The West’s Broken Promises on Education Aid
The Global Partnership for Education, a worthy and capable initiative to promote education in 65 low-income countries, is begging for funds. The fact that it must do so – and for a paltry $1 billion per year, at that – exposes the charade of the US and European commitment to education for all.
NEW YORK – The Global Partnership for Education, a worthy and capable initiative to promote education in 65 low-income countries, is having what the jargon of development assistance calls a “replenishment round,” meaning that it is asking donor governments to refill its coffers. Yet the fact that the GPE is begging for mere crumbs – a mere $1 billion per year – exposes the charade of Western governments’ commitment to the global Education for All agenda.
The United States and the European Union have never cared that much about that agenda. When it comes to disease, they have at times been willing to invest to slow or stop epidemics like AIDS, malaria, and Ebola, both to save lives and to prevent the diseases from coming to their own countries. But when it comes to education, many countries in the West are more interested in building walls and detention camps than schools.
The GPE does excellent work promoting primary education around the world. Donor countries, all of which long ago signed on to Education for All, should be clamoring to help one of the world’s most effective organizations to achieve that goal. Yet generous donors are few and far between.
This reality extends back to imperial times. When most of Africa and much of Asia were under European rule, the colonizers invested little in basic education. As late as 1950, according to United Nations data, illiteracy was pervasive in Europe’s African and Asian colonies. At the time of independence from Britain, India’s illiteracy rate stood at 80-85%, roughly the same as Indonesia’s illiteracy rate at the time of independence from the Netherlands. In French West Africa, the illiteracy rate in 1950 stood at 95-99%.
After independence, African and Asian countries pursued massive and largely successful initiatives to raise basic education and literacy. Yet, far from seizing this opportunity to make up for lost time, Europe and the US have provided consistently meager assistance for primary and secondary education, even as they have made high-profile commitments such as Education for All and Sustainable Development Goal 4, which calls for universal access to pre-primary through secondary school.
Consider the grim data on development aid for education, which has stagnated for years – and actually declined between 2010 and 2015. According to the most recent OECD data, total donor aid for primary and secondary education in Africa amounted to just $1.3 billion in 2016. To put that figure in perspective, the US Pentagon budget is roughly $2 billion per day. With around 420 million African kids of school age, total aid amounted to roughly $3 per child per year.
It’s not as if Western governments don’t know that far more is needed. Several detailed recent calculations provide credible estimates of how much external financing developing countries will need to achieve SDG 4. A UNESCO study puts the total at $39.5 billion per year. A report by the International Commission on Financing Education Opportunity, led by former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, similarly put developing countries’ external financing needs at tens of billions of dollars per year.
Here is the reason why aid is needed. A year of education in Africa requires at least $300 per student. (Note that the rich countries spend several thousand dollars per student per year.) With Africa’s school-age population accounting for roughly one-third of the total, the per capita financing requirement is about $100. Yet for a typical African country, that’s about 10% of per capita national income – far more than the education budget can cover. External aid can and should cover the financing gap so that all children can attend school.
That’s not happening. Annual spending per school-aged child in Sub-Saharan Africa is roughly one-third of the minimum needed. As a result, most kids don’t come anywhere close to finishing secondary school. They are forced to drop out early, because there are no openings in public schools and tuition for private school is far too high for most families. Girls are especially likely to leave school early, though parents know that all of their children need and deserve a quality education.
Without the skills that a secondary education provides, the children who leave school early are condemned to poverty. Many eventually try to migrate to Europe in desperate search of a livelihood. Some drown on the way; others are caught by European patrols and returned to Africa.
So now comes the GPE’s replenishment round, scheduled for early February in Senegal. The GPE should be receiving at least $10 billion a year (about four days’ military spending by the NATO countries) to put Africa on a path toward universal secondary education. Instead, the GPE is reportedly still begging donors for less than $1 billion per year to cover GPE programs all over the world. Instead of actually solving the education crisis, rich-country leaders go from speech to speech, meeting to meeting, proclaiming their ardent love of education for all.
Across Africa, political, religious, and civil-society leaders are doing what they can. Ghana has recently announced free upper-secondary education for all, setting the pace for the continent. As African countries struggle to fund their ambitious commitments, new partners, including private companies and high-net-worth individuals, should step forward to help them. Traditional donors, for their part, have decades of lost time to make up for. The quest for education will not be stopped, but history will judge harshly those who turn their backs on children in need.
The Moral Imperative of Quality Education
Poor countries like Malawi are doing what they can to improve educational quality and access. But there is only so much that a country with modest means can achieve, which is why global leaders, when they meet in Senegal early next year, must recommit to investing in the education of all children.
BLANTYRE, MALAWI – In September, I was among a group of world leaders who gathered in New York City to discuss ways to improve access to quality education. Around the world, hundreds of millions of children are either not receiving basic schooling, or are attending schools but not learning. We gathered to devise a way forward.
The crisis that I discussed with heads of state from France, Senegal, and Norway, along with leaders from the United Nations and global education advocates, is not an abstract problem unfolding in a distant land. It is a crisis that has reached my doorstep in Malawi. The challenge of education is one that my government, like many in developing countries, grapples with every day.
As one of the co-conveners of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity – which brings together world leaders to mobilize support for solutions to the education crisis – I have long focused on how to improve educational access. Quality schooling is key to helping people contribute to the development of their communities and their countries. Without a properly educated populace, it would take decades for developing countries like mine to overcome the profound economic, social, and health challenges that we face.
To ensure that we do not fail our children, or our country, my government is investing heavily to build a strong and sustainable education system. We have steadily increased education spending, which has risen from 12.5% of the total domestic budget in 2010 to 21% in 2015. This represents one of the highest percentages among developing countries anywhere, and I hope that our example will encourage leaders elsewhere to devote at least 20% of their national budgets to education.
But there is a limit to what economically struggling countries like Malawi can do alone. To make real progress in education, the generous support of wealthier partner countries and global institutions is essential. The momentum we have generated can be sustained only if donor support remains strong.
Malawi’s education sector has benefited greatly from balancing increased domestic investment with external support. For example, more Malawian children are enrolled in primary school than ever before, and the rate of boys and girls completing primary education has increased dramatically, from 59% in 2007 to 80% in 2014. Adult literacy has also improved, albeit more modestly, from 61% in 2010 to 66% in 2015.
Still, Malawi falls far behind the rest of the world on a several key education indicators. Among the list of challenges we face are derelict schools, high pupil-to-teacher ratios, and significant gaps in inspection and oversight capabilities. These and other issues make it hard for teachers to teach and for students to learn.
When Rihanna, the pop artist and ambassador of the Global Partnership for Education, visited Malawi in January and met with students and teachers, she put a spotlight on the promise of education. Our country has been fortunate to receive funding in recent years from bilateral donors and international organizations like GPE, which helps countries like mine increase educational quality and broaden access.
Since 2009, GPE funding has enabled Malawi to conduct long-term planning and data collection, and has brought domestic and international partners together for a common cause. GPE’s support has helped us build more facilities, overhaul our curriculum, improve access for girls, and train more educators.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Malawi’s partnership with GPE has been transformative, which is why I am urging donor countries around the world to contribute generously to GPE at its upcoming financing conference in Senegal. By 2020, GPE aims to distribute more than $2 billion annually to help improve education in developing countries around the world.
Without GPE’s support, some 825 million young people risk being left behind without the education or skills to perform well in the workplace of the future. That could lead to growing unemployment, poverty, inequality, instability, and other factors that threaten not just individual countries or regions, but the entire international community.
Educating every child is a moral imperative and thus a universal responsibility. In today’s interconnected world, challenges and gains in low-income countries do not remain local.
When my colleagues and I met in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, we recommitted to solving the challenges of educational quality and access. We now need the rest of the world to join us in addressing this global crisis head-on.
Universal Education’s Moment of Truth
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every child should have access to free primary education. Yet, 69 years after that pledge, a record number of children – some 70 million – are caught in the crossfire of humanitarian crises that are denying them schooling and placing their futures in jeopardy.
LONDON – For nearly seven decades of a tumultuous century, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has served as a beacon of hope worldwide. But some of its finely crafted provisions have come back to haunt us in the form of some shocking new statistics.
Article 26 of the declaration states explicitly that every child has the right to free primary education. Yet, 69 years after that pledge, a record number of children – some 70 million – are caught in the crossfire of humanitarian emergencies that are denying them basic rights and placing their futures in jeopardy. Of these, more than 31 million girls and boys are displaced from their homes, and 11 million have been forced to flee their countries.
Compared to other children, young people displaced by conflict and crisis are half as likely to attend school. Not surprisingly, they are also the most likely victims of child labor, child marriage, and child trafficking – an unholy trinity that should weigh more heavily on the world’s conscience than it does. Of the 70 million children in peril, two in five have personally experienced violence or abuse. And although many of these children will likely never enter a classroom, school is precisely where they want – and need – to be.
“I don’t want to die,” one terrified girl begged from a war zone, “just study.” But, writing to a friend in the United Kingdom, she added defiantly: “I’m still alive, and my dreams are, too.” Her escape, her hope, and her heart all revolve around education.
The total number of children ensnared in emergencies – a figure that has grown by five million in just a few short years, and today outnumbers the population of France – will only worsen in 2018 if we fail to act decisively.
Global humanitarian response plans for the coming year, coordinated under the leadership of Mark Lowcock and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), will now place greater emphasis on displaced children’s educational needs, with particular support for girls at risk of being forced into marriage. But, despite the courageous efforts of aid agencies, conditions may still deteriorate before they improve. In Bangladesh, for example, more than 300,000 child refugees have been forced out of their homes as a consequence of sectarian violence in neighboring Myanmar. And while most refugees there have received food assistance, health care, and emergency shelter, only one in ten – some 30,000 children – are currently attending school, because only 5% of the humanitarian aid needed to educate Myanmar’s refugee children has been met.
While it is a remarkable achievement that one million Syrian children are now enrolled in formal or non-formal education programs in the region – including many in schools running on double shifts – one million more refugee children from that conflict are still awaiting their opportunity. Another 1.7 million children are out of school within Syria itself.
There can be no excuses for our failure to provide an education to children in the 19 global crisis zones that have suffered emergencies for five years or more, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, and Somalia – where crises have persisted for over 20 years. In the DRC, for example, even after all this time we reach only 8% of the 760,000 children. Only $230 per year per person is available for basic needs such as water, food, and shelter, and less than $10 per child goes toward education.
This year must be education’s moment – a window of opportunity opened by a new consensus that education is critical to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including reducing maternal and infant mortality rates, spurring job creation, improving quality of life, and opening our minds to issues of gender equality. But, most important, this is education’s moment because the world’s young people are demanding it.
When a girl holds a book up to an insurgent’s gun in Pakistan, when teenage mothers exiled from South Sudan in neighboring Uganda make education for their children their top priority, and when lights seen from space might include clusters of children huddled by candlelight trying to read and study, we know that education’s moment has come. Education provides hope – hope that a child can plan and prepare for a future defined by opportunity, not by child labor, marriage, or a life on the streets.
A Bridge to Universal Education
At the World Bank and the IMF’s upcoming annual spring meetings, delegates will reinforce the case for multilateral cooperation. In particular, they will be discussing the International Finance Facility for Education, a bold plan to ensure that all of the world’s 1.6 billion boys and girls are in school and learning.
LONDON – In a confrontational world where protectionism is on the rise, multilateralism has become an easy target for criticism. But those who doubt its value must have short memories. They seem to have forgotten that the Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe after World War II, NATO kept nuclear war at bay during the Cold War, and foreign aid lifted millions of people out of poverty in just the past few decades.
At the World Bank and the IMF’s upcoming annual spring meetings in Washington, DC, delegates will be reinforcing the case for international cooperation. In particular, we will be discussing the International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd), a bold plan to ensure that, for the first time in history, all of the world’s 1.6 billion boys and girls – including refugees and displaced children in low- and middle-income countries – are in school and learning.
The IFFEd draws its inspiration from two landmark examples of international cooperation: the joint IMF-World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, which wiped out $100 billion in unpayable debt; and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which has saved millions of lives by providing immunizations and other services.
The IFFEd, for its part, would facilitate annual investments in education to the tune of nearly $10 billion. With these resources, we can make significant progress toward the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for education, which aims to make primary and secondary education available for all children by 2030.
The quest for universal education is the civil-rights struggle of our age. After years of international neglect, 260 million children are not in school, and 400 million children are functionally illiterate. If current trends persist, by 2030, more than 800 million young people – half of the world’s youths – will leave school without the basic skills necessary for the modern labor market. And, by 2050, higher education will be available for 80% of young people in Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, but for no more than 10% of young people in Sub-Saharan African countries.
The need for expanded investment in education is even more urgent for girls and young women. Putting girls in school is the most effective way to keep them free from exploitation, forced labor, trafficking, and child marriage. Moreover, whereas educated women bear an average of two children, the average for uneducated women is five. This higher birth rate for uneducated women creates a vicious cycle. As illiterate young women have more children, average per capita income falls, and those children, having also missed out on an education, must increasingly migrate in search of opportunities elsewhere.
And yet, despite all of the good work being done by multilateral organizations such as the Global Partnership for Education and the new Education Cannot Wait Fund, total education aid has fallen in recent years. From 2010 to today, total funding for education in low- and lower-middle-income countries from bilateral aid and international donors fell from a paltry $10 per child to $8 per child. That is barely enough to pay for the cheapest textbook, let alone teachers and school buildings. Worse still, in response to recent pleas for education aid in conflict zones such as Chad, South Sudan, and Gambia, just 2% of the requested sum was raised.
As a result, by 2030, a majority of school-age teenagers in certain countries could be out of school and on the streets. Having been deprived of a curriculum that teaches them valuable skills and respect for different viewpoints, they will become ever more vulnerable to extremist groups that are counting on the West not to keep its promises.
The IFFEd is being launched with a challenge not only to donor countries, but also to the 47 lower-middle-income countries that are home to nearly half of the world’s schoolchildren. Developing countries and donors will enter into a compact in which each has a specific role to play to ensure that education is made available for all children.
Under this arrangement, each developing country will commit to achieving education outcomes commensurate with those of the current top 25% of countries, and to increasing the proportion of national income invested in education to 5.8%, from the current average of 4%. In return, donor countries will increase the share of funds for education in their foreign-aid budgets from the current average of 10% to 15%. They will also backstop development loans from the World Bank and regional development banks.
Even in 2030, the world’s poorest countries will not be able to afford around half of their total education costs. So, rather than having to borrow at interest rates of 3.5-4% to pay for teachers’ salaries, lower-middle-income countries will benefit from a new system of guarantees and low-interest or interest-free credits. And, by providing for lower-middle-income countries, we will be able to provide more direct grants for the 200 million children living in low-income countries.
Using as collateral the $150 billion of reflows from loans made in the 1970s and 1980s, we can increase the World Bank’s capacity to provide grants through its International Development Association. If we also divert a larger share of IDA contributions toward education, we can increase the education-aid funds available annually to the poorest countries from $1.6 billion (as of 2016) to more than $4 billion by 2020.
This up-front investment in education would extend the opportunity for a better life to more people than ever before. It would boost employment, slow population growth, and reduce infant and maternal mortality. And, as shown in the Learning Generation report, by 2050, GDP per capita in low-income countries would be 70% higher. Most important, it would provide hope to the millions of children who need it the most.
Financing Universal Education
The biggest obstacle to ensuring high-quality education for all children is figuring out how to pay for it. Developing countries can finance well over 90% of what is needed, but they also need international aid that is amply supported by wealthy countries – and hemmed in by ideological agendas.
COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND – The 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals represent a remarkable commitment by the international community to eliminate poverty and improve health, the environment, education, and much more in all countries by 2030. The SDG for education is straightforward: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
Unfortunately, we are a long way from achieving this goal, particularly in developing countries. More than 250 million of the world’s 1.6 billion children are not in school, and 400 million lack basic literacy. If current trends continue, by 2030 half of all children will not have the basic skills needed for employment.
The main problem is a shortage of resources. While developing countries can finance more than 90% of what they need to ensure universal access to quality primary and secondary education, there is still a large funding gap – approaching $40 billion in 2020, and $90 billion by 2030 – that must be filled by international aid.
Solving this problem has been the goal of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (the Education Commission), chaired by Gordon Brown and comprising luminaries in business, government, and academia. But the Education Commission’s two principal recommendations are wrongheaded, and should be replaced by two other solutions. Both will be politically difficult to achieve, but are necessary for financing the SDGs.
The Education Commission’s first proposal is to count on “philanthropists, corporations, and charitable organizations” to increase their annual aid contributions from $2 billion today to $20 billion by 2030. This is unlikely to happen. More to the point, charity is not a responsible way to finance public policy. As one recent study shows, charitable education-reform efforts tend to be short-sighted, uncoordinated, and self-interested, ultimately contributing little to advancing education priorities.
The Education Commission’s second proposal is to form an International Finance Facility for Education, to be overseen by the World Bank and various regional development banks. Under the proposed IFFEd, development banks would borrow from capital markets to increase their annual investments in education to $10 billion by 2020, and to $20 billion by 2030.
The principal problem with this approach is that the World Bank has no business spearheading education reform. In fact, as my own research shows, the World Bank has already been misdirecting education reform in developing countries for three decades, by pushing for increased privatization and narrowly defined educational outcomes and accountability based on excessive testing.
The World Bank’s market-fundamentalist approach to education (and other sectors) resembles that of right-wing think tanks such as the Cato Institute or the Heritage Foundation. But while these are recognized as partisan organizations pursuing an ideological agenda, the World Bank makes a pretense of objectivity and inclusiveness. Moreover, unlike Cato and Heritage, the World Bank is a public, tax-financed entity that wields vast influence around the world through its grants, loans, and policy recommendations.
Future generations will be aghast at how we have allowed banks to determine educational and other priorities. Rather than handing institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund more power, we need a new Bretton Woods conference to make them democratically accountable and less ideological.
As things stand, the World Bank is the 500-pound gorilla of the international-aid establishment, and the proposed IFFEd would put the gorilla on steroids. It would also make coordinating aid to education an administrative nightmare. In addition to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which focuses on low-income countries, and the recently established Education Cannot Wait (ECW) fund, which focuses on countries with humanitarian emergencies, we would have a third body focusing on lower- and middle-income countries.
It makes no sense to have three multilateral institutions competing with one another for funding. As Columbia University’s Jeffrey D. Sachs has long argued, we need just one Global Fund for Education to work toward the education SDG, and it can be a revamped GPE. Whereas donors will dominate IFFEd decision-making, the GPE operates more democratically, with equal representation of donor and recipient countries and strong participation from civil-society organizations. While the GPE is still too dependent on the World Bank, which supervises 80% of its grants, that can be changed.
Instead of the proposed IFFEd, we need two things. Wealthy countries need to honor the commitment, made in 1970 and repeated ever since, to allocate 0.7% of GDP toward ODA. While a few countries already do this, most fall far short. Just by keeping past promises, wealthy countries could close the education-funding gap – and cover all of the other SDGs’ financing needs, too. The Education Commission, by contrast, lets wealthy countries off the hook, by asking them to commit just 0.5% of GDP to ODA, and not until 2030.
Second, we need a global approach to taxation. As my colleague and I point out in a report for the Education Commission, corporate-tax reforms could eliminate tax avoidance and evasion, which are costing the global economy more than $600 billion every year. To achieve the needed reforms, we need to increase the UN’s capacity instead of relying on the OECD, which has proposed only minor changes.
We also need to institute a global wealth tax, as economist Thomas Piketty has proposed. It is obscene that the world’s eight richest people hold as much wealth as the poorest 50%. Like corporate-tax reform and fulfilling past promises to fund ODA, a 1% global wealth tax could finance all of the SDGs combined.
The SDGs, even more so than the Millennium Development Goals that preceded them, represent an extraordinary global commitment. But if the international community is serious about meeting them, it must do something even more unprecedented: put its money where its mouth is.
Closing the Education Gender Gap
On this International Day of the Girl, the number of girls not attending school, despite having fallen by 40% since 2000, still stands at 130 million. This represents both a moral and a practical failing, because girls are not receiving the education they deserve, and businesses are struggling to find workers with the skills they need.
WASHINGTON, DC – Completing primary school in Niger was never a certainty for Aishetu Mahmoudu Hama, given all the obstacles that stood in her way. “It was hard to study,” she recalls. “We sat on the ground – sometimes on a mat, sometimes just in the dirt.”
But Aishetu persevered, and she is now a 23-year-old university student. Aishetu knows that without school, her life chances would likely be confined to herding, farming, getting married, and having a lot of children. There simply would be no other opportunities for her to pursue.
Like the female teachers who inspired her to learn, Aishetu wants to be a role model to younger girls and her own siblings. She hopes that her story will motivate them to complete their education, too.
On this International Day of the Girl, Aishetu stands as proof of the difference that education can make for girls and the people around them. But the struggles that Aishetu overcame also remind us that education remains beyond reach for far too many girls.
Consider one appalling statistic: The number of girls not attending school, despite having fallen by 40% since 2000, still stands at 130 million. This helps to explain why women struggle more than men to find meaningful, well-paying work, and why the share of women in the global workforce persistently lags behind that of men.
Making matters worse, even where girls’ educational attainment has grown rapidly, commensurate improvements for women in the workforce have remained elusive. According to a 2015 study by the World Economic Forum, “while more women than men are enrolling at university in 97 countries, women make up the majority of skilled workers in only 68 countries and the majority of leaders in only four.”
These gender gaps represent a major generational challenge for large and small businesses alike. Worldwide, companies are already struggling to find enough qualified workers for their increasingly automated work processes. The International Commission for Financing Global Education Opportunity reported last year that nearly 40% of employers are having difficulties recruiting workers with the right skills.
Businesses investing in lower-income countries also need their workers to be healthy. This is more likely when mothers are educated: they and their families tend to be healthier than in the case of less educated mothers. In fact, research shows that if all childbearing-age women were to complete secondary education, the number of children dying before age five would drop by about 350,000 each year.
The businesses investing in developing- and emerging-market countries that are home to most out-of-school girls thus have an interest in helping girls get the education they deserve. If educational outcomes improve, we will likely see far more women pursuing the higher-level technical training that today’s workplaces are demanding.
To put 130 million additional girls into school, we will have to overcome an array of stubborn barriers. In many countries, educating girls is not considered important, owing to expectations that they will work exclusively at home or on the family farm. Early marriage, sexual assault, a lack of sanitary facilities for menstruating girls, and humanitarian crises are just some of the factors that make completing an education more difficult for girls than for boys. And in remote areas in particular, school fees and arduous commutes pose further challenges.
Even if these cultural, political, and geographic hurdles can be cleared, wealthier countries will need to commit far more resources to educating girls in developing economies than they have in the past. Shockingly, the share of donor countries’ overseas development aid that is allocated for education has shrunk over the last six years, and is now smaller than it was in 2010. Donor countries urgently need to reverse that trend.
The Global Partnership for Education has been one of the leading catalysts in educating girls over the past decade and a half. Thanks to GPE funding, an additional 38 million girls in developing countries were enrolled in primary school from 2002 to 2014.
To build on that progress, GPE will hold a financing conference, co-hosted by the Senegalese and French governments, on February 8, 2018, in Dakar. We are appealing to donors around the world to help us reach $2 billion in annual funds by 2020.
With sufficient funding, GPE can support the education needs of 870 million children in more than 80 countries. And it can help developing countries build education systems that will give girls like Aishetu the chance to realize their potential. When girls and women are empowered through education, they can and do transform the world for the better. Investment in their potential is a bet that can’t lose.