Education and economic development – what we know

Education, particularly girls’ education, is increasingly regarded as a priority for development programming around the world. In this blog, Sophie Amili, Gender Team Co-Lead and Senior Evaluation Consultant in Tetra Tech’s Evaluation & Research practice, presents key findings from a recent webinar on Education as a Driver of Economic Development.

I was delighted to be asked by British Expertise International to take part in a webinar last month to discuss the role of education in driving economic development around the world. The panel of education experts included Sally Gear, DFID’s Head of Profession (Education), and more than 50 participants joined from across the education and international development industries.

My contribution to this panel was to talk about the learnings from the range of evaluations that I have worked on for Tetra Tech, covering education and economic empowerment programmes in Pakistan, East Africa and South Asia. My particular focus was on the transition to employment and beyond.

The evaluations we’ve worked on at Tetra Tech are among the largest ever commissioned by DFID. These include evaluations of DFID’s flagship regional Girls’ Education Challenge programme, the Skills for Employment Programme in Mozambique (JOBA), the multi-country, multi-donor SPRING accelerator and Ilm 2, an education programme in Pakistan that supports innovative solutions in education.

Presenting to this panel, I honed in on the five key lessons about inclusive education and economic development that that we’ve learned on these evaluations:

  1. Education is an important driver, but alone is not enough for economic development. Access to schooling and better-quality education can lead to relevant skills acquisition and entry into productive employment. This in turn can raise GDP and bring about economic development. However, there are critical junctures where this pathway risks falling down.
  2. The private sector can expand access to education but not necessarily for the poorest. Businesses can effectively deliver innovative education interventions by facilitating access and improving teaching quality. But businesses tend to target groups that can pay for their solutions, at the expense of the most economically marginalised. Without additional support from the government or donors, businesses struggle to sustain and scale up promising education initiatives.
  3. Social norms play a large role in shaping who gets to benefit from education and employment. Social and gender norms (such as caregiver attitudes, household chores and school related gender-based violence) limit the ability of girls to enrol, attend, remain and do well in school. But gendered perceptions of women’s abilities and motivations can also limit access to employment opportunities after school.
  4. Economic interventions can empower those at risk of being left behind and complement the role of education. Economic constraints such as lack of access to capital and economic decision making can act as a barrier to entering productive employment, even after successfully completing an education. Economic empowerment interventions help girls to report more self-confidence, feel more valued in the community, express their thoughts, take on bigger leadership roles, and become more future oriented in their aspirations.
  5. A multi-sectoral approach may help navigate the transition from education to employment. There are multiple social and economic factors that mean girls and other marginalised groups are unable to complete their education and reach their employment potential. Interventions should therefore engage multiple sectors and stakeholders at the micro and macro levels along each part of the journey from primary education through to employment.

While education is an important driver of economic development it is not enough to drive economic development on its own. Instead, a multi-sector, multi-stakeholder approach is vital for expanding access for those at risk of being left behind, whilst ensuring results can be sustained and scaled up – especially in supporting the transition from inclusive education to employment.