Fifteen years ago, at the Dakar World Education Forum, the international community agreed to six goals necessary to deliver Education For All (EFA) and pledged that “no countries seriously committed to education for all will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by a lack of resources”.
A few months later, the world’s governments agreed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – two of which related to education – including as their eighth goal a “global partnership for development”, which was to encompass financial support for the least developed countries.
The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and of the 2030 Education Framework for Action later this year, should set the ideal stage to build momentum on the increase of international cooperation, moving towards bridging the financial gap of $39 billion.
New report checks delivery against promises
A report from the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) – Education Aid Watch 2015 – analyses donor performance against the MDG-EFA commitments, and finds that despite some strong individual performers, donors as a whole have failed to live up to their commitments to fill critical gaps in financing for the EFA goals and the education MDGs.
It is clear that if the world is to realize the pledges contained in the new post-2015 agenda for education – including Sustainable Development Goal 4 to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” and the associated Framework for Action – donors will have to step up their aid commitments to education.
Moreover, they need to do more to ensure that their development assistance is flexible, responds to country priorities, meets their needs and targets both poverty and inequalities, addressing populations with the greatest needs.
Aid to education stalls
GCE’s report finds that over the MDG period as a whole (using 2002 to 2013, the period for which relevant data is available ), aid to basic education – that is, primary education, basic life skills for youth and adults, and early childhood education, as defined by OECD-DAC – across all donors amounted to only 3.6% of total ODA, falling far short of GCE’s call for 10% of ODA to basic education.
Moreover, only a small handful of donors increased their focus on basic education during recent years, when many countries needed to accelerate their efforts to reach the EFA goals and MDG. As a whole, on the contrary, the donor focus on education fell. So much so that in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, the proportion of total ODA going to education as a whole, and to basic education specifically, was at the lowest level it had been in any year since agreement of EFA goals and the MDGs.
This failure by donors to prioritize education stands in marked contrast to the priorities of citizens: in the United Nations’ My World 2015 survey, “a good education” emerged as the top priority of citizens across all demographics and income groupings.
Developing countries increase their budgets to education but more is needed
It also contrasts with the efforts of aid recipient governments themselves: a recent Government Spending Watch analysis of the budgets of 66 low-income and lower-middle-income countries found that more than half had increased the share of their budgets going to education since 2012.
Domestic commitments to education in the form of both effective, inclusive policy and financing are crucial. In particular, we make a clear recommendation that countries must be supported to improve, expand and make tax systems, and tax and natural resource revenue collection, more progressive in order to finance education. This will require coordinated international action to ensure fairer international tax rules.
But it will not be possible for every country to achieve the post-2015 education targets that the world’s governments are in the process of agreeing without significant donor support.
Funding for education during humanitarian crises still lags behind
Meanwhile, it is estimated that only around 1% of the aid for humanitarian emergencies goes towards education, despite the crucial necessity of sustaining and rebuilding education in order to recover from emergencies, prevent recurring conflict, and mitigate the effects of national disasters.
GCE supports the global call for 4% of humanitarian aid to go to education, and applauds the European Commission’s pledge to double its aid to education in emergencies to 4% of the EU's humanitarian aid budget.
Reasons to hope, causes for concernThe report brings about positive expectations: education aid did begin to climb again in 2013, after the drastic cuts of 2010 to 2012, although the recovery has been more muted than that of aid to other sectors. Moreover, as the report’s individual donor profiles make clear, there are a small number of “champion” countries among donors, who are playing a major role in sustaining development financing for education. For example, GCE welcomes Norway’s announcement to double its aid to education by 2017 – and other donors must demonstrate similar ambition.
However, there remains serious cause for concern, with Denmark – a champion country on ODA in general, but as a key donor to the Global Partnership for Education specifically – announcing today severe cuts to its education funding. This is a severe blow to the world’s ambition to realize lifelong, equitable, quality education for all – made all the more painful coming just days after the members of the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Global Partnership for Education has emerged as a key vehicle for coordinated, aligned aid for public education in low- and lower-middle-income countries, consistently recognized as such in the 2030 Education Agenda debates as well as in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. Its commitment to the education agenda as a whole is thus of paramount importance.
In fact, the Action Agenda does make reference to education: “…scale up investments and international cooperation to allow all children to complete free, equitable, inclusive and quality early childhood, primary and secondary education”.
This commitment is positive in some respects, in that it encompasses all stages of education for children, thus supporting the Incheon recommendation to realize 12 years of free education for every child, and that it is a commitment from donors as well as developing country governments.
Lamentably, however, it does not encompass education for young people and adults. This is clearly a backwards step, as both SDG 4 and the Incheon Declaration include lifelong learning as a headline goal.
Committing to education
Despite the many strides forward the world has made over the last fifteen years to end the cycle of poverty, we must build on the achievements, and learn from the failures. We already know that the financial resources for education since 2000 have been woefully inadequate – shockingly so for low-income countries – and we know that without increased resources, it will be impossible for every person to realize their right to education.
When people are demanding this right, and when governments are pledging to achieve global, sustainable development, now is the time for our leaders to take heed, and make serious commitments to fund education.