Evaluation on the Education Sector in Bangladesh: What Worked Well and Why under the Sector-Wide Approach?

Evaluation Document | 31 December 2008
This sector assistance program evaluation assesses the performance of key development partners and ADB in the education sector in Bangladesh and draws lessons and recommendations for improved ongoing and future sector assistance.

Over the past two decades, the Government of Bangladesh (GOB) has placed high priorities on basic education, covering grades 1-5 in primary education (PE) and nonformal education (NFE), and later extended to cover grades 6-8 in secondary education (SE).

During the early 1990s, only 35% of the country's adult population was literate. The PE gross enrollment rate (GER) was 68%, and the cycle dropout rate was 60%. The GOB committed to improve basic education, as reflected in its adoption of the Education for All (EFA) agenda in the early 1990s, which provided the basis for assistance from various development partners (DPs).

With continued joint efforts between the GOB and DPs, universal GER in PE has largely been achieved with gender balance, but the institutional capacity and quality aspects have not improved much (e.g., low adult literacy rate of about 55% and high cycle dropout rate of about 50%). These aspects emerged as the key issues/constraints that need to be further addressed.

The objectives of this Sector Assistance Program Evaluation (SAPE) are to

  • assess the combined performance of key DPs involved in the PE subsector (during 1989-2007), including the DPs' combined performance in the sector-wide approach (SWAp) modality, consisting of 11 DPs led by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) adopted in the ongoing Second Primary Education Development Program (PEDP-II);
  • assess the performance of ADB alone in the NFE and SE subsectors; and
  • apply a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis to identify positive and negative factors during the design and implementation stages (both within and external to DPs' control) to explain the reasons behind what worked well and what did not work well, which will provide the basis to draw lessons and recommendations as a guidance to improve the DPs' ongoing SWAp performance as well as ADB's performance in ongoing and future assistance.

Summary of findings

  • Based on the combined bottom-up and top-down evaluation approaches, one of the main SAPE findings is that the DPs' combined performance in the PE subsector and in the SWAp modality is assessed as successful. Coupled with the performance of ADB alone in the NFE and SE subsectors, ADB's performance in the overall education sector is also assessed as successful. Most of the successful performance in the three education subsectors is found in terms of increased access and gender balance in enrollment, but less so in terms of institutional development and quality improvement. This implies that further effort is needed to build on the achievement made to address systemic issues related to institutional arrangements and quality education.
  • Another main SAPE finding is that the successful ratings of both the DP's combined performance in the PE subsector (including that in the SWAp modality) and ADB's performance alone in the overall education sector are on the low side (near borderline) due to the low ratings under the efficiency criterion (less efficient) in all the education subsectors, including
    • long implementation delays associated with high transaction costs borne by the DPs due to difficulties in managing and harmonizing their diverse expectations, requirements, and procedures under the SWAp modality in the PE subsector (e.g., several dollar accounts, procurement guidelines and reporting systems are being used; and initial confusions regarding the roles of the Program Liaison Unit, Consortium, and Lead DP) and also due to some GOB's nonconducive policy environments (e.g., inflexibilities in the project proforma which constrained the initial implementation of the agreed upon annual operation plan to promote decentralization through subdistrict- and school-level improvement plans);
    • long implementation delays associated with suspension of the second project in the NFE subsector due to the alleged nontransparency in the selection of nongovernment organizations; and
    • long implementation delays associated with consultant recruitments/deployments in some projects in the SE subsector. This implies that further effort is needed to address these implementation issues, both in the ongoing and future operations.
  • In relation to the SWAp modality, another main SAPE finding is that despite its weaknesses in terms of being less efficient (due to high transaction costs as elaborated above), the SWAp's strengths lie in its being a relevant and effective modality for PE. In terms of relevance, through collective DPs' efforts, the SWAp modality helped enhance GOB's ownership and commitment to make some key policy environments conducive (as opportunities) to education improvement (e.g., adoptions of the EFA Plan and the Perspective Development Plan, and revision of the teacher recruitment/transfer system to be more transparent and merit-based), although some other policy environments remain nonconducive (as threats) (e.g., inflexibilities of the project proforma, weak decentralized school-based management system, and fragmentation of the education management information system [EMIS] between the two ministries responsible for PE and SE). In terms of the SWAp's strengths, in addition to being a relevant modality, it is also an effective modality in that it helped reduce DPs' piecemeal efforts and increase synergies to achieve many outcomes (increased access and gender balance) and achieve some evolving outcomes (some institutional and quality improvements) in the PE subsector. Despite the SWAp's weaknesses in terms of being less efficient, its strengths in terms of being a relevant and effective modality are found to be the DPs' value addition over and above the financing provided.

Recommendations

  • ADB should work collectively with the other DPs in the SWAp to strengthen the results framework and harmonize the reporting systems, so that a single report can be prepared.
  • ADB should work collectively with the other DPs to encourage the GOB to lead preparation of a comprehensive analysis for the entire education sector, linking different subsectors in an integrated manner, in order to identify issues (including the fragmented EMIS system, etc.) and to chart future strategic direction of each of the subsectors within the entire education sector.
  • To build on past success, ADB should focus on issues related to education quality, equity, and institutional capacity in the design of future projects/programs.
  • ADB should build on the experience of this SWAp for the design of future SWAp programs.