Why we need to fund education now more than ever

Financing education is financing our shared future. One year after the Global Education Summit, GPE calls on donors to maintain their commitments towards global education for the world’s most vulnerable children, and on governments to continue prioritizing education in their national budgets.

July 29, 2022 by Margarita Focas Licht, Global Partnership for Education
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4 minutes read
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A student writes in his notebook in class at the FresWota School. Vanuatu, 2021. Credit: GPE/Arlene Bax
A student writes in his notebook in class at the FresWota School. Vanuatu, 2021
Credit: GPE/Arlene Bax

One year ago, on July 29, 2021, GPE raised $4 billion at the Global Education Summit, co-hosted by the Kenyan President and the UK Prime Minister. Partner countries also committed up to US$196 billion in education financing over five years. This was a first step in securing the funds needed to implement the GPE 2025 strategy and help 175 million children to learn. It was a great day for education.

But today, the world is a different place. War, COVID-19, global economic upheaval and climate change are pushing the education crisis to the brink.

Confronted with rising instability, and with national budgets already reeling from the pandemic and shifting priorities, education spending risks being squeezed further, with potentially disastrous consequences for learning. Loss of learning for today’s children and youth will intensify risks to economic development, food security, peace, stability and climate change for generations to come.

The latest GEMR estimates show that by 2030, more than 80 million children and youth will never have set foot in a classroom.

We can’t accept this.

We must redouble our efforts and increase investments in education, especially in this difficult and precarious context.

A call to maintain funding for education

Despite the budgetary pressures brought on by rising costs and instability, we call on all donors to maintain their commitments towards global education for the world’s most vulnerable children, and on governments to continue prioritizing education in their national budgets.

Leaders must urgently invest in transforming education systems to keep millions of children in school and ensure that the hard-won gains of the past decades are not reversed.

For the past 20 years, GPE has been delivering strong results, raising $11 billion to accelerate education progress and bringing an additional 160 million children in school.

We have provided the fastest and largest response to fight the impact of COVID-19 on education, with $500 million in emergency funds approved by June 2020 and supporting close to 70 countries. Our innovative financing tool, the Multiplier, has catalyzed an additional $1.6 billion from donors and private foundations.

Education is a vaccine against the world’s ills

Financing education is simply financing our shared future. Children who receive at least 12 years of quality education are healthier, less likely to join conflicts, able to get better jobs, educate their own children, and build a more sustainable and prosperous world for all.

And it’s much cheaper to finance education now than to try and fix the problems we face due to the lack of educated populations.

Despite knowing this, many lower-income countries are reducing their education budgets and many donor countries are reducing their aid to education: 41% of lower-income countries reduced their spending on education after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with an average decline of 13.5%. And the share of education in total external aid fell from 11.7% in 2010 to 9.7% in 2020.

COVID’s heavy toll on children’s learning

COVID-19 continues to profoundly disrupt education for millions of children around the world, widening the gap between how wealthier and poorer children learn. An estimated 24 million learners have dropped out permanently because of the pandemic with girls and children with disabilities facing the greatest risk.

Global learning losses from missed in-person schooling are getting worse and could cost this generation of students $21 trillion in lost lifetime earnings.

When schools were closed, despite heroic efforts by teachers to reach children with distance learning tools, children in many lower-income countries essentially missed out on most or all of the academic learning that they would normally have acquired.

Even children who are back in school aren’t learning. The ratio of 10-year-old children who are unable to read and understand a simple text has risen to an alarming 70%, up from 50% pre-pandemic.

Gender equality could take a step back

Amid these challenges, girls often face the most severe consequences, with an increase in early marriage and pregnancies, in many cases never returning to school. Thirteen million girls could be forced into early marriage as their parents grapple with the economic fallout of COVID-19.

Teenage boys who have taken up income-generating activities to help their families while schools were closed, may not return to school either.

At GPE, we have placed gender equality at the heart of our strategy, because we know that better equality in education will mean a more just world for all.

We cannot let the gains of the past years slip away.

As a multi-stakeholder partnership, that encompasses all the strongest education advocates and providers, GPE will continue to be the strongest advocate for the education of marginalized and vulnerable children. Because we know that funding education is what will help us build a more prosperous, stable, and equitable world.

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