We need more and better education financing in Africa for a full recovery from COVID-19

To build back better education systems adversely affected by the pandemic, higher shares of domestic finance are needed to meet SDG 4 goals, particularly given post-COVID challenges, of keeping schools open, ensuring continuity of learning.

October 14, 2021 by Rita Bissoonauth, African Union International Center for Girls and Women’s Education in Africa, and Maria Mdachi, African Union International Center for Girls and Women’s Education in Africa
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4 minutes read
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Students from the EPP ANOSISOA in Madagascar. Credit: GPE/Carine Durand
Students from the EPP ANOSISOA in Madagascar.
Credit: GPE/Carine Durand

Pandemic-related school closures have impacted learning for millions of children in Africa, which over the long term could result in the loss of human capital and shrinking economic opportunities.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a global economic crisis, and according to the African Economic Outlook (2021), Africa’s GDP contracted by 2.1 % in 2020, resulting in the continent’s first recession in 50 years. It is estimated that 39 million Africans could fall into extreme poverty in 2021 if appropriate support is not provided, with disproportionate effects on women.

COVID lasting impacts on children’s education

More than 18 months from the onset of the pandemic in 2020, many schools in Africa have reopened. However, the disruptions caused by the pandemic go beyond the classroom walls.

During this period, 250 million African students were impacted by these disruptions, adding to the existing 100 million who were already out of school before the pandemic.

Insight from a Brooking study, shows that in East Africa (Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda) from a sample of 400 children and adolescents, 34% had lost a parent or guardian due to COVID-19; 70% were undertaking income generating activities; and 86% cannot afford to return to school.

COVID has shown us that schools are more than just places of learning. They also provide health and social services and community support that help protect children and adolescents, particularly girls, from child marriage, unwanted pregnancy and gender-based violence.

With calls to build back better education systems adversely affected by the pandemic, higher shares of domestic finance will be needed to meet SDG 4 goals, particularly given post-COVID challenges, of keeping schools open, ensuring continuity of learning.

More funding needed for education in times of fiscal constraints

The UNESCO 2020 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report indicates COVID is likely to increase a huge annual financing gap to reach SDG 4 by one third, from $148 billion up to almost $200 billion. Aid to education is estimated to fall by up to $2 billion in 2022 (UNESCO 2020), placing even greater responsibilities on governments to provide adequate domestic financing for education.

Given the need to prioritize health to combat the pandemic, social sector spending, including education, should not be a zero-sum game. Financing education must remain a top political priority, as the African continent is dependent on its human resource for development, including combating future crises.

Mounting debt, slowdown of GDP in real terms, including loss of tax revenue from COVID’s economic impact, and other competing national priorities also impeded effective financing of the education sector. Yet, a commitment to financing schooling, learning and gender equality is key to a productive workforce, a quick recovery, future growth, development and resilience.

Households in Africa have to balance between meeting everyday needs and education expenditures. This poses a risk for children, especially girls, being exposed to child labor and child marriage as family livelihoods diminish and economic crises continues.

In response, the African Union/International Centre for Girls’ and Women’s Education launched its #AfricaEducatesHer campaign in September 2020 to sensitize AU Member States, educators, civil society organizations and youth on the need for girls and young women to return to school as countries slowly reopened schools around the continent.

Protect and increase domestic financing for education

Financing education for most African governments during COVID-19 requires adequate evidence to inform decision-making in resource allocation, while there are competing health-related priorities. The justification for resourcing girls’ education needs strong social-economic analysis backed by gender disaggregated learning data.

The KIX Observatory on COVID-19 responses in Africa’s educational systems released a report: “Education Financing, Wellbeing and Schools Reopening”. It highlights priority areas of funding in 41 GPE partner partners in Africa, and pinpoints the need for increased investment in girls and young women’s education.

Leaving education and its financing, particularly girls education, out of pandemic responses and recovery, will be devastating to countries and will result in deep, sweeping and long-lasting inequalities.

To fully recover, build back better from COVID, and reimagine education, equity and equality must be front and center.

Also, important is addressing efficiency in spending. It is estimated that almost one third of education spending is lost to inefficiencies. Of key concern is technical efficiency (using minimum resource levels to achieve best outcomes) and internal efficiency (minimizing dropout and repetition).

A full recovery requires sustained, strengthened and optimized investments in education. GPE’s recent Global Education Summit, co-hosted by the UK and Kenya, secured US$196 billion in domestic financing commitments from Heads of State and government, including many in Africa, to transform education for the world’s most vulnerable children.

Countries committed to spending at least 20% of national budgets on education over the next 5 years rallied behind President Kenyatta’s Declaration. These commitments are a crucial shield against learning losses resulting from the economic impact of COVID-19.

As a global education community, we must build on this political ambition to mobilize more and better domestic financing and tackle the unfinished business of getting all children, especially girls, in school and learning.

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