Researching SWAps in Pacific education: a study of experiences in Solomon Islands and Tonga

Distance education Economic assistance International students Solomon Islands Tonga
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An introduction to Sector-Wide Approach (SWAps) & their evolution as a global aid modality

Due to its perceived links to economic growth through the provision of human capital, education has always been awarded a central role as an agent of development. The belief in education as an instrument of economic growth persisted even through the pessimism of the 1990s, when the increasingly obvious anti-developmental consequences of structural adjustment programmes led to extensive questioning of aid’s failure to promote economic development and reduce poverty.  These critiques resulted in both a decrease in aid volumes and an increase in political debates about the concept of ‘development’ itself and how aid could be more effectively deployed to poverty reduction by focusing on the social sectors of health and education (Coxon & Tolley, 2005).  The 1990 Education for All (EFA) commitment had begun the process of donors directing increased amounts of aid to social sectors/basic human needs, thus “education was at the core of the [aid] effectiveness debate” (Bermingham, Christensen, & Mahn, 2009: 132).  But it was not until the early years of the new millennium that the persistent calls for ‘better aid effectiveness’ led to globally organized action.

International conferences and meetings, organized by various UN organizations and other key development agencies led to what Glennie describes as the globally agreed “Better Aid agenda” of the “new era of aid” (2008: 21,14).  The latter term was coined to describe the period beginning in 2000 with the UN Millennium Summit which produced a set of globally agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – including universal primary education and gender equity in primary and secondary education – to be met by 2015. This gave rise to more optimism regarding the aid/development nexus by providing a global agenda with the possibility of “combating poverty in it multiple dimensions” (van de Waerdt, 2008: 88).

Another international meeting that influenced aid donor countries was the Financing for Development conference held at Monterrey in 2002.  Although the globally agreed target of 0.7% of GNI (gross national income) was being met by only a handful of countries (namely the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Nordic countries) the optimism of the new aid era led to a considerable increase in the aid budgets of most donor governments (Glennie, 2008: 13). A further aspect of the Better Aid agenda arose from the 2003 Aid Harmonization conference in Rome, which focused on the effectiveness of aid delivery.  The key need identified was for donors to co-ordinate their aid contributions when working in the same recipient country and within the same sector, and to align these with the national sector plans of the country concerned.

The focus on the sector-wide approach as a Better Aid modality than the predominant project approach was reaffirmed through the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. The Paris Declaration, described as “a new paradigm of effective aid” (Menocal & Mulley, 2006: vii), represents an unprecedented level of consensus and resolve to reform the delivery of aid and increase the quality of aid.  As a result, development assistance is being increasingly influenced by the new aid agenda ‘roadmap’.  Underlying the Paris Declaration is the view that not only is a greater volume of aid needed to achieve the MDGs (by 2015), but that all parties should utilise aid more effectively, giving greater support to partner country efforts to strengthen governance and improve development outcomes. 

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