Education is one of the most significant and persistent development challenges globally. Despite 65 years of investment of aid money into education in developing countries, the number of children emerging with key skills remains critically low. While enrolment has increased, there is evidence that this is the result of target chasing and has had limited impact on educational outcomes. The limited impact of aid on education should not be surprising. At best, aid to education has provided only a small supplement to an already broken system. This paper proposes a framework for the analysis of the motivations of aid programmes, and then employs this framework to examine different approaches to education and the parameters according to which they have succeeded or failed. Using the framework to explain why prevailing approaches have resulted in the outcomes realized, the paper then examines the possibility for an alternative approach to be taken to intervention in education, one which attempts to change the way the education system operates to create a sustainable, large-scale impact. This potential is explored through an innovative programme being implemented in Lagos, Nigeria, which attempts to adopt such an approach.
Systemic approaches to development have, over the last decade, gone from a niche concern to what is arguably a paradigm shift, in discourse at least. In academia, the global value chains literature has shifted focus to align behind global production networks literature in being more inclusive of the multidirectional flows and institutional dynamics of systems (Hess and Yeung, 2006; Coe et al., 2008; Bair, 2008). In practice, donors have begun to align behind systemic approaches demonstrated by USAID’s shift from Value Chains to Value Chain Systems (USAID, 2014) and the £1 bn of programmes commissioned under a systems banner over the past decade (authors’ analysis of programme documents). The systemic approach to development intervention is grounded in the works of Polanyi, Porter and New Institutional Economics, and has analytical synergies with work on complex adaptive systems (Hall and Clark, 2010; Ramalingam et al., 2008, 2014). However, this journal has played a significant role in the conceptual development of the operational side of market system approaches, and their principal articulation, Making Markets Work for the Poor (M4P) (Elliott et al., 2008; Bear et al., 2003; Hitchins et al., 2004; Taylor, 2013; Bekkers, 2008; Bear and Field, 2008; Jones, 2012; Hitchins and Jain, 2011; Johnson, 2009), codified in the Operational Guide (DfID and SDC, 2008; Springfield Centre, 2015).
Two concurrent trends have emerged in development in recent years which are incompatible in their current form. Firstly, new public management, comprising evidence-based policy and the results agenda, has come become ubiquitous among policymakers in recent years. Secondly, there has been a realization of the utility of systemic approaches to development programming in order to bring about sustainable change for larger numbers of people. This paper highlights the negative impacts of this former trend on development and, more acutely, its incompatibility with the latter trend. The paper then highlights emerging, positive signs of a change in thinking in development, to lead to a more pragmatic and contextually nuanced approach to measuring progress. It identifies the need for further research in this area, and calls for an evaluation of approaches rather than a search for a silver bullet. The paper draws on a review of the evidence together with a number of key informant interviews with practitioners.