Evaluation of Finnish Education Sector Development Cooperation

Evaluation of Finnish Education Sector Development Cooperation (Opens New Window) (PDF, 2,08 MB)

REPORT 2004:1
ISBN 951-724-440-1, ISSN 1235-7618
Consultants Richard Sack, Michael Cross, Jeanne Moulton




The picture of Finnish education development cooperation that emerges from this exercise is varied, multidimensional and not without paradoxes. In financial terms, overall, Finland is not a major partner. In substantive terms we have the impression of well-targeted accomplishments, underexploited potential and delivery practices that have improved continuously over the past ten years. Something of a paradigm shift in the delivery of development assistance from the project approach to broader programmatic and sector-wide approach (SWAp) methods is on the agenda for many countries and their external development partners. Finland is participating in this approach. Yet, a multi-agency evaluation of development cooperation for EFA recommends moderation in this direction.

It is in this context that we see that Finland’s own education system is excelling in demonstrated, and internationally recognized outcomes. Finland also ranks at the top in the management of its international business transactions (in terms of low corruption). These findings from the PISA and Transparency International studies, respectively, point to “best results”, which may well be the product of “best practices”.

The deeper we got into our subject, the more it became clear that we need to see and analyze Finnish education development cooperation as part of a concert of partners - composed of peer agencies and partner governments - in which MFA is one player. The more we observed, interviewed and read, the more we realized that we could not view MFA and Finnish education development cooperation in “stand-alone” terms. This perception comes partly from the increasing importance of SWAp arrangements and partly from the experience of members of the evaluation team with a wide range of education programs. All the more reason, in this context, to go beyond a narrow evaluation of the efficacy of MFA as an individual player and look into how it plays in this larger concert, and what discrete contributions it brings to it.

On the whole, the evaluation team is impressed with what it has seen as well as what we see as unrealized potential.

Many of our recommendations revolve around the notion that Finland can and should play a more active role in the concert for education development cooperation. This is what we call Finland’s “voice”, which we think needs to be strengthened and heard beyond the strict limits of MFA’s education projects and programs. These recommendations are based on two sets of observations and conclusions. The first set consists of our observations of how Finland’s education development cooperation has operated in practice, especially its promotion and practice of partner country ownership. The second comes from Finland’s demonstrated capabilities in the areas of quality education and good management, as recognized by the PISA and TI studies, respectively.

By “voice” we mean speaking up, initiating and taking a lead in promoting informed dialogue around selected issues within the concert of partner countries and peer agencies. The objective of this dialogue would not be to “find answers”, but to promote the sort of informed exchange of ideas, anchored in practice, that has potential to embark participants on a journey of mutual discovery. Seen in the context of the PISA and TI results, the journey would seek to involve its participants in exploring the “how’s, the why’s, and the where fore’s” of Finland’s performance, and to explore if and how there may be lessons of use beyond Finland’s borders. This does not mean that Finland would attempt to export directly its own policies and practices. Rather, it would initiate, develop and participate in the dialogue with a firm understanding of the pedagogical, social and other processes that, together, characterize an educational system.1

We have also noted two characteristics of Finland’s education development cooperation that should be seen in tandem: the modesty of Finnish professionals, and the perceived high degree of partner country ownership of Finnish financed projects. We have found that Finnish actors in the aid relationship are seen as modest, both by themselves and by their partners. We have also found that Finland’s partner countries have a high sense of ownership over their Finnish-funded projects. This brings to mind thoughts on the ethics of the practice and behavior of external partners in the aid relationship. Is there a (causal?) relationship between this modesty and ownership? It would be worthwhile to explore the interactions, if any, between the two. From our direct experience, as well as from the limited literature on ownership,2 we strongly suspect that “modesty” may well be a necessary ingredient for the promotion of country ownership of projects, programs and policies that are elaborated and financed within the aid relationship. Here, too, is an area worth exploring with Finland’s partners and peers.

The following table presents a summary of our findings and recommendations. Although they may seem disparate and issue-specific, there is one thread that holds them together. It is the enabling thread of MFA’s institutional capacity, whose “voice” merits strengthening in order for Finland/MFA to play its part in the concert of education development cooperation. This, were commend, could take the form of several actions: additional staff of professional educationalist sin MFA; research and consultations on lessons from the PISA and TI findings for development cooperation in education; and assuming a greater role in international fora and networks, especially around the issues of quality, management and country ownership - areas in which Finland excels and has demonstrated comparative advantages.


1 See Cohen et al. (2003) for a demonstration of how and why education needs to be seen in terms of a complex instructional system, rather than in terms of inputs and outputs.

2 Wapenhans et al.. (1992) attribute much of the deficit in country ownership to the World Bank’s internal “approval culture”. Schwartz & Sack (1996) also find that lack of country ownership of World Bank sector work is related to institutional demands that tend to short-circuit locally generated knowledge, combined with strong confidence in the Bank’s technical approaches.


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