A new report has found the World Bank is badly letting down girls and students with disabilities in its educational aid programs in developing countries, while AusAID’s programs and those of the Asian Development Bank are significantly better.

The report from RESULTS International, an international aid advocacy group, looked at education aid programs run in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines by the World Bank, the ADB and AusAID, examining how programs were designed and their evaluation mechanisms. The three countries will together receive about $1.2 billion in aid from Australia this year, and Australia will also provide a total of just under $250 million to ADB and World Bank development programs.

Lack of access to education is a particular issue in developing countries for females and marginalised groups such as ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. There are significant child mortality and economic and personal income benefits from increases in the amount of time girls spend in education.

The good news: there has been significant progress in Indonesia and the Philippines in increasing primary school enrolment for all children, and the number of out-of-school girls is falling, with girls now 53% of out-of-school children, compared to 60% more than a decade ago. AusAID and the ADB  have a strong focus on maximising girls’ participation in education and had achieved positive results, although the report found the need for better performance monitoring and quality assurance.

The bad news: while the World Bank identified gender as a priority in its program goals and sometimes even established indicators, reporting was poor and evaluation very limited.

And it was worse for kids with disabilities. They are definitely on the agencies’ radars but on-the-ground results are limited. In 2008, AusAID launched a disability inclusion strategy and established a $30 million fund for disability-specific measures. A 2010 report showed there’d been some progress, but students with disabilities remained a low priority on the ground. But the World Bank talks about disability a lot in its program design but few of its programs address specific measures for access by marginalised groups, including those with disabilities and special needs. None of the bank’s programs in the three countries mentioned disability in their evaluations. The ADB is similar — a lot of talk about disability at an overarching level but missing from actual programs and their assessments.

The report recommends not merely the obvious like better integration of gender and disability indicators into program design and evaluation, but more concrete measures: ensuring the cost of disability access infrastructure is built into program costs from the outset, so it doesn’t get sacrificed due to budget constraints later; making sure program officials in each country are held responsible for reporting against gender and disability indicators at a country level, and scaling up projects for girls and kids with disabilities to better take advantage of economies of scale, including by working with local gender and disability-focused NGOs.

For Australia, it’s some limited good news, given AusAID’s comparative performance. But the review wants Australia, as a key donor to the ADB and the World Bank’s development programs, to start talking a lot more about these issues, and particularly about focusing on kids with disabilities.

Peter Fray

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