‘Protecting US Taxpayer Dollars Is a Top Priority’: USAID Talks About Expanding Resources for Non-State Education Worldwide

Conservative leaders praised President Donald Trump earlier this month after his administration committed to expanding resources for non-state education, including faith-based institutions.

IJR previously noted:

The change came as part of the USAID’s new policy on international education, released in November. The new policy, USAID said in a press release, “emphasizes the imperative to provide education to children affected by crisis and conflict; recognizes the important role of non-state actors, including faith-based organizations and the private sector, in providing educational opportunities.”

During an interview with IJR, Julie Cram, who serves as USAID’s senior coordinator for U.S. International Basic Education Assistance, offered more details surrounding the agency’s goals, how the new policy helps the United States, and how the agency will protect taxpayer money.

IJR: What are your overall goals for expanding education access internationally?

Cram: The new USAID Education Policy sets priorities and direction specifically for USAID’s investments in education. The primary purpose of USAID education programming is to achieve sustained, measurable improvements in learning outcomes and skills development. The policy identifies four priority outcomes that it aims to achieve:

· Children and youth, particularly the most marginalized and vulnerable, have increased access to quality education that is safe, relevant, and promotes social well-being

· Children and youth gain literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional skills that are foundational to future learning and success

· Youth gain the skills they need to lead productive lives, gain employment, and positively contribute to society

· Higher education institutions have the capacity to be central actors in development by conducting and applying research, delivering quality education, and engaging with communities

The president has indicated that the U.S. should scale back its foreign aid. Did he play any role in crafting this initiative, and how does this fit into his overall agenda?

USAID’s work in international education contributes to U.S. foreign policy goals, including national security. The president has made clear that we need to be more effective and efficient with our foreign aid dollars, and this policy does just that. It encourages the leveraging of resources from non-traditional partners, including faith-based organizations and the private sector, and recognizes that countries cannot move to a future beyond foreign assistance if their people do not have the education and skills needed to be productive members of society.

This policy also prioritizes country ownership and working to strengthen country education systems versus one-off investments while encouraging burden-sharing amongst other developed countries.

How does this support America’s interests and foreign policy objectives around the world?

USAID invests in global education because we know that the positive effects of education are far-reaching — that it serves as a driver for all other development and for the reduction of extreme poverty. A well-educated society is essential for a country to take control of its own development and progress along its journey toward self-reliance.

These investments are also in the direct interests of the American people. By strengthening education systems in developing countries, USAID is supporting U.S. foreign policy goals while accelerating economic growth at home and abroad, making effective use of U.S. taxpayer dollars, and demonstrating American generosity.

How does this policy differ from previous administrations’?

Country-focus and ownership: The policy moves from a top-down approach — one based on global goals — to a greater focus on country-ownership and context. We will emphasize support for partner countries’ needs and priorities in line with their journey to self-reliance.

Increasing engagement with non-state actors to promote finance and delivery innovations: Many children and youth would be denied access to education if not for non-state schools and providers — including private, for-profit, non-profit, community, faith-based, and other non-governmental organizations. USAID will provide evidence and technical leadership on issues of non-state schools and providers to measurably and equitably improve learning outcomes.

Strengthening systems and developing local institutions: The policy emphasizes understanding and working to improve systems — and engaging with both state and non-state institutions — to measurably and sustainably improving learning and educational outcomes. This includes improving partner countries’ capacity to generate, analyze, and use data for decision-making as well as transforming teacher policies and professional development systems to increase the availability of qualified teachers and improve instruction.

How significant is it for this administration to expand activities with non-state educational resources? Why haven’t previous administrations done this?

Parents and caregivers want their children and youth to gain skills and to have the best educational opportunities possible. However, these dreams often go unfulfilled because of limited resources to support schools in rural or hard-to-reach areas, effectively manage schools, pay teachers and motivate them to show up to work, or provide education at secondary and higher educational levels. Many children and youth would be denied access to education if not for non-state schools and providers.

Non-state schools already enroll nearly 14 percent of primary school-age students in low-income countries and 24 percent in lower-middle income countries. Globally, nearly one in three higher education students were enrolled in a private institution. There is a need, and opportunity, to invest in and engage with non-state schools to help to ensure all children and youth in developing countries receive a quality education.

What kind of accountability measures will be set up to ensure these private entities are using U.S. resources properly?

Protecting U.S. taxpayer dollars is a top priority for USAID. We incorporate monitoring and evaluation into all activities in order to assess progress, effectiveness, and achievements of education programming. To support this work, USAID has developed innovative approaches and analytic tools to support rigorous and regular monitoring; conducts regular training for staff and partner organizations both in Washington and in the field; and collaborates with other donors, U.S. Government Agencies, partner country governments, and other education stakeholders to ensure the efficient use of every dollar.

We also have indicators tied to education outcomes that our missions must report on each year to help measurably track progress.

One of the reasons for focusing on private education is the role it plays in filling state gaps during crises. I was wondering if you could talk about that a little more.

In many countries and regions, non-state schools are already enrolling large percentages of children — nearly 14 percent of primary school-age students in low-income countries, and 24 percent in lower-middle income countries. This is especially true in countries affected by conflict, where huge numbers of children are out of school. In fact, one in every three out-of-school children, approximately 104 million, live in countries affected by conflict and crisis.

Often, developing countries lack the resources and capacity to provide a quality education, especially to children in rural and hard-to-reach areas, as well as in areas affected by crisis and conflict. Many children and youth would be denied access to education if not for non-state schools and providers. Non-state schools are not a silver bullet, but they are an important partner for USAID to accomplish our goal of providing children with the education and skills needed to succeed. Very often, the way to reach these kids is by working with non-traditional partners — such as faith-based, private and NGO schools — because they are already working in these areas and with these displaced populations.

What are the types of criteria the U.S. uses for deciding to intervene in crisis situations around the world?

The new USAID Education Policy defines conflict-affected as a country, region, or community that has experienced armed conflict and/or recently terminated armed conflict, which is in contention over the control of government and/or territory that results in armed force between two parties, at least one being a government of a state. Conflict-affected also includes countries, regions, or communities indirectly affected by conflict due to population displacement, reallocation of government resources, or diminished capacity. The Policy defines crisis-affected as a country, region, or community that is experiencing or recently experienced a crisis. This also includes countries, regions, or communities indirectly affected by a crisis due to population displacement, reallocation of government resources, or diminished capacity. Crises include natural hazards, health epidemics, lawlessness, endemic crime and violence, and climate vulnerabilities.

USAID determines whether or not education programming is appropriate on a country-by-country basis, as part of USAID’s new emphasis on the contexts of our partner countries. This often takes place in USAID’s Missions, who best understand the contexts of the countries in which they are working.

What kind of metrics are you using to measure success in these programs?

Since 2011, USAID prioritized increasing equitable access to education for children and youth living in crisis and conflict-affected environments — and that prioritization continues under the new Education Policy. Since 2011, USAID has extended education to 22.6 million children living in conflict or crisis settings. Through this work, an estimated 4.1 million children and youth, who would otherwise have been out of school, have access to education. USAID will continue to prioritize getting children and youth affected by conflict and crisis are safe and in school, and that they are learning.


  1. This is an admirable shift in mission BUT….how does one measure the effectiveness of such programs/schools? Are the $$ going to madrassas to inculcate future terrorists? What measure of EFFECTIVE function in the modern world are made? Reading, writing, math are excellent foundations (too bad so many our own schools fuc* this up).

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