Development cooperation in the education sector strengthened – Clarity needed on vision
According to a recent evaluation, long-term commitment and funding for development cooperation in the education sector should be guaranteed to maintain Finland's current reputation and the effectiveness of development cooperation.
An independent evaluation examined how Finland has succeeded in strengthening its international role in the education sector and promoting its development policy goals during 2019–2022. Education and Sustainable Development Goal number four have long been part of Finland's development policy. In recent years, efforts have been made to expand and enhance Finland's role and bring various actors in the field together through multi-stakeholder cooperation.
According to the evaluation, Finland has made significant progress in education sector development cooperation. Successes include strengthening the role of education in development policy, scaling up bilateral support, and strengthening multilateral cooperation. The evaluation suggests that Finland's previously strong reputation based on PISA success should be updated to reflect the importance of education as a catalyst for obtaining other sustainable development goals.
Bilateral cooperation is the foundation of engagement
Finland stands out in its commitment to the education reform processes of partner countries. Results have been achieved in areas such as teacher training, inclusive education, early childhood education, well-being services and learning assessment. The most effective development cooperation tools have been bilateral cooperation, the cornerstone of Finnish support, and multilateral cooperation. For example, in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Myanmar, the status and professional development of teachers were improved as well as the number of female teachers and principals in the staff were increased. In Ethiopia, over 270,000 students have access to school meals with the help of Finland's support.
The coordination group for education in developing countries and the establishment of the Finnish Centre of expertise in Education and Development (FinCEED) have improved the coherence of actions, but challenges remain, especially in the collaboration between the public and private sectors and finding synergies. Civil society organisations and universities have played a crucial role, but their full potential as part of Finland's comprehensive response to the learning crisis has not been fully utilized. The results produced by the private sector have not yet provided significant added value to development cooperation in the education sector. The contradiction between the strong role of public education sector domestically in Finland and the activities of the private sector also remains unresolved.
Need to increase funding and build resilient education systems grows
The operating environment for education sector development cooperation is increasingly fragile and unstable. It is crucial to maintain or even increase the level of funding, especially by directing support to strengthening the resilience of education systems. Additionally, the evaluation highlights the need to strengthen the role of education in humanitarian assistance.
The results of the evaluation were presented in a public discussion event on November 9, 2023.
Yasmine Sherif, the Executive Director of the United Nations Education Cannot Wait fund, congratulated Finland on all its achievements in the education sector development cooperation and noted that the evaluation was timely.
"The wars we are witnessing, climate change, conflict and refugees all demand that we work collectively to ensure that children everywhere have access to quality education," Sherif said.
The evaluation also suggests that the need for development cooperation in the education sector will only grow, and Finland should stay engaged.
During the discussion, the "elephant in the room" was raised, expressing concerns about the future of bilateral cooperation – identified by the evaluation as Finland’s strength – as the number of country programs will be reduced according to the Government Programme, and operations in multiple partner countries may cease.
The evaluation recommended that the Ministry, as a minimum, maintains its current funding levels and retains the education sector experts posted in its partner countries.