Education financing: What’s the cost of inaction?

The cost of inaction on education financing is hard to fathom. Not ensuring that all children can go to school and learn will have dire consequences for our world in the face of increasing inequality, insecurity and crises. We cannot miss this opportunity.

July 22, 2021 by GPE Secretariat
4 minutes read
Class 4 student Shayana raises her hand in class. Vanuatu, 2021. Credit: GPE/Arlene Bax
Class 4 student Shayana raises her hand in class. Vanuatu, 2021.
GPE/Arlene Bax

Our world is being dramatically redefined by common threats to human survival, from conflicts to climate change and health emergencies. A generation of young people armed with quality education can shield us from the worst impacts of the next pandemic, war or natural disaster, and help us harness the unrivaled opportunities of the 21st century.

Progress on global education is at a crossroads. We have a significant opportunity to redefine the future by getting quality learning for all back on track, but the window is rapidly closing.

COVID-19’s dire impact on education

COVID-19 created the greatest disruption to education of our time. As countries continue to battle the waves of the pandemic, millions of children’s learning is being interrupted.

As learning loss mounts, so does the risk that the most marginalized children will never return to school. Those at greatest risk are children with disabilities, and children from the poorest households, especially girls.

At the same time, the economic contraction caused by the pandemic is putting both domestic and international funding for children’s education at risk. Education budgets have already decreased in two-thirds of low- and lower-middle-income countries. Squeezed budgets could translate into a fall for aid to education of up to US$2 billion by 2022. It may be six years until 2018 levels are reached again.

The combined impacts of school closures and economic crisis threaten to entrench educational inequality and roll back two decades of progress on learning.

A classroom at Ayno Meena Number Two school in the city of Kandahar, Afghanistan. Credit: GPE/Jawad Jalali
A classroom at Ayno Meena Number Two school in the city of Kandahar, Afghanistan.
GPE/Jawad Jalali

The ripple effect of education loss

Even before the pandemic, the world was falling well short of delivering quality learning to all children. Many countries were already struggling to educate growing populations, and the school-age population in low-income countries is set to increase by 67% in the next three decades.

Indeed, without urgent and concerted education financing, 825 million school-age children in low- and middle-income countries will lose the chance to achieve the necessary skills for success in the job market by 2030.

There is an urgent need to accelerate education access or countries will risk losing ground on social and economic progress made so far.

However, the majority of domestic education budgets are tied up in recurring costs such as teacher salaries and school infrastructure, and some countries are left with as little as 1 percent to support reform and spark the change they want to see.

Without additional financial support, including from GPE, low-income countries will lose a vital opportunity to improve the quality of education and accelerate progress in learning.

Students check out books from the school library at Meskerem Elementary School, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia. Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Students check out books from the school library at Meskerem Elementary School, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia. Since 2008, GPE grants have supported education reforms in Ethiopia to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the country's 40,000 schools.
GPE/Kelley Lynch

The cost of inaction

Poor quality learning has costs not only for children’s opportunities and dreams but also for the future prospects of their communities and countries.

The level and relevance of skills gained today will dictate an individual’s employment, wealth and well-being tomorrow, as well as the economic stability and resilience of their societies.

But lost potential from lack of learning is costing economies an estimated $129 billion a year.

This doesn’t have to be the case. If we act now to ensure that every child in low-income countries is learning, gross domestic product per capita could increase by almost 70% by 2050.

These investments are particularly powerful when they are aimed at educating girls. Twelve years of quality education for every girl would boost economies by as much as $30 trillion in increased lifetime earnings. Girls education also has ripple effects that benefit entire societies.

Education is the change we need

A child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live past the age of 5, 50% more likely to be immunized and twice as likely to attend school – creating a virtuous cycle of increased prosperity for their countries and communities.

As the world continues to grapple with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders must choose to invest in measures that will not only deliver short-term relief but yield long-term rewards. The ripple effect of investing in education systems now will help us overcome the greatest challenges in our increasingly interconnected future.

By investing in the world’s most powerful asset – children and young people – and by drawing on the strength of our partnership, GPE aims to simultaneously accelerate the fight to end poverty, prevent climate change, save lives and create a better common future for all.

Without the additional efforts and resources leveraged by GPE, partner countries will lose a vital opportunity to accelerate progress in learning. 33 million children, half of them girls, could lose the chance to learn to read. This would stall progress on achieving key indicators underlying Sustainable Development Goal 4 and see a tragic loss of potential.

At the Global Education Summit next week, leaders have a unique opportunity to pledge funding and support to transform education and lay the foundations for future prosperity. Millions of children’s futures are at stake. We must not fail them now.

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