Education must be at the heart of the UK’s next international development strategy

Refugee Toddler At Pyli Centre In Greece
A toddler at the Pyli refugee reception centre on the Greek island of Kos. Early childhood education is crucial, particularly in refugee settings (Theirworld / Yorgos Kyvernitis)

The United Kingdom’s newly-merged aid department is writing its first strategy at a difficult moment for the aid sector and the wider world. Here Lorriann Robinson, a Theirworld consultant, outlines why education is a smart investment for UK aid.  

Last month, Theirworld submitted evidence to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) call for evidence to inform its forthcoming International Development Strategy.

This followed the UK Government’s announcement that it was merging the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development (DFID) into the new FCDO. The review and ensuing strategy will set the UK’s development priorities for the coming years.

The review comes at a time when governments around the world are navigating unprecedented global challenges. Covid-19 has exacerbated existing development issues such as poor economic recovery, school closures and deep inequities in access to healthcare.

Additionally, the UK Government has announced plans to cut its aid budget from 0.7% of its Gross National Income (GNI) to 0.5% of UK GNI. This means there will be less money available from the UK to address global challenges.

Theirworld’s submission urged the FCDO to prioritise programmes, policies and financing for education because, as Theirworld’s information toolkit The Key shows, education helps to unlock solutions for many other development challenges – from climate change to migration and pandemic recovery.

Even before the pandemic, there was a huge gap between the financing needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for education and the money spent on education by national governments and donors.

According to the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, education spending needed to more than double from 2015 to 2030 from $1.25 trillion per year to nearly $3 trillion. More recent analysis from Theirworld found that there is an annual education financing gap of $59bn.

We have therefore asked FCDO to prioritise three key areas within education:

  • Early childhood education (ECE). Eight in 10 of the world’s poorest children are missing out on pre-primary education. This is despite the compelling evidence that investment in early years education is the best way to give children the best start in life.
  • Education in emergencies. Too many children facing emergencies such as refugee children are missing out on education. In 2019, 33 million children in the world were international migrants, in addition to another 17 million children who were internally displaced.
  • The International Financing Facility for Education (IFFEd). This new financing vehicle has the potential to unlock billions of dollars for education in lower middle-income countries. As a key champion of IFFEd, Theirworld has urged the UK to step up its commitment and work to secure additional donors to ensure the facility is launched imminently.
Adopting this critical course of action will make a big dent towards addressing the global education crisis. Lorriann Robinson

The UK government has made girls’ education a key development priority, and has helped to galvanise global commitments from other donors to ensure all girls can access 12 years of quality education.

We believe that focusing on the key priorities outlined by Theirworld will ensure the UK is more likely to achieve its commitments on girls’ education.

For this reason, we have called on the UK to step up its leadership by committing to invest 10% of Official Development Assistance (ODA) for education in ECE and prioritise education for children facing emergencies such as refugee children who may have lost years of their education, and for whom education can offer so much benefit.

Aid spending alone cannot solve the education spending gap. National governments must also increase their domestic spending on education and donors should follow the UK’s example and support IFFEd –  an initiative that can dramatically increase financing for the post-Covid global education response.

Adopting this critical course of action will make a big dent towards addressing the global education crisis, giving hope to millions of vulnerable children around the world.

As Justin van Fleet, Theirworld’s President, said: “The current strategy for funding education will leave hundreds of millions of children behind unless we act differently – starting now.”