Education: The best investment a government can make

The disruption aggravated by the COVID-19 crisis to already overstretched education systems combined with economic shocks and increased pressure on public finances create a potentially fatal cocktail for education funding. However, while education is clearly a victim of the pandemic, it can also be the solution to the longer-term recovery if funded properly.

February 25, 2021 by Senator Dr Getrude Musuruve Inimah, International Parliamentary Network for Education, and Hon Harriett Baldwin MP, International Parliamentary Network for Education
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5 minutes read
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Students in class at Nyamachaki Primary School, Nyeri County, Kenya.
Students share a texbtook at Nyamachaki Primary School, Nyeri County, Kenya
Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

We live in unprecedented times. At the time of writing almost 2.5 million people around the world have lost their lives to COVID-19 and face the worst economic global crisis since the Great Depression.

The health and economic emergency caused by the pandemic has also exacerbated the global learning crisis, affecting both the funding and the delivery of education globally, and hitting the world’s poorest countries and most vulnerable learners the hardest.

The pandemic has laid bare the disparities that children and young people face in accessing a quality education: shining a light on the 258 million children who were out of school before the outbreak of COVID-19 and the millions more who were going to school, but not learning the basics, including how to read.

Tens of millions more children are now at risk of joining them.

A cocktail of devastating shocks to education financing

The disruption to already overstretched education systems combined with economic shocks and increased pressure on public finances create a potentially fatal cocktail for education funding.

Low-income and lower-middle-income countries were already facing a growing annual education financing gap of almost US$150 billion. To make matters worse additional costs due to COVID-19 related school closures risk increasing the gap by up to a third.

These costs along with slow or negative growth mean education budgets risk being squeezed by falling government expenditure and the pressure to allocate funds elsewhere. These same pressures are expected to have a similar effect on aid budgets.

These developments at the national level will be mirrored in households, which will see a reduction in personal income and remittances and therefore the money families spend on their children’s education will fall.

This generation of students stands to lose an estimated $10 trillion in earnings over time due to COVID-related school closures. As a result, they may never achieve their full education, job, and earnings potential.

Education must be at the heart of the global recovery

However, while education is clearly a victim of the pandemic, it is also the solution to the longer-term recovery.

Education is at the heart of the entire sustainable development agenda, benefiting global economies and individual incomes, and serving as a powerful driver for healthy populations and a peaceful planet. It is the key to addressing the economic, health, environmental, and social crises we face—and is fundamental to our ability to build back better.

Despite this, education has been largely invisible in the fiscal response to the pandemic. $12 trillion has been allocated so far in stimulus packages across 192 countries but the share allocated to education and training amounts to less than one per cent.

In order to prevent the worst education outcomes and mitigate the additional pressure on the education financing gap, we urgently need to protect education financing.

A three-point plan for protecting education funding

To mark International Education Day last month, the International Parliamentary Network for Education launched a simple three-point plan to do exactly that:

  1. Strengthening domestic revenue mobilization and increasing the share of expenditure for education
  2. Protecting and increasing official development assistance (ODA) for education
  3. Strengthening international coordination to address the debt crisis.

The promise of a fully funded Global Partnership for Education

The Global Partnership for Education’s fourth financing campaign poses a timely opportunity for governments around the world, both donor and developing, to deliver action on the first two points of our plan.

We were delighted that leaders of our two countries, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, announced that they will be co-hosting GPE’s Global Education Summit later this year.

Their leadership lays the foundation for growing much needed political commitment to education and mobilizing the funding necessary to support GPE 2025, GPE’s new strategy.

A shared vision of quality education for all

Kenya and the UK are united in our shared vision of a world in which every child has the chance to benefit from a quality education, and we value the role that GPE has and can continue to play to advance our vision.

GPE has invested more than $230 million in Kenya helping us to achieve universal primary education and gender parity in enrollment. We are also working in partnership with GPE to improve learning. We met, within two years, our long-term policy goal of one textbook for every child. Since 2017, 60 million textbooks have been distributed to primary and secondary schools, more than 10 million directly supported by GPE.

For its part the UK has been one of GPE’s largest donors. We regard education in general and GPE specifically as an important contributor to our wider aims of transforming the life chances of millions of children and their families, paving the way for more peaceful, prosperous and sustainable societies.

Raise your hand - Case for investment
Cover of the Case for investment for the Raise your hand campaign

Landmark opportunity to transform education

In addition to hosting GPE’s summit, the UK Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary pledged to put education, especially for girls, firmly on the agenda of the G7, which the UK presides this year. This provides a landmark moment for the world’s largest economies to unlock a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform education for the 21st century.

It is incumbent now on other countries, both developing and donor, to join us and ensure that investment in education is put at the heart of national and international recovery from COVID-19. In fact, GPE’s replenishment will be a test of the international community’s preparedness to support the education of children living in the world’s poorest countries.

Growing political and financial commitment for education

As Co-Chairs of the International Parliamentary Network for Education (IPNEd) - the first and only global parliamentary body dedicated to education - we are committed to growing political commitment to, and action on, education in collaboration with our members’ around the world.

This year, securing a successful GPE replenishment will be a priority for the Network and our members. We will also be working to support Education Cannot Wait, which provides vital, complementary funding for education in emergencies, and calling for the overall levels of aid to education to grow.

Development assistance is an important but small part of the solution to the challenges we’ve outlined. We will also support our members to grow their own national budgets for education, ensuring spending delivers learning outcomes and leaves no child behind.

Relieving, postponing, and restructuring debt for low- and middle-income countries that request forbearance is another crucial strategy for creating the fiscal space countries need to invest in education, which we will be working on.

As Prime Minister Boris Johnson said when he announced the UK’s partnership with Kenya to host the GPE summit, “none of this is new or controversial”. It is common sense and the best investment a government can make. The future of the world depends on it.

Senator Musuruve and Harriett Baldwin MP will jointly give the 2021 Annual Commonwealth Day Lecture, organized by the Council for Education in the Commonwealth on March 8. To register for the event please visit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/2021-annual-commonwealth-day-lecture-tickets-137820212967

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Financing 2025
Kenya, United Kingdom

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