Global education ‘faces crisis’ as aid is cut by 10%

Education funding

The struggle to give every child in the world a good education is being hit by a dramatic fall in international aid funding.

Aid to basic education was cut by almost 10% between 2010 and 2012, according to figures released by UNESCO today.

That is substantially higher than the 1% decrease in overall aid levels – meaning international donors and governments are backing away from education as a development priority.

Basic education – giving children foundational skills and core knowledge – is getting the same level of aid as it did in 2008. And that’s against a backdrop of 57million children out of school and 250million still not learning basic skills.

The figures are released by UNESCO’s Education For All Global Monitoring Report ahead of the Global Partnership for Education’s Replenishment Pledging Conference. Donors will be asked in Brussels on June 25 and 26 to help raise a much-needed $3.5billion for education in the poorest countries.

Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, said the GMR policy paper shows global education “is facing a crisis” and pleaded with the international community to dig deeper.

He added: “With 57million children out of school and just over one year to reach our global goal of universal primary education, we cannot stop our efforts and I urge the donor community to do more to support education.

“The new UNESCO GMR figures reflect the aid scenario leading up to 2012 when we launched the Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative. It is now time for the global community to demonstrate that because of the new global push for universal education, we are seriously responding to the crisis with concrete financing pledges and commitments to enroll more children into school.

“The replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education in two weeks time is a first opportunity to do this. We must support the GPE to reach its $3.5billion financing target and help 29million children go to school during the next financing cycle.

An outdoor classroom at South Omo mobile school in Ethiopia Picture: UNESCO/Katy Anis

“The plight of Syrian refugee children, the desperate need for safe schools in northern Nigeria, as made clear by the kidnapping of the girls of Chibok, and the important work necessary from Pakistan to South Sudan to get all children in school make it clear that now is not the time to scale back and give up on the world’s children – it is the time to recommit and scale up.”

The policy paper shows aid to education fell by just over 6% in 2010 and 2011 and by a further 3% in 2012.

Global Partnership for Education chair Julia Gillard reacted to the figures by saying: “Education is a long-term investment – not an expense. We owe it to the children of the world – particularly the poorest and most marginalised – that both international donors and developing country governments step up and commit more funding to education.”

Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO – which compiled the paper – said: “When so many girls and boys are still out of school and not learning, the continuing drop in funds for education is cause for serious concern.

“Increasing external support for education is an ethical and development imperative. We know the difference that well-targeted aid can make in helping countries to put quality education first.”

The cuts are biting hardest in the countries which are furthest from reaching the Millennium Development Goal of education for all by the end of 2015.

In sub-Saharan Africa – home to more than half of the world’s 57million out-of-school children – aid to basic education fell between 2010 and 2011 and stagnated between 2011 and 2012. Since 2010, 12 African countries have seen cuts in their aid to basic education of $10million or more.

Kennedy Odede, Kenyan chief executive of the social services organisation Shining Hope for Communities, said: “I’m devastated to hear that international aid supporting education has dropped by 10%.  

“Growing up in Africa’s largest slum, I saw the impact of education. Education was a life-or-death matter, the difference between opportunity or the perpetuation of the cycle of poverty. We cannot afford to leave generations uneducated and uninvested in – as this will impact not only these children but the stability of our world.”

The two countries with the largest cuts in aid to basic education from 2010 to 2012 were India and Pakistan, even though both sit among the top five countries with most children out of school.

The report shows that education receives the smallest proportion of requests made for funding education – only 40% of its 
requests in 2013, compared to almost 90% for the food sector.

Aaron Benavot, director of the EFA Global Monitoring Report, said: “This worrying fall in aid is in the context of a $26billion annual finance gap for education.

“Unless this negative trend is reversed, the likelihood of reaching the global education goals is put at great risk – all the more so if new education targets are set for 2030,

“With aid proving so volatile, governments must urgently improve their domestic financing, including better management of their tax systems, so as not to put their country’s development in jeopardy.”

Youth advocates shocked and saddened by cuts in aid to education.

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