28 October 2015

First RISE Working Papers

The first set of working papers from RISE (Research on Improving Systems of Education) are out.

Paul Glewwe and Karthik Muralidharan have an updated review of everything we know about rigorous evaluations of interventions to improve learning in developing countries (paper here, my comment on the RISE blog here).

Rukmini Banerji describes how a disruptive pedagogical innovation spread (and didn’t) in Bihar, and Kara Hanson tell us what education can learn from health systems research.

Mari Oye also has a blogpost up about the UN Myworld survey and the SDGs.

Coming soon, Lant’s consolidated explanation of what an Education System actually is, grand general theory of why some things work sometimes but not all the time, and tentative framework for diagnosing systems for constraints and prioritising action. Watch this space.

09 October 2015

We have no idea what countries are spending on education

Listen to some international education people and you get the impression that the education problem is mostly solved if we could just spend more money. The story goes something like “Poor countries spend X on education, if they could 1.5X then all the kids could get a good education, they can’t afford 1.5X, so we should fill the gap with aid."

The reality is, even if it was the case that just filling the gap would solve the problem (which is dubious to say the least) , we don’t really even know what the gap is.

This is Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics:
"governments need detailed and disaggregated data to ensure that their resources are allocated equitably and effectively within their education systems. At the same time, donors need the data to better evaluate whether the aid they provide is an incentive for governments to increase spending commitments or if they are crowding-out domestic resources.

For the moment, the availability and completeness of education finance data is unfit for these purposes, with less than one-half of countries able to regularly report key information, such as total government expenditure on education” (my emphasis)
Nevermind the purpose of accountability and transparency to the citizens of developing countries...

Good luck to the new Commission on Financing Global Education!

Does foreign aid harm political institutions?

Good news for reflective aid business -types who like agonising about what the point of it all is and sometimes wondering whether we’re even making things worse (err... talking about a friend... not me...). Also even good news for developing countries I suppose.

A new paper in the Journal of Development Economics by Sam Jones & Finn Tarp* using new data on aid (from aiddata.org) and institutions (from the Quality of Government Institute) finds no evidence that aid has undermined institutions on average, if anything there seems to be a positive relationship. I’m less confident in the positive findings than reassured that in *none* of their various different approaches is the relationship negative.

Now you’re probably thinking “what about the 2006 CGD review paper by Todd Moss, Gunilla Pettersson & Nicolas Van de Walle, described by Blattman as "the best summary I know of the evidence”, which concluded that aid could have a harmful effect on institutional development”? Well the word “could” is important there - that conclusion was somewhat speculative, and this new evidence from Jones & Tarp fills an important gap in terms of systematic quantitative evidence on this topic, and should probably shift your priors at least a little in that direction.

I wonder what Angus Deaton would say?


* Thanks to UNU-WIDER the paper is open-access, which is great for what it is, but obviously having public institutions pay private journal owners something greater than the cost of production isn’t an ideal long-run equilibrium, and we really need something that fundamentally shifts the whole publishing industry.

02 October 2015

The State of the Humanitarian Aid System 2015

“ALNAP” launched today the 2015 “State of the Humanitarian Aid System” Report.

One of the key findings highlighted in their fancy infographics:
"44% of aid recipients surveyed were not consulted on their needs by aid agencies prior to the start of their programmes”.
In totally unrelated news, the DFID-ODI-CGD High Level Panel on Humanitarian Cash Transfers chaired by Owen Barder published it’s report a few weeks ago, arguing that much more use should be made of cash transfers, because most of the time they are more cost effective than giving out stuff.

In further totally unrelated news, DFID published two press releases today highlighting substantial non-cash aid in response to humanitarian crises in the Central African Republic and Malawi.

In Owen’s words: "the questions should always be asked: “Why not cash? And, if not now, when?”"