This case study of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in India, the largest basic education programme in the world, assesses the significance of foreign aid for achieving increased access to elementary education from 2002 to 2010, particularly for the most disadvantaged. It reviews the practical experience of India and its development partners in jointly developing and implementing a national education programme and how greater alignment of external assistance with the Government of India’s national policy for achieving universal elementary education was brought about, thus promoting country leadership and harmonising donor practices for effective aid delivery in line with the principles of aid effectiveness set out in the Paris Declaration (signed by the members of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD and representatives of the developing countries in 2005). The paper draws on documentation about, and experience of SSA design and implementation to establish, through analysis, a picture of how foreign aid principally from three development partners is being used effectively to support India’s own policy and strategy for universalising elementary education. The case shows that the development partners are playing an important role and that external support for elementary education in India is organised in a unique and effective way and contributed to increased access to basic education, particularly in the populous north of the country.
Journal of Education Policy (2011) 26 (4) 543-556 [DOI:10.1080/02680939.2011.555001]