International Development Fund - inclusive education programme: report

This report supports the development of the Scottish Government’s (SG) International Development Inclusive Education Programme, which will operate in Scotland’s International Development partner countries: Malawi, Rwanda, and Zambia.

Feasible Options

For the purposes of this report, four options have been considered in relation to SG’s strategic case. Whilst each case should be considered on its individual merits, a combination of the proposed options could support SG to achieve its programme and policy aims.

Option 1: Change nothing and continue existing untargeted support.

Option 2: Reorientate funding into existing global inclusive education initiatives.

Option 3: Target funding to a discrete component of education for girls, young women and learners with disabilities.

Option 4: Take a systems approach and develop a holistic package of support in partner countries, which both delivers short-term impact and supports SGs strategic aims of policy influence, by building expertise, presence, and credibility.

Description of Options

Option 1: Change nothing and continue existing untargeted support.

This option assumes that SG continues its existing support for education in Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia through its International Development Fund, and design efforts for its inclusive education programme cease. In addition to a small grants programme, between 2017 and 2023, SG awarded and managed 24 development assistance programme contracts in partner countries, seven of which were associated with education. The focus of these programmes was broad, ranging from feeding programmes in Malawi to teacher development programmes in Zambia. If the SG investment portfolio continues in its current form, it is unlikely to be able to achieve its strategic aims of anti-racist, feminist, and partner led investments, which advance gender equality. Furthermore, current investments generally sit outside of partner country government structures, policies, and budgets, which makes it difficult for SG to achieve its longer-term aim of developing its own capacity to engage strategically in support of partner country education systems. Given the limitations of the current approach and that the commission, following the 2020 SG international development review, specifically asked for a new strategic approach to investing in education in the three countries, this option will not be considered further.

Option 2: Reorientate funding into existing global inclusive education initiatives.

This option assumes that SG reorientate their existing support into international inclusive education initiatives. This could be in the form of pooled funds or a single contract with organisations such as UNICEF or Education Cannot Wait. This would enable SG to have some input on the way in which its funds are spent, meaning it will be able to achieve its goals in terms of an anti-racist and feminist approach. However, due to the scale of SG investment, such an approach would likely reduce SG visibility. Furthermore, there would be reduced opportunities for bilateral engagement with partner countries, which in turn would make it challenging for SG to achieve its strategic goals of partner country led development and the ability to engage partner governments and civil society in support of their education sectors. Therefore, Scotland’s capacity to have influence beyond investment would be limited. As such, this option will not be considered in its entirety for further analysis. However, strategic partnerships will be considered for discrete elements of the programme design.

Option 3: Target funding to a discrete component of education for girls, young women and learners with disabilities.

This option assumes that SG channel their funds in to one or two discrete components to support learners with disabilities and girls and young women. For example, purchasing a large volume of wheelchairs for learners with physical impairments or improved water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities for girls. This option would provide immediate and tangible impact on SG investment and a good degree of visibility. However, in terms of education for learners with disabilities, this option fails to account for the complex and intersecting factors, which combined exclude them from the system. It would also fail to consider both the strong feedback from partner country stakeholders and an extensive evidence base (further detail below) that indicates a systems approach is necessary to effectively deliver impact within this space. Building on the example of purchasing wheelchairs illustrates this well. If SG were to purchase a high volume of wheelchairs, it would support a number of learners in the short term. However, depending on programme design, it would not explore the reasons why there were not enough wheelchairs in the first place and in turn support the process of positive change; it would not support government and civil society organisations to understand the scale of the problem; it would not help identify learners who need the support; it would not support the development of an inclusive community and school environment that allows the learners to engage in quality education. The limitations go on. In essence, it would be like treating the symptoms rather than the disease. As such, these factors combine mean that if SG were to take this approach for learners with disabilities, it would limit their capacity to achieve their wider strategic aims of policy influence and may contribute to the perpetuation of inequalities.

In terms of education for girls and young women, this option has more scope for impact. As noted above, girls’ education has received much attention from donors in recent years, to the point in all contexts they have loosely achieved gender parity or even a girls’ advantage in basic education. Nevertheless, there is significant evidence to show that being a girl can act as multiplier with different forms of disadvantage. For example, having a disability or being from a lower socio-economic background. Therefore, the needs of the system are not as wide ranging and there is scope for more targeted action. As such, option three will not be considered in the context of learners with disabilities. However, this option will be considered for the girls and young women’s direct support element of the programme design.

Option 4: Take a systems approach and develop a holistic package of support in partner countries.

This option assumes SG is able to leverage its political support for inclusive education to further the global momentum towards SDG4, by delivering impact, contributing to the emerging global evidence base, and building its own capacity as a leader in the education for people with disabilities and girls and young women. SG would build on the evidence outlined in the needs analysis and, using a systems approach, develop a bespoke programme of support that is both responsive to the nuance of partner country needs and in line with the broad areas for action identified in the needs analysis common to all partner contexts. A systems approach is one which recognises the complex and interconnected nature of education systems. It takes a holistic understanding of the education system and targets the levers within a system, which can affect change (Faul and Savage, 2023). Systems approaches have an extensive evidence base (see for example, World Banks, 2013; Pritchett, 2015; Crouch and DeStefano, 2017; Kaffenberger, 2022) and would be aligned with partner country stakeholder input for the programme elements focussing on learners with disabilities. This option assumes that the programme will take a mixture of technical or hard approaches and human or soft approaches. This means that the programme will target the individuals, communities, and key stakeholders, which both impact educational exclusion and implement change (soft approach), and a range of technical solutions aimed at resolving identified problems, such as building ramps (hard approach). This accounts for the complex and often unpredictable interactions of the system and increases the likelihood of system-wide effects (Faul and Savage, 2023).

Such an approach would require ambition on the part of the SG but provides the greatest opportunity to achieve their goals. It would allow for significant control of the programme inputs, outputs, and success indicators, which in turn would both allow them to channel funding in line with their anti-racist and feminist approach and enhance their capacity to ensure that gender equality is mainstreamed. The programme would be able to deliver tangible benefits to learners with disabilities in partner countries, whilst building up the evidence base for affordable high impact initiatives in this area. The option assumes there will be consistency in the programme across the three partner countries. This would allow for adaptive management processes and cross-country learning in the programme for the contractor(s) and would strengthen SGs ability to develop a significant stock of knowledge within inclusive education and education for learners with disabilities. This, in turn, will increase its credibility as a leader within this area of education and development. Furthermore, such an approach would provide significant opportunities for SG to develop its relationship and engagement with partner country governments and civil society. These factors combined will allow for SG to achieve its goal to be able to engage strategically in support of partner country education sectors and more broadly. This option has the most promise and will be taken forward for further in-depth consideration in the programme design section below.


This section has outlined a range of options for SG to consider. All have a range of benefits and limitations and all present opportunities for SG to deliver varying degrees of impact in partner countries. If SG wants to achieve the strategic aims they have outlined, they are recommended to incorporate different elements of options three and four into two distinct programme workstreams. Namely, to take forward option three to provide targeted support to girls and young women in marginalised communities, and to combine option four to create a holistic programme to support learners with disabilities. The latter workstream would take a whole systems approach and mainstream a gender equalities approach. SG should work in partnership with local or regional organisations to deliver the programme. The programme design will be outlined further in the next section.



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