Innovation factory for better education

GIZ’s BACKUP Initiative is supporting African countries in providing education for all. And it’s breaking new ground. It’s an initiative that is more important than ever since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Education is a basic right, yet 260 million children and young people around the world do not go to school. This figure is for 2020 – before the pandemic – and COVID-19 has made the situation worse. Africa has been particularly hard hit by school closures and loss of teaching. The main problems are poverty and patchy education financing: many African countries lack the money to provide good, free or even online school education for all. There are not enough well-trained teachers, many state school buildings are run down, and there is a shortage of technology equipment, including calculators and computers.

This problem is not new. The German BACKUP Initiative – Education in Africa programme of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has been supporting African countries in applying for international financial support and improving their education systems since 2011.

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is crucial to education financing in Africa and is also the world’s largest fund for basic education. GPE brings together the governments of more than 65 developing countries and emerging economies and around 20 donor countries, along with international organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the private sector. Since it was launched in 2002, GPE has provided partner countries with almost USD 5 billion in financing and enabled 160 million children to access high-quality education.


Applying for education financing requires know-how

Developing countries and emerging economies can apply for GPE financing, but the application process is demanding: countries have to submit a national education strategy along with a series of analyses and implementation plans. This requires specialist expertise to a level that many governments simply do not have. And once funds are authorised, many countries also need advice on implementing education projects.

This is where the BACKUP Initiative comes in: it supports African countries in applying for GPE financing and successfully implementing education projects, providing specialist advice, short-term financial assistance and international networks. The commissioning party is the German Development Ministry (BMZ). By the end of 2020, the BACKUP Initiative had supported around 225 national or regional measures in a total of 40 African countries. A key characteristic of the BACKUP Initiative is that it becomes involved only when countries request it to do so. This means that it can ensure that support reaches those who need it.


Speaking with one voice

The aim of the GIZ programme is to work with African partners to shape and improve educational planning: as Ronja Hölzer, who heads the initiative at GIZ, notes, ‘We see ourselves as an innovation factory. We and our partners have done pioneering work and experimented with lots of new things – and these have often been so successful that other countries have also adopted them.’

She recalls, for example, the support provided in 2014 by the BACKUP Initiative to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in conducting its annual review as part of implementation of its national education strategy. ‘The review was designed to be a consultative process involving many partners, including NGOs and development organisations, and was crucial to obtaining further financial support from GPE,’ she explains. ‘The Government had never taken on anything on this scale before, so we made an experienced advisor available who provided help with preparations, workshop moderation and report writing.’ GPE was able to provide further financing, enabling the DR Congo to continue to put its education plan into action. The process remains a role model for other countries.

The BACKUP Initiative has also helped to boost coordination between African GPE members, enabling them to speak with one voice when key decisions are made. Exchange of this kind was entirely new. As Hölzer recalls, ‘We organised gatherings before key GPE meetings and helped African countries to voice their interests more effectively within GPE, increasing their influence.’ This was so successful that such preparatory meetings are now standard and are organised and financed by GPE for all member countries of the Global South.

Civil society as a ‘critical friend’

The BACKUP Initiative does not exclusively support ministries of education, however, but also provides assistance to civil society. ‘It is important to have NGOs as a “critical friend” within the education sector and to involve and empower them within national education processes as a corrective to governments,’ says Ronja Hölzer.

One example is its cooperation with the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), an umbrella association of educational NGOs around the world. The BACKUP Initiative has supported GCE in giving many African educational NGOs a strong voice and equipping them to negotiate with governments.

‘With support from GIZ, we have developed online courses for NGOs,’ says GCE Global Coordinator Grant Kasowanjete. ‘They can learn about education financing and advocacy work: how do I build relationships with government, and how do I maintain those links?’ GCE and GIZ have also devised digital monitoring systems for auditing education budgets. These enable NGOs to monitor what governments are really spending on education – and whether they are sticking to their plans.

New focus: digitalisation in education

Since 2021, the fund- and demand-based approach taken by the BACKUP Initiative has adopted a new focus in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: digitalisation in education in Africa. In many countries, digitalisation lags behind, making online teaching difficult or impossible. Technical infrastructure is a particular problem, with inadequate access to the internet, mobile telephony, radio and TV and even, in some cases, to an electricity supply.

The European Union (EU) is a further commissioning party of the programme. With support from the EU and BMZ, GIZ and the Belgian development agency Enabel have developed the new #TeamEurope initiative ResiCOdi. The objective of ResiCOdi is to deploy digital solutions to strengthen the education and health sectors and make them more resilient, including in relation to future crises. Enabel focuses on health and vocational training, while GIZ continues to concentrate on basic education. Eight African countries and a range of local partners, including ministries and NGOs, are involved in this new initiative.

As Ronja Hölzer argues, ‘Digitalisation is the issue of the future in providing education for all.’ She adds that COVID-19 has dramatically exacerbated the situation and turned priorities upside down. With 10 years’ experience, the BACKUP Initiative has been able to respond rapidly: ‘We help our partners to use digital solutions to crisis-proof their education systems and to improve individuals’ prospects.’

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