Tag Archives: DFID

Education reform in Pakistan: rhetoric and reality


Shia TretOne of the most interesting aspects of my visit to Pakistan in January this year was the informal, anecdotal information that I gathered about educational change in the Punjab, and in particular DFID’s flagship Punjab Education Support Programme II.  I should declare right at the beginning here that I used to work for DFID (between 2001 and 2004), and I am a member of their Digital Advisory Panel.  I have many friends in the Department, and I admire much of the work that they do.  I was therefore indeed shocked by what I was told and what I summarise below.

When ever the subject of this particular programme came up in conversation in Pakistan, it was always greeting with severe criticism, even derision.  Most of my conversations were with educationalists, academics, landowners, and rural people in the Punjab.  I have not shared these comments before, because they were indeed anecdotal, and I did not see the evidence with my own eyes.  Nevertheless, a report that a colleague recently shared with me by Gethin Chamberlain in the Mail on Sunday (not a paper that I ever usually read!) updated on 14th April 2016,  coincides so strongly with what I was told that I do feel it is worth sharing some of my insights here.

In summary, the Mail on Sunday report commented that:

  • “Department for International Development gives £700m to Pakistan
  • In Punjab, which gets £383m, auditor general uncovered huge corruption
  • 5,000 schools and 40,000 teachers syphoning off cash in other area, Sindh
  • Rana Mashhood is under investigation for corruption”

To be sure, such allegations undoubtedly reflect internal political battles within Pakistan, and continuing complaints about corruption more generally in the administration of agriculture in Punjab (see for example, reports in the local press about matters such as laser land levelling technology, and the widespread corruption in the Agriculture Department of the Punjab Assembly). They are also intended to add fuel to the newspaper’s campaign to “end foreign aid madness”!  However, they nevertheless reflect poorly on the role of DFID and on the implementation of this particular programme.  There is an amazing dissonance between the rhetoric of success, and what I heard on the ground in Punjab.

The DFID programme is ambitious, as highlighted in a report in 2013 by Sir Michael Barbour (DFID’s Special Representative on Education in Pakistan, and Chief Education Advisor at Pearson) entitled The Good News from Pakistan: How a revolutionary new approach to education reform shows the way forward for Pakistan and development aid everywhere.  In this, he says “This time it’s going to be different” (p.9).  The work of DFID is wide ranging, and has many elements to it, but one of Barber’s main contributions was to explore ways through which expansion in low-cost private sector educational delivery might spur the government to reform itself (pp.49-50).  The private sector is also involved heavily in other ways, with British Consultancy Firm iMC Worldwide (an International Development and Engineering Consultancy) being the main contractor in rolling out much of the school building programme on the ground, through the Humqadam initiative.  iMC maintains the rhetoric of success, claiming that “In Punjab, the programme is helping the government to meet overall provincial needs, by providing missing facilities in 16,000 schools and providing 27,000 additional classrooms”.  The Humqadam website itself provides further euphoric statements about Britain’s support for education in Pakistan, noting that “Evidence regarding Pakistan’s education opportunities comes from none other than David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Great Britain.  Following a recent visit to Pakistan, he laid the foundations for the initiation of this programme by highlighting the importance of education and Great Britain’s deep commitment, the Department of International Department (DFID), to support education sector reform and the promotion of a quality education for all school age children” (sic).  Humqadam goes on to note that they are working on school construction and rehabilitation using a £184 million allocation of funding from DFID, as well as funding from the Australian DFAT.

Irrigation and peopleThe reality, as it was relayed to me, is very different. Clearly, these are anecdotes, but the following were the main points that my colleagues mentioned:

  • They felt that the project was well behind schedule, and feared that delays would mean that delivery would thus be rushed in an attempt to catch up, leading to poor quality.  The programme was frequently described as a “joke”.  In contrast, DFID’s Development Tracker page suggests that there was a substantial over-spend in 2013/14, and a slight underspend in 2015/16, with 2014/15 being just about on budget.  Moreover, DFID’s most recent review of the project dated January 2016 had provided an overall very positive account of the work done so far, although it did note that “The school infrastructure component has been slow to perform” (p.2).
  • There was also a strong perception that those involved in the design of the project had not grasped the actual realities of the educational challenges on the ground in Punjab.  The truth of this is much more difficult to judge, but there was undoubtedly a feeling that the views of influential “outsiders”, who rarely visited schools and villages on the ground, but spent most of their time talking with senior government officials in offices in Lahore or Islamabad, had been prominent in shaping the programme.  Interestingly, I also overheard a fascinating conversation between two foreign aid workers over breakfast one day in a smart international hotel.  They were absolutely scathing in what they said about the programme in both design and delivery, and seemed to verify the comments that I had previously received from my Pakistani friends.  I so wanted to go over and ask them more, but I had felt guilty about listening to their conversation; in my defence, they were speaking so loudly that it was actually impossible not to hear what they were saying!
  • CowsFor me, though, the most important thing was what people said about the actual delivery of school building on the ground, and how it did little to counter the  power of landlords.  I was, for example, told on several occasions that some landowners used the newly built school buildings as cattle byres, and that the first thing that teachers had to do in the morning was to clean out all of the manure that had accumulated overnight before they could start teaching.  More worryingly, I was given one account whereby my interlocutor assured me that on more than one occasion a landlord’s thugs had beaten teachers and threatened to kill them if they ever returned to their new school buildings.  The reality and threat of rape for women teachers was a common complaint.  Again, I never witnessed this, but the assuredness of those who told me these stories, many of whom I deeply trust, makes me inclined to believe them.  This is the perceived reality of education reform on the ground in Punjab.

Even if these stories are untrue, and are themselves myths designed to undermine DFID’s important work in trying to help deliver better education in the Punjab, they are indeed damaging to DFID’s reputation.  I would love to know more about the reality of these claims, but as was pointed out to me during my time in Pakistan, it is not easy for a white European to spend time in villages, especially overnight, in the parts of Punjab where such things might be happening.

The main thing that persuaded me to write this piece was a Facebook message I received this morning, that then suddenly disappeared.  It read:

“It is true though Tim Unwin.  What is really pathetic is that neither Dfid nor Sindh/Punjab government are made accountable for those children whose education will discontinue after this debacle. Education Fund for Sindh boasted enrolling 100 thousand out of school kids. Overnight the project and project management has vanished, website dysfunctional…Poof and all is gone. There is no way to track those children and see what’s happening to their education”

This is so very sad.  We need to know the truth about educational reform in Pakistan – and indeed the role of donors, the private sector and richly paid consultants – in helping to shape this.   I cannot claim that what I have been told is actually happening on the ground, but I can claim that this is a faithful record of what I was told.

 

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DFID’s Digital Advisory Panel


The UK’s Department for International Development has recently created a Digital Advisory Panel to provide advice to the Department in line with its digital strategy announced in December 2012.  The role of the panel is to take an overview of DFID’s strategy for digital and technology matters in its organisation and programmes, and to provide advice and challenge to the organisation. The panel met for the first time on 22nd October, and started to discuss the scope and priorities for their work programme.

The Chair of the Panel is Tim Robinson, CEO of LGC, and he joined DFID’s board as a non-executive director in May 2013.  Other members of the Panel (in alphabetical order, and as described by DFID blogger Julia Chandler) are:

  • Ken Banks is the founder of kiwanja.net and creator of FrontlineSMS, a mobile messaging application aimed at the grassroots non-profit community.
  • Rebecca Enonchong is founder and CEO of AppsTech, and sits on the board of VC4Africa, the largest online community dedicated to entrepreneurs and investors building companies in Africa.
  • Mark Graham director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute.
  • Nick Hughes formerly head of Global Payments at Vodafone Group, where he started M-PESA, is now founder and strategy director of m-kopa.
  • Stephen King is a partner in Omidyar Network UK and was formerly chief executive of BBC Media Action.
  • Rick Robinson is an Executive Architect at IBM responsible for the development and delivery of Smarter City solutions and a member of the Academy of Urbanism.
  • Kathy Settle is deputy director for networks at the Government Digital Service, where she coordinates development of government’s overarching digital strategy, working alongside “digital leaders” to create complementary departmental strategies.
  • Tim Unwin has many roles, including Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO), Chair of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the UK, Emeritus Professor of Geography and UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at Royal Holloway, University of London.
  • Amy Semple Ward is CEO of NTEN, the nonprofit technology network, based in Oregon, US.

I am delighted to have been invited to serve on this panel, and look forward to some lively discussion as we seek to guide DFID in its digital and technological practices.

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How to make ICT4D partnerships better deliver real development impacts


The ICT4D Collective hosted a workshop at the WSIS Forum in Geneva today on the key factors colleagues considered to be necessary to overcome four of the most important problems in delivering effective ICT4D partnerships.  The idea for the workshop stemmed from the systematic review of the impact of ICT4D partnerships completed by Marije Geldof, David Grimshaw, Dorothea Kleine and myself for DFID earlier this year.  This highlighted four main areas where further thought was required:

  • How can we best ensure that local communities and interests are involved in partnership implementation?
  • How to ensure that intended development outcomes are really addressed?
  • How to build sustainability and scalability into ICT4D partnerships from the very beginning?
  • What mechanisms can be used to ensure trust, honesty, openness, mutual understanding and respect?

Following an opening presentation by David Grimshaw (Practical Action, and Royal Holloway, University of London), we divided up into four groups (chaired by Paola Uimonen from SPIDER, Peter Drury from Cisco, and Dorothea Kleine and myself from Royal Holloway, University of London), each discussing one of these themes, and the outcome was the following mind map (click on image for larger version) that reflected the collected views of the 30 or so people present, as well as those who joined by WebEx video conferencing services kindly provided by Cisco.


A more detailed .pdf file of the mind-map is available here: WSIS Forum 2011

Thanks to everyone who participated, and helped to make the discussions so interesting.

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Important new report on the impact of ICT4D partnerships on development


Together with Marije Geldof, David Grimshaw and Dorothea Kleine from the ICT4D Collective, I have just completed a DFID funded systematic review on the development impact of ICT4D partnerships. This is part of the extensive programme of systematic reviews initiated recently by DFID, that draws very largely on the model of such reviews used in the medical sciences.  DFID thus emphasises that ‘Systematic reviews have been used in health, education and social policy to meet this need. Systematic reviews are a well-established and rigorous method to map the evidence base in an unbiased way as possible, assess the quality of the evidence and synthesize it. Systematic reviews can then be mediated in specific ways to make it easier for policy makers and practitioners to rapidly understand the body of evidence and use this as a strong foundation on which to base policy and practice decisions’.  Undertaking the review was both challenging and interesting, and we not only reached substantive conclusions about the role of ICT4D partnerships, but we also made considerable comments about the difficulties in undertaking rigorously defined systematic reviews on topics such as this.

Based on our review of 53 key publications in the field, we had five main substantive conclusions:

  • Success of ICT4D partnerships is increased when detailed attention is paid to the local context and the involvement of the local community in partnership implementation
  • It is important for such partnerships to have clear and agreed intended development outcomes, even where constituent partners may themselves have different reasons for being involved in the partnership
  • Sustainability and scalability of the intended development intervention need to be built into partnership design at the very beginning
  • Successful partnerships are built on trust, honesty, openness, mutual understanding and respect
  • A supportive wider ICT environment needs to be in place, both in terms of policy and infrastructure, if such partnerships are to flourish and deliver effective development outcomes

In terms of our recommendations relating to the actual systematic review methodology, we suggest that

  • When dealing with multidisciplinary issues such as this, it is crucial to retain some flexibility in search strategies, and procedures such as those often adopted in reviews of health interventions may sacrifice real understanding in the name of overly zealous adherence to claimed rigour
  • External reviewers play a crucial role in guaranteeing the quality of such reviews, and they need to be rewarded for their contributions
  • Many of the publications that we reviewed lacked a rigorous account of their research methodology, and we recommend that all funders of development related research should insist that researchers carefully document their methods in all of their publications, so that readers can judge the reliability of the findings
  • Many publications on ICT4D partnerships do not specify either what they mean by partnerships or the real development outcomes that they were pursuing.  It is therefore very difficult to identify the precise impact of partnerships on development.  It may well be that interventions that claim to have benefited from partnerships could have been delivered more effectively through other contractual arrangements

Copy of report (.pdf)

Policy brief (.pdf)

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Fake Aid: a critique of DFID’s rights based approach to development funding


The International Policy Network has recently published a damning critique of rights-based approaches to development, particularly as represented in the funding decisions of the UK’s Department for International Development.

Fake Aid concludes that:

  • ‘The value of DfID’s ideological rights-based approach for alleviating poverty is unclear’
  • ‘Even if DfID’s communications programmes succeed in spreading the view that people are entitled to certain services, there is scant evidence that declaring such rights actually improves conditions for the poor’
  • ‘By insisting on ill-defined rights-based practices through its partnerships with other organisations (NGOs, public-private initiatives, and foreign governments), DfID risks stifling innovative methods of aiding development by imposing a uniform, unproven standard across the sector’

There is much that is useful in this report, and certainly several of these conclusions coincide with some of my own recent writing on development aid and human rights.  However, the following observations would also seem appropriate:

  • DFID is not alone in supporting rights based approaches to development – this view of ‘development’ has over the last 15 years gained an increasingly prominent position in global rhetoric.  There is growing evidence that advocating rights actually has had little impact on delivering the needs of the poorest people in the world, and my own view is that we now need a fundamental rethink of human rights rhetoric and practice – not least to reflect the importance of communities and responsibilities.  This is the theme of my forthcoming keynote to the EuroAfrica-ICT meeting in Brussels on 1st October
  • Donors are increasingly encouraged to involve civil society organisations in dialogue and delivery – because they are seen as being more representative of the views of society at large.  Only a relatively small percentage of DFID’s total aid budget is actually spent directly through the privileged NGOs to which Fake Aid refers – although this still accounts for a considerable amount of money (c. £140 million on communications activities by NGOs)
  • It is crucial that DFID spends money on informing the British public about development issues.  Fake Aid strongly criticises the fact that DFID spends £13 million a year on promoting awareness of aid within the UK.  This criticism is misplaced.  If DFID did not spend this money, understanding of development issues by the UK public would fall and as a result support for our contributions to global development would diminish.  More importantly, it can be argued that the most legitimate way in which DFID can spend money is actually in the UK, influencing the views of the UK population – rather than using DFID’s budget to ‘interfere’ in other countries.  If UK consumption patterns, policies towards world trade , economic activities and international military intervention were to change as a result of public opinion, then many of the world’s poorest people would become far better off than they do through our present system of providing funding through the form of budget support mechanisms to foreign governments.
  • It is also dangerous to criticise all DFID’s funding of communications initiatives as though they had the same impact, as does the Fake Aid report.  Much of DFID’s work in supporting the use of information and communications technologies for development (ICT4D) over the last decade has indeed had significant impact on enhancing the lives of poor people, and this should be recognised.  Indeed, it is a real shame that such funding has now diminished significantly, and DFID’s role from being a leader in this field has now fallen to it very much being an also ran – which is a real shame.

Fake Aid is a very valuable report – but its conclusions do need to be tempered by a critical reading.

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