a government responsibility. The country makes its own decisions regarding the model, and endorses its own scenario for achieving the results of future education policy. It is the government that stakes its credibility on the options selected and the realism of its policy aims will be instrumental in determining the model’s sustainability.


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