By: Alice Albright
The report of the International Commission for Financing Global Education Opportunities (or simply Education Commission) is out – and it breaks important new ground at a critical moment.
The Commission offers sobering diagnosis and bold, concrete recommendations about how global education financing should and can be increased and deployed. This report should be treated as a once-in-a-generation roadmap to set global education on the right path.
Perhaps most striking is the central question it provokes: does the global community have the political will to place a much higher priority on educating all children – and to ensure the financing necessary to achieve that fundamental goal within a generation?
While there has been substantial progress over the past 15 years, staggeringly large numbers of children remain out of school or are leaving the classroom after four years without the skills they should have.
Also, the current trajectory of progress isn’t nearly steep enough to secure the new global education goal. At the current pace, the Commission tells us, only four out of 10 children of school age in low- and middle-income countries will gain basic secondary-level skills by 2030. In low-income countries, only one out of 10 will clear that bar.
The Commission members, an assembly of some of the most influential global leaders from the fields of government, business and human development, tell us in unmistakable terms that we must do much more and do it better to educate the world’s children and, more importantly, that we can do it. But only if we choose to.
Collectively, our financing choices so far have fallen short. The report points out, for example, that education’s share of overseas development aid has fallen from 13% to 10% since 2002.
What’s more, low-income countries, which struggle the most to educate their children, currently receive less than one quarter of all external education aid.
Ideally, the Commission says, low-income countries should receive two-thirds of external funds by 2030.
The Commission also lays out a clear and ambitious set of recommendations for overcoming the big barriers to creating a “Learning Generation.” It calls for four primary “transformations.”
The first is reforming and enhancing the performance of country education systems, in part by investing in proven approaches to improve learning and by wiping out inefficiency and waste.
The Commission’s second transformation, innovation, speaks to a need to expand and better prepare the ranks of teachers and administrators, deploy technology that can support good teaching and learning and make sure non-state actors (civil society groups, in particular) are at the table to help plan and execute educational improvements.
The third transformation is to promote inclusion. That is, make special efforts to break down the social, economic, geographic and health barriers to education so many children face and embrace “progressive universalism,” which provides quality education for everyone while prioritizing the poor and disadvantaged.
Finally, the Commission calls for increased and more efficiently spent education financing – from developing countries themselves, many of which need to spend more of their domestic budgets on education, and from external sources.
All told, the Commission advocates for increasing total spending on education from $1.2 trillion per year today to $3 trillion annually by 2030.
That translates into an increase in international financing for education from today’s estimated $16 billion per year to $89 billion per year by 2030.
There’s no doubt that education needs more and better financing. Few national governments are investing enough, and this is where the vast majority of the resources should come from. Aid dollars are modest in comparison but invested wisely can be an incredibly powerful agent of change.
An indispensable role
The Commission report points explicitly in some places and implicitly in others to the Global Partnership for Education as an entity that can play an indispensable role in making the Learning Generation a reality.
Consistent with the Commission’s recommendations, GPE has a funding model that rewards countries that demonstrate concrete results, and it helps countries to set standards, track progress and collect and analyze education data.
Similarly, when developing countries become GPE partners, they often increase the share of their domestic budgets that goes to education. GPE also prioritizes support for countries affected by fragility and conflict, for gender equity and for universal early childhood education.
The Commission is on target when it argues that deploying a higher share of education ODA investments through multilateral institutions like GPE will bring about more efficient and effective financing.
GPE is a proven aid delivery model and is well equipped to take on and coordinate that additional investment.
The Commission’s recommendations are not only visionary; they come at a moment when the international community can – arguably must – build on the success and momentum of the last 15 years and do what it takes to create a Learning Generation.
But doing so challenges all of us – developing countries, donors, NGOs and the private sector – to go much further than we ever thought possible, perhaps further in many cases than current political will allow.
Rather than surrender to the sheer scope of that challenge, we have to take it on – heads on. It requires pushing beyond what feels comfortable to us now and understanding that the cost of maintaining the status quo will be far greater than the cost of action.
We know what needs to be done to achieve a Learning Generation by 2030. GPE is ready to play a central role in supporting the necessary strengthening and reform of education systems in countries and in promoting these transformations at global level.
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