New GEMR Policy Paper reinforces concerns about weakening aid for education

Education’s share in total aid declined for six consecutive years, from 10% in 2009 to 6.9% in 2015

School girls marching to their classrooms after morning assembly  Gbimsi Junior High School, Savelugu, Northern Region, Ghana, May 2016 Credit: GPE/ Stephan Bachenheimer

No one who has followed global education financing trends should be surprised to learn from a new UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report (GEMR) Policy Paper that, even as total development aid worldwide has grown in recent years, the share that goes to education in developing countries has remained stagnant.

We saw this coming. We’ve known for some time that aid to education from the world’s richest nations had been dropping, and, indeed, the policy paper shows that education’s share in total aid declined for six consecutive years, from 10% in 2009 to 6.9% in 2015.

Current education funding won’t take us to SDG 4

As the International Commission for Financing Global Education Opportunities noted last year, current education funding levels are inadequate to meet the Sustainable Development Goal to achieve quality universal education by 2030. If donor countries do not substantially step up their commitment to help developing countries give more of their children the education they need and deserve, they will be condemning the education SDG to failure in the world’s poorest countries.

Drawing on OECD data, the GEMR policy paper notes that total global official development assistance (ODA) rose about 5% in real terms between 2014 and 2015 -- from US$145 billion to US$152 billion. The growing refugee crisis has been one of the drivers of that change. But education’s share of ODA has decreased.

Even more troubling is that the OECD DAC donors have been reducing their support to basic education since 2010. This is especially problematic for us as GPE heads into replenishment in early 2018– the moment when countries from around the world rally to express their support for basic education for the most marginalized children. This replenishment comes at a time when we must do more to keep the momentum of progress going in so many of the countries where we work.

That’s why we’re calling on existing and new donors to help us increase the GPE fund to $2 billion a year by 2020 and $4 billion a year by 2030.

Doing so will allow GPE to support 89 countries, which are home to 870 million children and adolescents and 78% of the world’s out–of-school children.

GPE is effective in reaching countries most in need

The GEM policy paper highlights correctly that GPE “is very effective in reaching countries that are most in need.” It adds that GPE’s support for basic and lower-secondary education in developing countries is growing even as overall education aid has stagnated.

With annual disbursements growing from US$16 million in 2004 to US$446 million in 2015, GPE is the second-largest multilateral funder of basic and lower-secondary education after the World Bank, the policy paper noted.

The paper also highlighted that developing countries themselves have defied the decline in overall development aid for education with increased investments into their education systems. And while these efforts are admirable, they will take economically struggling countries only so far. Based on current financing trends, UNESCO estimates that developing countries face an annual education financing gap of US$39 billion from 2015 to 2030.

Education funding in humanitarian situations too low

The paper also reminds us that funding for education in humanitarian crises continues to lag. Funding requests for education in emergencies over the last five years have increased by 21%, as a result of both long-standing and new humanitarian crises.

However, funding for education in emergencies remains well below the target of 4%. Currently it is at 2.7% out of a total amount of US$19.7 billion of humanitarian aid.  The education sector also receives a lower than average share of the amount requested in humanitarian appeals -- just 48% in 2016, compared to an average of 57% across all sectors.

For years, we in the education sector have sounded an alarm about the decline in funding for education, and the new GEMR policy paper reminds us that we need to intensify our calls.  

Unless the international community shows political will and commits to more support for education in developing countries, we risk denying precious learning to the 263 million children and youth who are out of school, as well as hundreds of millions more who in school but aren’t getting the quality education they need to learn. And we jeopardize the future of the rest of the world, which relies on a world of literate, educated people for its prosperity, health, stability and peace.

The stakes are too high to allow the status quo to continue.

Financing, SDG 4


Chief Technical Officer, Global Partnership for Education
Karen Mundy is the Chief Technical Officer at the Global Partnership for Education, where she directs the Strategy, Policy and Performance team. Dr. Mundy is a globally recognized leader and specialist in...

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