The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) in July in New York will include a review of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4), which promises quality inclusive education for all by 2030.
While there are some exceptions, an honest appraisal of progress towards achieving SDG 4 will point to serious gaps. We know that too many children and young people are still being denied access to education, particularly those that face deprivation and marginalization:
- 262 million children and young people remain out of school
- Refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school
- Twice as many girls as boys will never start school
- Half of children with disabilities in lower and middle-income countries do not go to school.
Children that do access school, however, are not necessarily learning and experiencing their right to a quality, inclusive education. A staggering 387 million children of primary school age will not achieve minimum proficiency levels in reading, two-thirds of whom are in school.
It doesn’t have to be this way though, and this year poses some real opportunities to unlock education for everyone— but only if we nail down exactly how we are going to do it and where the money is going to come from.
The Send My Friend to School coalition in the UK today launches their 2019 campaign, ‘Unlock education for everyone’. As part of this campaign, thousands of schools and young people across the UK will create and present paper keys to their local MP, calling on the UK to lead globally, work with countries and invest more and invest equitably in education to unlock education for everyone. The campaign has launched with a new report that identifies why inequality in education persists and what needs to be done to tackle it.
Why does inequality in education persist?
Access to education and learning is still not a level playing field. Inequitable education systems, that are constrained by underinvestment, a lack of data and accountability, and entrenched discrimination, mean that children and young people are being denied their right to a quality, inclusive education simply because of who they are and where they live.
We know that conflict, gender, geography, minority status and disability are all major reasons for exclusion from education. Crucially, many children experience several of these factors at the same time, in overlapping and reinforcing ways, increasing their exclusion.
Poverty, for example, intersects with and exacerbates other forms of disadvantage and the poorest children are four times more likely not to go to school than the richest, and five times less likely to complete primary education. Conflict significantly exacerbates the barriers girls face, and girls in conflict-affected countries are almost two and a half times more likely to be out of school.
To be effective, therefore, education policy and programming needs to address multiple forms of disadvantage simultaneously, but implementing this in reality can be a challenge due to a lack of investment, data, and evidence on what works at scale.
What can we do to stop inequality in education?
Given the scale of the problem we need action in three crucial areas if we are going to deliver quality, inclusive education for all by 2030.
Global leadership: governments around the world must reaffirm and champion the leave no one behind pledge in education and use international meetings and events, including the G7, G20 and the HLPF, to press other governments and international organizations to take action to address intersecting inequalities in education.
Working with developing countries: donor governments should work with developing country governments and other key stakeholders to support inclusive, gender and disability responsive education sector plans and budgets to ensure that no child is left behind.
The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) commendably recognizes that to really move the needle for the furthest behind we have to incentivize action on equity at the country level. That’s why the disbursement of the final 30% of a GPE grant to a partner country is contingent on demonstrable progress against equity indicators that the country defines.
But defining meaningful equity indicators at the national level is challenging if governments don’t have access to robust, disaggregated data, and data systems that identify and account for those children who are currently hidden in data sets.
Equity Based Stepping Stone Targets (EBSST) can be a useful methodology that governments can adopt to better plan and budget for equitable education systems. EBBSTs are intermediate targets for the furthest behind children and young people in education (identified through an open and participatory leave no one behind assessment process) set at regular intervals between now and 2030 that plot a trajectory for reaching SDG 4.
EBSSTs, therefore, support governments to identify who is the furthest behind in education, and, when these targets are incorporated into education sector plans, commit governments to act on advancing progress for the furthest behind.
Investing more and invest equitably: donors and developing country governments should commit to progressive universalism and allocation by need and impact (prioritizing the progress of the furthest behind children) when making education-financing decisions.
We urgently need more and better financing for education - current trends of education financing mean we will be half a century late in delivering SDG 4. Developing countries must finance the majority of education financing - 97%, and to achieve this many governments need to increase the share of the budget that goes to education (to a least 20%).
Domestic financing of education in many countries also needs to be better targeted, as too often it is regressive; governments can improve how they spend their education budget, ensuring it reaches the groups furthest behind, by using progressive funding formulae within education budgets to allocate resources equitably.
The international community also needs to step up. Aid to education is stagnating and is not being allocated effectively or going to the countries that need it the most. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to a significant proportion of out of school children globally, yet the region has been receiving a declining share of aid to basic education. In 2002, the region received 50% of global aid to basic education. In 2015, this number had fallen by almost half to 26%.
GPE has been more successful at allocating based on need with roughly 77% of its investments being made in sub-Saharan Africa. Continued support for GPE, therefore, will be an important policy too. The partnership is in a strong position following its replenishment in February 2018 and there is opportunity to strengthen GPE further: donors pledged US$2.5 billion to GPE for 2018-2020, and there is still room for donors to commit more funding to GPE.
2019 is the year to unlock education for everyone
Unless we act now we are at serious risk of depriving millions of children and their communities of a future – without education we have no hope of eradicating poverty or reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.
Next year marks ten years till the SDG 4 target date – so in 2019 we have the opportunity to course correct on the inequality that still persists in education. We can do this by identifying the furthest behind in education and then agreeing, financing and implementing the actions that will deliver the promised accelerated progress for these groups.
Let’s make 2019 the year that we unlock education for everyone.