Role of public-private partnerships in education at a time of crisis

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

As the world looks towards recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, effective collaboration will be more important than ever before. To discuss what this could look like in practice, The Brookings Institution recently convened an event on public-private partnerships (PPPs) in education at a time of crisis.


Mr. Jared Lee, Principal and Director of Programs for the Education Outcomes Fund (EOF) took part in a panel discussion during the event alongside Ms. Charlotte Berquin, Education Officer at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for West and Central Africa, and Ms. Vicky Colbert, Executive Director of Fundación Escuela Nueva.


Mr. Lee focused on the role of PPPs in the global response to the education crisis and the potential for partnerships between governments and non-state actors, which are evidence-based and ensure accountability for results.


With a recent Smart Buys report co-authored by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the World Bank and others demonstrating that around half of all education programs demonstrated no impact on learning Mr. Lee observed that “we need to come to terms with [the fact that] single input interventions—like just doing teacher training or just using textbooks—were consistently rated as ‘bad-buyers,’ which was the term for things that have no impact.”


To combat this problem, Mr. Lee explained how EOF’s programs in Ghana and Sierra Leone use outcomes funding to ensure clear and measurable improvements in children’s education.


“In both Ghana and Sierra Leone, we’re partnering with governments to set up PPPs where non-state actors will work to support about 600 public primary schools in each of those countries. And they will be paid not for the work they do, but the improvements in learning that can happen in those schools as a result.”


While not all PPPs use outcomes funding, Mr. Lee shared how EOF’s application of evidence-based frameworks could serve as a model for governments and their partners to improve results from PPPs:


“We need to be using evidence in a much more real-time way and build-in feedback loops where we try different approaches, but we fail fast and have a strong evidence-based focus to see what is working…and course-correct where it is not.”


It is this ability for PPPs deploying outcomes-based funding to serve as an “innovation lab” for government to test different approaches that offers some of the greatest potential returns. By aligning programs, governments and education providers Mr. Lee noted, “this approach really allows us to harness the capacity and capability, and the innovation of non-state actors in a way which aligns incentives to the thing that government cares about”


The panellists concluded by reflecting on the lessons that they had learned from the current crisis which would inform their work in the future. Mr. Lee said the key takeaway for EOF was the importance of system-wide resilience. It was in building resilience that PPPs were critical, as strong partnerships enabled systems to “be able to innovate and adapt to the challenges at hand”.


You can watch the full conversation below or here.