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GSFs Latest Event Non State Actors Education-Sector

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An Update from GSF’s latest event on Non-State Actors in the Education Sector

In January 2020, with the support of the Omidyar Network, GSF co-hosted an event with the Education Partnerships Group (EPG) and the authors of 'Beyond the Mirage' on the complementary role of non-state actors in delivering quality basic education. The event focused on moving beyond the ideologically driven divisions around who is the provider of education to how we can deliver on ambitious education goals agreed under SDG4.

The panellists came from a broad range of backgrounds and geographies, with existing and former government ministers, funders and policy makers represented. This experience was reflected in the room and online, with 80 in-person and 30 online attendees, including GSF members and funders.

Four key themes emerged from the panel around how to ensure that quality basic education is available to all:

  • The Scale of the Challenge

All speakers acknowledged the scale of the challenge to reach the targets agreed under SDG41 , and the importance of all actors working together to address this challenge. Dr Murad Raas highlighted that a lack of appropriate technology in his department in Punjab made it is difficult to even assess the number of children out of school, emphasising both the scale and complexity of the challenge facing governments and others in providing education to all. 

There was a consensus that in order to meet the ambitious goal set out in SDG4 education providers, governments and funders need to be pragmatic, working across the non-state and state sectors to ensure that all children are receiving a quality education. With significant numbers of children already attending non-state schools, education stakeholders need to put aside ideological debates and instead focus on learning lessons from all innovative, accountable and effective providers of education.

  • Diversity of Players

The panellists also highlighted the diversity within the non-state education sector, and the importance of bringing this fragmented sector together in the pursuit of high-quality education for all children. While this fragmentation can be challenging, Alicia Herbert, the DFID representative on the panel, said this also created an opportunity for multiple possible routes in to engage with the non-state sector. She emphasised that DFID is focused on taking a context specific, pragmatic and quality-focused approach to their engagement with the sector. 

  • The Need for Government Stewardship

The panellists and questions from the attendees also emphasised the importance of government leadership and stewardship of all actors delivering education as key to quality. All agreed that government should be in the front seat, ensuring appropriate regulation, monitoring and in some cases funding of both non-state and state providers. George Kronnisanyon Werner spoke powerfully of his experiences as the Minister of Education in Liberia during and after the Ebola crisis. He said he wished he had been even more ambitious with the country’s high-profile PPP education programme (see the attached paper on the results), but also raised the importance of government funding and regulation in ensuring its continued success and sustainability. 

  • Education Outcomes

A number of the panel and follow-up questions focused on the topic of education outcomes, with Dr Amel Karboul suggesting that refocusing funding around these rather than number of students or schools would drive innovation and higher standards. She argued that this focus on outcomes or results would also help us move away from the unhelpful division between whether a state or non-state organisation has provided education, and suggested a rebranding of PPPs as ‘Partnerships for Public Purpose’. John Soleanicov reflected on the importance of Development Impact Bonds (DIB) to UBS Optimus and predicted a “market of outcomes” in the future. He also discussed one of the Foundation’s current DIBs, which is in partnership with the South African government. Crucially, the government are only paying for education outcomes that are actually achieved. Audience members were highly engaged with the issue of outcomes, but also raised concerns around which outcomes one should be measuring and how to appropriately measure them.

Looking ahead The Chair, Sir Michael Barber from Delivery Associates, closed the discussion with a plea that strongly resonates with the work we do as GSF: For the education sector to work more effectively together to innovate, raise standards and learn lessons from all providers, so we are better prepared to meet the challenges ahead.

GSF event image


  • Alicia Herbert, Head Children, Youth and Education, DFID
  • Dr Amel Karboul, CEO, Education Outcomes Fund
  • George Kronnisanyon Werner, Former Minister of Education, Liberia
  • John Soleanicov, Programme Director, Education, UBS Optimus Foundation
  • Dr Murad Raas, Minister for Education, Punjab Province, Pakistan

Three recent publications provided some background reading and inspiration for the event. We have attached a copy of Beyond the Mirage by Delivery Associates, as well as a paper by Ali Ansari on Punjab’s public-private partnership (PPP) programmes in education, and a working paper by Justin Sandefur and Mauricio Romero on the Liberian experience with PPPs.

For those who’d like additional information, a recording of the entire event is available here.

1 Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

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