3 key actions to make education a reality for millions of children

Ahead of the Transforming Education Summit called by the UN Secretary-General on September 19, GPE Acting CEO details three priorities for world leaders to bring transformational change to education systems and give millions of children access to learning.

September 13, 2022 by Charles North, GPE Secretariat
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5 minutes read
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Peace Mulbah, 5. Nursery and ABC class, Billy Town Public School, a school constructed thanks to GPE funding. Brewerville, Montserrado County, Liberia.
Peace Mulbah, 5, attends the Nursery and ABC class at Billy Town Public School, a school constructed thanks to GPE funding. Brewerville, Montserrado County, Liberia.
Credit: GPE/ Kelley Lynch
  • A quarter of a billion children around the world have never been in school.
  • 13 million girls could be forced into early marriage as their parents grapple with the economic fallout of COVID-19.
  • Post-pandemic, 70% of 10-year-olds leave school unable to read and understand a simple text.

Let me put faces to these numbers: In Liberia, Denise, 17, had to drop out after 8th grade when she became pregnant during school closures while the Ebola epidemic raged. In Nigeria, Abdull, 15, fled violence and got separated from his family. He sells grass all day to make a living. In Bangladesh, Miya (name changed), a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar, attends a learning center where she is taught basic skills, but her prospects for a good job and a good future are dim.

The COVID-19 pandemic worsened the already existing learning crisis. It meant millions of children missed out on learning, and some will never return to school. It devastated economies, and as they struggle to recover, the negative impacts of climate change, conflict and economic downturn are making it harder for countries to keep education at the top of their agendas.

But deprioritizing education is a huge mistake. Loss of learning today will intensify the risks we face for generations to come. The reverse is also true: a quality education has a positive ripple effect across all other sectors of development, from health to poverty reduction.

That is why, when we gather for the Transforming Education Summit convened by António Guterres, I will highlight three priorities that world leaders must focus on urgently:

1. We must support countries to move away from usual approaches to truly transform education

In lower-income countries, education has reached a tipping point. If we don’t act now, 825 million children will lose the chance to achieve the skills they need to seize the opportunities – and confront the great challenges – of the 21st century.

At the pre-Summit in Paris, education ministers representing more than 80 countries committed to action to address the teaching and learning crisis. In New York, political leaders must make the bold national commitments that will drive system-wide transformation.

And the international community must step up our support to turn these commitments into action. For GPE, this means a sharpened approach to help countries identify and unblock the critical obstacles in their education systems and align partners behind priority reforms, allowing them to achieve results on a large scale.

2. We need to ensure that every child, regardless of gender, receives a quality education in a safe space

Many countries have reached gender parity in education, particularly at primary level. But this doesn’t factor in enormous differences across countries and regions, and the fact that girls in the poorest communities face many more barriers to completing their education.

These barriers can be obvious, like the ban on girls’ education in Afghanistan since last year, or insidious, like cultural norms and biases that make it harder for girls to achieve their dreams, particularly when they reach adolescence.

Furthermore, an estimated 246 million children experience violence in and around schools; harmful gender norms drive much of this violence, which affects both boys and girls in different ways.

Transforming education so gender equality is achieved within and through education goes beyond the classroom: countries must show leadership by including equality in their data, policies, financing and campaigns to clearly fight the causes of inequality, and hardwire gender equality into everything they do.

A student writing on the blackboard at Azimpur Government Primary School in Dhaka, Bangladesh. September 2019. Credit: GPE/Chantal Rigaud
A student writing on the blackboard at Azimpur Government Primary School in Dhaka, Bangladesh. September 2019.
Credit:
GPE/Chantal Rigaud

3. Countries and donors must invest more and better in education

Transformation is only possible if we reinvigorate education as a priority investment. The pandemic has led to cuts in funding for education: 41% of low-income countries reduced their spending on education after the onset of the pandemic. And the share of education in total external aid fell from 11.7% in 2010 to 9.7% in 2020.

Despite budgetary pressures, reducing funding to education is a short-sighted measure, which puts at risk not only today’s learning for millions of children, but also tomorrow’s sustainable world.

Most of the education investment must come from national governments.

Since the Global Education Summit last year, 20 political leaders have signed the Heads of State Call to Action on Education Financing, pledging to spend at least 20% of national budgets on education. I hope that others will follow their lead. Donor countries, too, must step up to protect aid budgets and allocate at least 15% to education.

The scale of the challenge means business as usual won’t cut it. We need to be bold and scale up innovative approaches and new partnerships to mobilize more resources, building on successful mechanisms like the GPE Multiplier, which has mobilized an additional $2 billion for 39 countries since 2018 from a broad range of partners. The international community must also take action to open up greater fiscal space for investments in education, including through debt reduction initiatives.

We can also invest better. Governments can take action to reduce inefficiencies, such as by improving payroll systems and procurement practices. New partners from the business and philanthropic communities can play a key role by bringing in new perspectives, solutions and capabilities to entrenched issues. The impact of these actions could unlock $16 billion for education in GPE partner countries by 2030.

Finally, funding has to reach the most marginalized children. For governments this means targeting funds to children who need most support, those who are typically excluded, like girls, refugees or children with disabilities. For donors it means channeling funds to the countries with the greatest numbers of out-of-school children and the lowest learning outcomes.

A summit for the future

Transforming education is not only possible, it is essential. Our world needs an upskilled young generation – the next teachers, engineers, thinkers, farmers, doctors, entrepreneurs –with the knowledge and skills to advance climate change mitigation, build green economies and cure the diseases of the future.

We must listen to the voices of young people who are telling us what they need to learn and seize these opportunities and any others they can dream of.

GPE is grateful to the UN Secretary-General for focusing the world’s attention on education. As we look ahead to the UN Summit of the Future next year, we welcome his leadership in keeping the momentum going.

We stand ready to support partner countries in making the bold changes needed to enable a quality education for every child, everywhere.

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Very relevant issues rising, I hope they are adressed accordingly. And more than ever governments should be the biggest funders of education in their respective countries and not wait for foreign aid. Governments should follow resolutions from the Paris agreement to allocate 15-20% of the countries annual national budget for education.

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