For many, the Asia Pacific region symbolizes rapid growth and economic success but there are still plenty of challenges facing the region. While overall education gains are impressive, development has been uneven. Myanmar, for example, is still building its education system from the ground up.
The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is increasing its footprint in the region to help partner countries strengthen their education systems and continue on the path to better education for their children. That’s why support from all donors is critical to help achieve our shared goal of education for all.
Earlier this month I visited Japan and Australia to discuss with our partners how best to collaborate in the context of the upcoming GPE replenishment. I was impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment in both countries to investing in global education. Both Japan and Australia are long-standing GPE partners and donors, as well as leading advocates for education worldwide.
Tackling challenges unique to the region
I met with government representatives to discuss GPE’s achievements in both countries, and connected with the business community and civil society about new opportunities to collaborate with GPE to tackle education challenges unique to the region.
GPE already has established programs in many parts of the Asia Pacific. An area of focus for GPE is on helping developing countries to address structural inequalities in accessing quality education, especially between urban and rural populations, majority and minority populations and girls and boys.
In Cambodia, GPE funding helps young children from disadvantaged backgrounds receive an early education – a critical intervention to improve learning outcomes throughout a child’s school life. This includes construction of preschools, community-based preschool programs and teacher training. Cambodia is now well on its way to enrolling more than half of its children aged 3 to 5 years – about 122,000 and counting – in preschools in seven provinces around the country.
In Papua New Guinea, GPE has supported READ PNG – a reading skills program that funds classroom libraries, teacher training and the introduction of reading assessment tools to better monitor students’ progress. Through programs such as the READ PNG hundreds of thousands of children now have the reading skills they need.
And we have a long-standing relationship with Timor-Leste, which has been a GPE partner since 2005 and made significant progress in enrollment levels and decreasing gender disparity in basic education.
Scaling up GPE support through innovative approaches
Over the past few years, GPE has been on a path to increase support to the Asia Pacific. In 2014, we expanded our eligibility criteria to include eight more Pacific Island nations. So far Kiribati, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands have all accessed GPE funding to develop and implement new education sector plans.
Our regional approach in the Pacific Islands, designed to help make GPE grants more accessible, recognizes the unique challenges that these countries face in terms of remoteness, small populations and vulnerability to natural and economic shocks.
The new ‘GPE Multiplier’ will expand support to low- and lower middle-income countries, which includes new eligible countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and India. Each dollar from the GPE Multiplier will leverage an additional three dollars for education from external sources, unlocking grant or concessional resources from multilateral development banks, regional development banks, bilateral governments and private capital.
We are forging new partnerships – such as the work we are doing with private foundations and the global insurance industry to transform the way school systems contend with the damaging impact that natural disasters can have on education systems.
Through GPE’s new knowledge and innovation exchange mechanism, we are enabling countries to bring promising pilots to scale - focusing on specific challenges.
GPE Replenishment 2018-2020: All donors to step up
There is still much more to do and GPE is committed to expanding its support to the Asia Pacific region. The Australian government estimates that the AUD$140 million committed to GPE over 2015 to 2018, will result in a significant dollar return on investment to the region.
Clearly, now is the time for donors to increase their support for GPE to invest in the region.
That is why GPE is currently appealing to all donor countries to help raise US$2 billion a year for the GPE fund by 2020.
With this funding, GPE can help partner countries drive improved quality and access to education for as many as 870 million children and youth.
For Australia and Japan, GPE’s upcoming replenishment provides the opportunity to remedy the education challenges faced by the Asia Pacific region, and to identify and target new resources to tackle these challenges.
GPE looks forward to continuing its strong collaboration with Japan and Australia. With stepped up support from these governments, the local business community, and philanthropy, we can maximize education’s return on investment in the Asia Pacific region and around the world.
The risk of not investing in education is too great to ignore.