NEW YORK CITY, 24 January 2022 - With the pandemic soon to enter its third year, the tremendous courage of children around the world who are striving to continue learning deserves recognition.
We should applaud those supporting them; their parents, teachers and administrators who are working tirelessly to keep schools open, adapt to remote learning or restart classes after many months of closures.
On this international day of education, the global community must do more, before COVID creates a permanent fracture in the already inexcusable gap between how much rich and poor children learn.
Even before COVID turned the world upside down, nearly a quarter of a billion children were out of school, largely because their families couldn’t afford it, or schools were too far away or ill-suited, particularly for children with disabilities.
COVID-19 has imposed a new and daunting barrier to get these children into school. More than 1.6 billion students were shut out of school during 2020 alone and an estimated 24 million might never see the inside of a classroom again. As many as 13 million girls could be forced into early marriage, their educations cut short as their families struggle to bear the economic cost of the pandemic.
With the new omicron variant, the window of opportunity to help families keep or get their children learning is shrinking alarmingly fast. In addition to early marriage, children in some low-income countries are being pressed into work or recruited as fighters while others are trapped in abusive or violent households without hope of relief. We must prevent these grim outcomes - it Is far harder to reverse them once they’ve begun.
Education actors should use this moment to redouble all efforts and transform our education systems so that even the most isolated or excluded children in our societies can learn.
But instead, education budgets are shrinking, putting at risk hard-won gains, especially on girls' enrollment. Two-thirds of low- and middle-income countries reduced their education budgets since the onset of the crisis. To give partner countries alternatives to slashing education spending, GPE quickly provided half a billion dollars in financing.
If we are to provide the kind of boost to education financing that countries need, and get 175 million children learning by 2025, GPE will need support too. Last July, donors pledged $4 billion to GPE at the Global Education Summit, but this leaves a billion-dollar shortfall to help transform education in nearly 90 countries that are home to 1 billion children. Addressing this gap would be a clear signal of global intent to act.
A fully funded GPE would help durably transform education and increase by 30 per cent the amount that low-income countries can spend on crucial education reforms that go beyond simply meeting ongoing costs.
It’s this additional spending that’s essential for getting all children learning again and to redressing the inequities between boys and girls. The benefits of doing so are immense. Twelve years of schooling for every girl would boost economies through an additional $30 trillion in lifetime earnings.
We should commit ourselves to pledging that every day must be an International Day of Education; a time to grasp the threat to our future and shift our attention and resources towards transforming education systems for the most vulnerable children.