The achievements that have been made in scaling-up access to education during the MDG era have been nothing short of dramatic. As the recently released 2015 Education for All Report illustrates, these have included a 75% increase in the number of children attending primary school in sub-Saharan Africa since 1999, to reach 144 million in 2012. Such achievements and the notable role that the international community has made to supporting them should be celebrated.
However, this is no time for complacency as the job is only partially done. An estimated 58 million children remain out of school and secondary school enrollment remains stubbornly low. More alarming yet are the statistics on completion.
Recent analysis suggests that based on a business as usual scenario low-income countries will not achieve universal primary completion until at least the 2060s!
Business as usual is not good enough
Encouragingly the mantra emanating from the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) discussion is that business as usual will not be good enough. The SDGs look likely to call for completing the job on primary education and agreeing new ambitious goals on lower secondary education.
The questions this highlights is can we back up these ambitions with the means to implement them? Perhaps most critically, can we raise the finances to deliver on these goals?
A new report by the Overseas Development Institute ODI - Financing the Future. How international public finance should fund a global social compact to eradicate poverty – addresses this question in exploring to finance a global compact to address the education, health and social protection interventions required to meet the proposed post-2015 goal of eradicating extreme poverty.
What the new report says about education
The report’s emphasis on education begins with summarizing the critical importance of education across a range of challenges to be addressed by the SDGs. It presents analysis showing that education has a strong impact on poverty reduction, with both personal and social returns; education is growth-enhancing; and that education helps to reduce the risk of conflict.
The report then goes on to highlight the indispensable role that public funding plays to ensure free education if the education SDGs are to be achieved.
It points out that the success of the post-2015 agenda will be determined by efforts to target the hardest to reach children, those from the poorest and most marginalized households. It presents evidence illustrating how decades of painful experience has shown that relying on user fees and private schooling will result in these children being excluded from accessing education.
The report goes on to highlight how mobilizing adequate resources to support all countries to achieve the proposed education SDGs will require mobilizing increased levels of international public finance.
This is based on the fact that despite the remarkable progress made across developing countries in increasing domestic revenues over the last decade or so, a significant number of countries still lack the public resources required to meet these and other crucial goals.
Political will needs to drive increased funding for education
According to ODI calculations, developing countries could maximize their current tax potential (i.e. they meet their responsibilities to mobilize revenues) and allocate half their aid and public revenues to meeting the education SDGs, providing universal healthcare and scaling up social protection (i.e. they and donors show political commitment to meeting basic social needs) they would face an annual financing gap of around $84 billion in the coming years, $73 billion of which is in low-income countries.
The report emphasizes that it is possible for these financing gaps to be closed if adequate political will is mobilized by the international community.
The Addis Ababa Financing for Development (FfD) Summit in July 2015 provides a critical opportunity to achieve this.
The report therefore calls for the Addis Ababa FfD agreement to include a renewed commitment from OECD donors to provide 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) as official development assistance, as well as the scaling-up of development cooperation from emerging economies.
The report stresses that the Addis Ababa FfD agreement should also commit donors to allocate at least 50% of their ODA to Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and to leave no fragile state behind.