Over the past few decades, donor agencies have provided aid for education systems in developing countries by introducing innovations that seek to improve the provision of education. However, it has been observed with much concern that many innovations are discontinued after donor funding is withdrawn, with Zambia being no exception. Despite this observation, little is known about why some innovations end up being unsustainable in Zambia. Accordingly, this research was conducted to ascertain the factors that may influence the sustainability of donor-driven innovations by examining the case of a literacy programme in Zambia the Primary Reading Programme (PRP). Initially funded by the United Kingdom s Department for International Development (DFID) between 1999 and 2005, the PRP was designed to implement the new literacy policy, which used local languages to teach initial literacy from Grades 1 to 7. In 2005, DFID withdrew, leaving the government to sustain the programme in all government primary schools in Zambia.
Drawing on data gathered through a qualitative-interpretivist-case approach that used semi-structured interviews, classroom observations and document analysis, the study found that the PRP was poorly sustained, as many aspects of the programme were drastically altered or discontinued after the termination of donor support. Key elements influencing sustainability included project-level factors associated with the design of the project, stakeholder ownership/motivation, the provision of financial, human and material resources for sustainability, and monitoring and evaluation. Contextual-level factors were related to attributes of the school (staff commitment/interest, leadership, staff retention, sustained professional development and availability of resources for continued implementation). At national level, Zambia s weak economic status and changes in policies affected the programme s sustainability. Project mentality or the negative attitude stakeholders hold towards donor-supported innovations also contributed to poor sustainability. A critical finding of this study is that the PRP appears to have been designed with inputs and activities that were beyond the socio-economic capacity of Zambia to manage and maintain without external support. Consequently, a major recommendation is that innovations should not be designed with excessive activities or tools or deliver benefits that are beyond the socio-economic capacity of the beneficiaries.