Emerging from COVID-19 with an education revolution

The economic impact of COVID-19 is already devastating and bound to get worse. But since we know that education is the key to reversing this, COVID-19 then presents an opportunity to transcend the ongoing challenges, shake up the system, and build back better. Here are three ways to make that happen.

June 22, 2020 by Gayle E. Smith, ONE Campaign
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3 minutes read
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Children in a preschool in Madagascar (EPP Ambalabe).
Children in a preschool in Madagascar (EPP Ambalabe).
UNICEF Madagascar/2014/Ramasomanana

The economic impact of COVID-19 is already devastating and bound to get worse. The IMF forecasts that the world will experience the worst downturn since the Great Depression, pushing 71-100 million additional people into extreme poverty. This is the first time we will witness an uptick in extreme poverty in over two decades.

Education is the key to reversing this: if everyone completed secondary education, we could cut the number of people living in extreme poverty in half. But when 90% of children aged 10 in low-income countries cannot read and understand a simple sentence, this potential is a pipe dream. These figures do not even account for the impact of learning losses due to COVID-19.

As Julia Gillard puts it, “the risks of fragmentation, duplication, and strategic incoherence are obvious”. The futures of entire economies hang in the balance: the children of today, are the doctors and public health experts of tomorrow. COVID-19 presents an opportunity to transcend the ongoing challenges, shake up the system, and build back better. To get there, three things need to happen:

  1. Develop a unified investment case and get donors to commit to funding it.

    Even pre-COVID, the education financing gap was staggering: education financing needed to increase from US$1.2 trillion to US$3 trillion annually to achieve a learning generation. Now, the shrinking fiscal space for education, coupled with learning losses due to COVID-19, will exacerbate this. To reinforce the urgency of the situation, the education community must develop a unified investment case and get donors to commit to funding it. The sector must speak with one voice so that donors can fully grasp the urgency of the situation.
  2. Develop an education financing tracker.

    Leaders need to be held accountable to meeting financial commitments through an education financing tracker. The tracker must also link financing with results - particularly for the most vulnerable - to ensure efficiency in education expenditure. Because promises are not enough, we need to see progress.
  3. Laser focus on the global learning crisis, and investing in the early years.

    The global learning crisis serves as the greatest education threat of our times as it impedes the entire future potential of a child and our economies. Coming together around this clear, measurable focus will help drive the urgency home.

What happens in education is but a microcosm of what is needed globally - a global, joint financing plan that slices across sectoral siloes. Education can set an example that other sectors can live up to. We are at a fork in the road: we can either let this moment slip, or forge ahead to create an education revolution. I hope we choose the latter.

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