Education and Government and Politics

Studying history, civics, or government? Drafting a paper on equity in education? Considering a career in public administration? The tools on this page will help you better understand that education is the prerequisite to success in how we govern, create policy, and organise and operate politically, in turn, touching nearly every aspect of our lives.

At all levels — from local to global — equitable and inclusive quality education underpins our ability to realize a tremendous diversity of goals, from healthcare and climate change, to poverty alleviation and gender equality, through good governance. Education must be central to any policy, sector strategy, or partnership to realize maximum impact and potential.

Looking for questions to centre your research efforts, or interesting issues or problems to explore? These research questions can help provide a path to a focused research and writing process.

  • Why should a country make investment in education a priority?
  • What cross sectoral benefits are associated with countries that invest in education? 
  • What is the status of funding for education?
  • What is the relationship between education and a country’s GDP or economic potential?
  • How can education help to create safer, more tolerant societies?
  • How are intergovernmental organisations engaging in education?
  • How can education help with economic recovery?
  • How can education save countries money?
  • How can education help to foster positive civic engagement and participation?
  • What role should the developed world play in global education?
  • How can education help to create a more equal and just society?
  • Who is most impacted when education budgets are cut?
  • Why should more developed countries invest in education in other countries?
  • Why should host countries invest in refugee education?
  • How can governments incentivize education?
  • What is the relationship between racial inequality and education?

Looking for clear topic sentences to express your opinion, or thesis statements to serve as the core of your essay? Theirworld’s examples can help to form the base of your argument.

  • There is a positive association between education and GDP per capita
  • Education is often at risk when difficult budget decisions must be made
  • Studies show that during an economic recovery investing in quality education improves the likelihood of recovery, growth and labour market participation
  • If education systems address the skills gap, a country can realize its full economic potential.
  • Educating girls saves countries money.
  • The failure to educate girls costs countries between US$15 trillion and US$30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings
  • Strong education systems promote growth, economic development and skills training, helping a country rebound more quickly from a pandemic
  • Education lifts families, communities and countries out of poverty
  • Securing secondary education for all would bring more than half of the world out of extreme poverty
  • Every dollar invested in early childhood education can yield a return as high as US$17 for the most disadvantaged children.
Global development
  • In an increasingly globalised world, furthering mutual priorities and addressing global issues – ranging from income equity and economic development to public health and climate change – relies on providing access to quality education
  • To achieve the Sustainable Development Goal for education, international aid for education needs to increase dramatically, even more following the global Covid-19 pandemic
  • Education underpins all of the Sustainable Development Goals and is a precursor to unlocking any development agenda.
  • Development strategies must include a clear and sharp focus on supporting quality education systems to create sustainable change in any other sector
Social benefits
  • When young people are provided education and opportunity, they are less likely to enter the criminal justice system
  • Quality and inclusive education is the foundation for peaceful societies
  • When education is equally accessible, the risks of radicalisation and vulnerability to extremism are lower
  • Historically, countries with higher levels of education have been less likely to engage in violent conflict
  • Education plays a fundamental role in sustaining peace and reconciliation following conflict
  • Education is a human right
  • Education unlocks knowledge of human rights and enables full participation in economic, social, cultural, civil and political life
  • Equal education for minority groups reduces the chances of conflict
  • Integrated schools can play a key role in building relationships across political, religious and ethnic divides.
  • The more a country invests in education, the more prepared it is to address the climate crisis
  • Education has the power to promote a more equal and just society
  • Budget cuts to education systems stand to impact racial and ethnic minorities the most
  • Education can create more equitable societies, if investments provide opportunities to the poorest and most marginalised
Refugees & migrants
  • Investing in education for refugees provides hope and opportunity for children who have experienced unthinkable tragedy and disruption to their lives
  • Supporting refugee education can help to improve education for host communities
  • Refugee education creates more tolerant, peaceful societies and helps ensure people are able to contribute to their host communities and be prepared to return home and rebuild their communities
  • Education and corruption are strongly linked
  • Education is a key factor in deterring corruption
Teaching & learning
  • Countries are facing a global teacher shortage
  • Offering incentives, such as cash transfers, encourages families to send children to school instead of work

Seeking key messages, facts, and opinions to build your evidence base? Find the most up-to-date, pre-sourced data points to help you make a robust case for education and government and politics.


Economic costs
  • If current trends continue, by 2030 less than 10% of young people in low-income countries will be on track to gain basic secondary level skills. The costs of this education crisis – unemployment, poverty, inequality and instability – could undermine the very fabric of our economies and societies. (Education Commission, 2016)
  • There is an economic cost to not investing in education. In India alone, nearly two-thirds of children born each year do not finish secondary school for a plethora of largely preventable reasons. In pure economic terms, this represents an opportunity cost of over US$100 billion to national annual economic output, or about 5% of GDP. (Winthrop et al., 2013)
  • When public education systems are weak, the business community incurs significant costs. Companies bear costs to compensate for poor-quality education and the low skill levels of graduates, including investing in remedial training programmes. In India, for example, in one five-year period information technology companies almost doubled the amount they spent on training employees, from US$1 billion in 2007 to close to US$2 billion in 2011. (Winthrop et al., 2013)
  • Less educated girls who marry as children contribute great economic costs to governments. If child marriage was ended and girls were in school, governments could save up to US$17 billion per year by 2030. (World Bank, 2017).
  • The cost of inaction is high. For example, if Nicaragua does not expand universal preschool, it will lose the equivalent of 4.1% of GDP in unrealised development potential. (Richter et al., 2017).
  • The cost of not providing education is staggering. Limited educational opportunities and barriers for girls cost the world economy between US$15 trillion and US$30 trillion. In nine countries, the cost of out-of-school children was estimated to be greater than the value of an entire year of GDP growth. (World Bank, 2018)  (Thomas & Burnett, 2013)
  • Education cuts after an economic crisis can hurt learning and future growth. In the US, when school spending was cut by 10% after the 2008 recession, test scores fell by nearly 8%. (Jackson et al., 2019)
  • Failure to educate girls is costly. Ongoing barriers to girls’ education are costing countries between US$15 trillion to US$30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings. (World Bank, 2018)
  • School closures have economic costs. Without immediate remedial education when school resumes, some estimates suggest today’s cohort of learners could face a US$10 trillion loss in future earnings over the next generation. (World Bank, 2020)
  • Reducing investment in education leads to greater health cost burdens on government budgets. In the US, reduced spending in education led to more illness and higher medical care costs that offset the intended ‘savings’ of the same budget cuts. (AAFP, 2015)
  • Exclusion of children with disabilities has high economic costs. In Bangladesh, the lack of schooling and employment for learners with disabilities and their caregivers costs an estimated US$1.2 billion annually, or 1.74% of GDP. (International Disability and Development Consortium, 2016) (World Bank, 2008)
  • When peacebuilding efforts fail, the costs to countries due to lost education and human capital are high. Over a three-year period, conflict cost nearly US$470 million (1.7% of GDP) in the DRC and US$2.9 billion (1.3% of GDP) in Pakistan. (Jones & Naylor, 2014)


Global development
  • Projections for education show that by 2030 suboptimal education outcomes will limit progress towards the other global goals. Even before the impact of Covid-19, 258 million children were not in school and 617 million were not learning – and more than half of all young people were not on track to have basic reading and maths skills by 2030. (International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, 2016)
  • Education needs to be a clear priority which transcends political priorities. Since 2015, there have been more than 25 changes in leadership across sub-Saharan Africa. (ISPI, 2020)
  • A substantial increase in investment is needed, particularly in early education. In 2017, nine major donors in health, nutrition, education, and sanitation spent less than 6% of total official development assistance on early childhood development. Only 1% of all early childhood development aid was directed to education. (Zubairi and Rose/Theirworld, 2018)
  • Pre-pandemic, it was estimated that education finance needed to drastically increase to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. To advance learning levels in lower-income countries to those of higher-income countries, spending on education needs to more than double between 2015 and 2030, from approximately US$1.25 trillion per year to nearly US$3 trillion. (International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, 2016)
  • International aid for education needs to increase if lower-income countries are to reach the SDGs. Estimates at the introduction of the SDGs suggested that after domestic resources were maximised, international support for education to developing countries would need to increase from a current estimated US$16 billion per year to US$89 billion per year by 2030. (International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, 2016)
  • Despite aid increases for education, global aid priorities do not align with the need. Only 47% of aid to education was spent on basic and secondary education in low- and lower-middle-income countries, the two subsectors and two country groups perceived as most in need. (UNESCO, 2020)
  • International finance is in danger due to the global pandemic which has caused a shock greater than the 2008 financial crisis. Global aid is likely to decline by up to US$2 billion from 2018 to 2022 as a result of recession caused by Covid-19, resulting in a 12% drop in international support for education. (UNESCO, 2020) (World Bank, 2020)
  • Lagging support for education may result in more children being out of school than before the pandemic. If current funding trends continue, the number of out-of-school children — particularly those hardest to reach in many of the poorest countries — will continue to increase. It is estimated that 10 million children previously in school will not return after. (Save the Children, 2020)
Migrants & refugees
  • The number of stateless children is increasing daily, placing new demands on education system responses. More than one-third of the world’s children are stateless, with one stateless child born every 10 minutes in five countries alone. Data from OECD countries in 2015 shows that almost one in four students aged 15 years are immigrants or have immigrant backgrounds. (UNHCR, 2014) (OECD, 2018)
  • Communities suffer if refugee children are uneducated. The less education a child receives, the more likely they are to live in poverty and poor health, adding strain to host communities. (Save the Children, 2018)
  • Policy barriers still exist in many places that prevent migrant children from accessing school. A study of 28 countries found that 40% of the developed countries and over 50% of developing countries did not allow children with irregular status entry into education. (Klugman & Pereira, 2009)
  • Anti-immigrant policies can impact on a young person’s ability to learn in school. A survey of 730 schools in 12 US states found that two-thirds of the respondents reported a negative impact of immigration enforcement and the constant threat of deportation on their teaching and learning. 90% of administrators observed behavioural or emotional problems among their immigrant students, and 70% reported observing academic decline. (Gándara & Ee, 2018)
  • Corruption in the procurement process contributes to high costs and substandard learning materials. In the Philippines, the cost of textbooks was 61% higher as a result of losses during distribution, 40% higher as a result of corruption in bidding, and 5% higher as a result of replacing poor-quality textbooks. (Reyes, 2009)
  • Systemic corruption impedes gains in learning outcomes. Countries with higher rates of corruption were less likely to raise learning outcomes effectively, even when provided with additional school resources and funds. (Rajkumar & Swaroop, 2008(Suryadarma, 2012)
  • Corruption in education is significant and widespread. In the EU, the education sector experienced more corruption than the construction sector between 2009 and 2014. (GEM, 2017)
  • Corruption squanders the resources available for schooling. One-quarter of all funds for public education — and occasionally up to half — never reach schools. (Dehn et al., 2003)
  • Corruption can directly impact a child’s education. Charging fraudulent fees or soliciting bribes for free educational services creates financial hardship for families, reducing access and increasing dropout, often for those most marginalised. (Heyneman et al., 2008)
  • Corrupt school administrations can drain a school of its financial resources. In Nigeria, 8,000 reports of non-existent “ghost” teachers created by administrators, or school personnel collecting an inflated salary, were made across four states in the first half of 2016 alone. (UNESCO, 2017)
  • Teacher recruitment based upon nepotism, bribery, or favouritism places unqualified teachers into classrooms. (Kirya, 2019)
  • Education can only be a solution for antiracism when it is coupled with other practices, policies and redistributions of inequitable investments. A recent study in the US shows that school districts with a majority of students of colour receive US$23 billion less than predominately white school districts, despite serving the same number of students. (EdBuild, 2016)
  • Current education budget cuts due to Covid-19 could negatively impact racial and ethnic monitories. Given the economic damage, state budgets are already stressed. Cuts to primary and secondary education are likely to hit low-income and racial- and ethnic-minority students disproportionately, which could further widen the achievement gap. (McKinsey & Company, 2020)
  • Current responses to distance learning are perpetuating inequalities. In the US, engagement rates are lagging behind in schools serving predominantly black and Hispanic students; just 60 to 70% are logging in regularly. (McKinsey & Company, 2020)
  • There is a stark global divide in access to early childhood education. While more than 80% of children in high-income countries are attending pre-primary education, more than 80% of children in low-income countries are denied access. (Zubairi & Rose, 2019)
  • Access to early childhood education varies markedly within countries. In low-income countries, rich children are eight times more likely to attend early childhood education programmes than those who are less well off. (UNICEF, 2019)
  • The benefits of education for all will not be fully realised without quality education for all. Great inequities exist in learning and the quality of education provided — even for children with a primary education — with learning outcomes often the lowest for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In low- and middle-income countries, only 18 of the poorest youth complete secondary school for every 100 of the richest youth. In at least 20 countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, hardly any poor rural young women complete secondary school. (GEM, 2020) (UNICEF, 2015)
  • Providing equitable education opportunities starts with more equitable education financing. Governments often spend the least on the children most often excluded from education. In Malawi, the most educated 10% consume 130 times the amount of public education funds than the bottom 10%. (UNICEF, 2015)
  • Progressive education policies are needed to proactively address systemic learning inequality. Across 30 countries, children from the poorest quintile of households were four times more likely to be out of school compared with those from the wealthiest households (40% versus 10%). (UIS, 2012)
Teaching & learning
  • Enrolment in early childhood education is woefully inadequate for marginalised children in rich and poor countries alike. More than 175 million children, almost half of all pre-primary-age children globally, are not enrolled in preschool. In low-income countries, only one in five are enrolled. (UNICEF, 2019)
  • Additional investment in teacher education would help to reverse the current decline in the number of known trained teachers around the world. From 2013 to 2017, the percentage of primary school teachers known to have been trained globally decreased to 85%. The qualifications of a majority of teachers worldwide remains largely unknown. (GEM, 2019) (GEM, 2022)
  • Changing laws and policies to support inclusive education is not enough, it is essential to invest more resources into both mainstreaming and need-specific support. In Fiji, lack of resources to provide a good inclusive education meant that the needs of students with intellectual disabilities were better addressed in special education settings. (GEM, 2020)
  • Education infrastructure shortages are a barrier to learning at all income levels, with particular impact on the most disadvantaged schools. In Indonesia and Jordan, 40% of head teachers noted that infrastructure issues hindered learning. (GEM, 2018)


Social benefits
  • Society is more peaceful when there is opportunity for social mobility. When people believe that they can climb the social ladder by virtue of their abilities and efforts, the likelihood of realising social cohesion is greater. (D’Addio, 2007)
  • Providing education for all will impact the social mobility of the poorest on a large scale. Securing universal secondary education would lift 420 million people out of poverty, cutting the number of poor globally in half. (UNESCO, 2017)
  • Education in a child’s early years yields crime prevention benefits in their older years. Children who did not attend a government preschool programme in Chicago were 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by the age of 18. (Lochner, 2011)
  • Education reduces crime and increases earnings. A US study calculated that a 5 percentage point increase in male high school graduation rates would have nearly US$20 billion in total benefit to the US economy via reduced crime and higher earnings. (DeBaun & Roc, 2013)
  • Increasing girls’ education decreases violence. If girls and boys had equal access to education, the chance of violence and conflict would decrease by 37%. (Education Cannot Wait, 2019)
  • Providing educational opportunities for refugees creates more productive members of society. Education lays the base of foundational skills, preparing students for technical or vocational training, or university-level opportunities, leading to better job prospects and greater self-reliance for refugees. (UNHCR, 2016)
  • Schools connect refugees to their host community’s culture and language, creating more tolerant, peaceful societies. Successfully integrating refugees promotes social inclusion, reduces tensions with locals, and creates more equal societies. (OECD, 2019)
  • Strengthening the capacity of national education systems to accommodate refugees can benefit local communities too. In Pakistan, more than US$45 million was invested in more than 730 educational projects over nine years. 84% of the 800,000 who benefitted were local Pakistani children, while 16% were Afghan refugees. In Lebanon, the double-shift school system supports public schools which serve both Lebanese and Syrian refugee children. More than 200 public school buildings have been rehabilitated in line with national standards, of which 50 were individually restored to improve accessibility to children with physical disabilities. (UNHCR, 2019(UNICEF, 2018)
  • Education of immigrants provides immense benefits to the host communities. Educated refugees with good qualifications have a better chance of finding work and contributing to the economy of their host country, contributing to stability at a local, national, and regional level. (UNHCR, 2016)
  • People with a higher level of education tend to be more accepting of immigrants which means increased social cohesion in the community. A meta-review of 100 studies found that education is one of the most powerful predictors of pro-immigration attitudes. (Hainmueller & Hopkins, 2014)
  • Equitable education reduces the likelihood of violent conflict. Greater education equality between male and female students decreases the likelihood of violent conflict by as much as 37%. (FHI 360, 2015)
  • Unequal access to education seriously raises the probability of war. Unequal access to education doubles the possibility of conflict, after controlling for wealth, political regime, and geography. (Østby, 2008) (FHI 360, 2015)
  • Increased levels of education reduce a country’s risk of armed conflict. Each additional year of schooling decreases the chance of a young person engaging in violent conflict by 20%. (GPE, 2015)
  • Government commitment to expanding education helps reduce the risk of conflict. Ensuring universal primary enrolment globally would decrease the probability of war by one-third. Increasing educational expenditure from 2.2% to 6.3% of GDP would decrease the probability of civil war by more than one-half. (Thyne, 2006)
  • Education reduces the likelihood of young people joining armed groups. Youth in Sierra Leone with no education were nine times as likely to join rebel groups as those with at least a secondary education. (Humphreys & Weinstein, 2008)
  • The greater the number of young people enrolled in school, the less the probability of civil war. A 50% increase in secondary school enrolment would reduce the probability of civil war by almost two-thirds. If average male secondary school enrolment increased by 10%, the risk of war would decline by a quarter. (Thyne, 2006) (Collier & Hoeffler, 2004)
  • Education minimises the risk of imminent conflict. Regions in sub-Saharan Africa with a very low average education had a 50% probability of conflict within 21 years, while regions with a very high average education experienced the same probability within 346 years. (Østby et al., 2009)
  • Schooling reduces most types of crime committed by adults and adolescents. In the UK, secondary school drop outs are three times more likely to commit crimes than those who stay in school. In Italy, more than 75% of convicted persons had not completed secondary school. (Lockner & Moretti, 2004) (Belfield et al., 2006) (Buonanno & Leonida, 2006)
  • Education builds sustainable and lasting peace. Over the long-term, education can help to redistribute resources and opportunity more equitably, bring recognition and respect to diverse groups and identities, ensure representation through civic participation, and encourage reconciliation. (Novelli et al., 2015)
  • Equitable education makes us safer. Reducing the level of educational inequality by half can lessen the probability of conflict by nearly 10%. (UNICEF, 2015)
  • Education can channel tensions into peaceful actions. Individuals and communities with higher levels of education are more likely to channel their concerns through nonviolent civil movements, like protests, rallies, and boycotts. (Wang et al., 2015) (Shaykhutdinov, 2011)
  • Higher levels of education are historically associated with a lower likelihood of violent conflict. Analysis of 120 countries over 30 years found that countries were less likely to experience violent conflict if their populations had higher levels of education. (GEM, 2016)
  • Education can reduce vulnerability to extremism and radicalisation when it is part of a broader socio-economic strategy. When there is equal access to education, schools invest in the creation of safe spaces for their students at all levels, and the job market is adjusted to the educational level of graduating students, there is a reduced likelihood of vulnerability to violent extremism. (Sas et al, 2020)
  • Schools can play important roles in reconciliation and rebuilding in post-conflict communities. Integrated schools positively influence minority group identity and a sense of forgiveness, lessening discriminatory attitudes and creating an environment ripe for healing. (Alexander & Christia, 2011) (Hansson et al., 2013)
  • Education in the early years contributes to peacebuilding in the later years. Early childhood education has been shown to reduce violent behaviour in later life. In Lebanon, early childhood interventions for Palestinian refugees has resulted in greater harmony and reduced conflict. (Walker et al., 2011) (Leckman, et al, 2014)
  • Education underpins the investments made in traditional security and peacebuilding efforts. Education builds capacity and supports the development of social cohesion, reintegration, and economic growth for all, which are integral to the success of broader peacebuilding interventions. (Novelli, 2015)
  • Learning about human rights in school encourages active civic engagement later in life. Evidence from 88,000 adolescents from 27 countries shows that students with more knowledge of human rights were more politically efficacious and more likely to support joining human rights organisations and other social justice-oriented groups. (Torney-Purta et al., 2008)
  • Education increases support for democracy, a crucial means for the protection of human rights. In 18 Sub-Saharan African countries, those with a primary education are 1.5 times more likely to express support for democracy, compared with people with no education. Those with a secondary education are three times more likely. (GEM, 2017)
  • Integrated schools can play an important role in building productive, sustainable relationships across political, religious, and ethnic divides in post-conflict communities. Integrated schools can positively influence minority group identity, attitudes towards inclusion, and a sense of compassion. Arab-Jewish schools in Israel have been successful in reconciling conflicting narratives by guiding conversation that recognises ethnic, religious and other differences. (McGlynn, 2004) (Bekerman, 2012) (Alexander and Christia, 2011)
  • Children living in rural areas who are educated have greater rates of civic participation. In rural India, educated children were more likely to campaign, discuss electoral issues, attend rallies, and have dialogue with local government officials. (Krishna, 2006)
  • Education deters corruption. The lack of a primary education was one of the strongest predictors of corruption in a study across 123 countries. (Jetter & Parmeter, 2018)
  • Higher student achievement leads to less corruption. Countries with higher maths and reading scores had less corruption than those with lower scores. (Education Commission, 2016)
  • Historically, higher levels of education contribute to less corrupt societies. Countries that had achieved mass education by 1870 had less corruption in 2010. (World Bank, 2018)
  • Eliminating corruption can increase school enrolment, furthering efforts to provide education for all. In Bogota, school enrolment was raised by 37% through savings gained by cleaning falsified or unreliable data on teacher lists, salaries, and medical insurance and pension funds. (Hallak & Poisson, 2007)
Economic benefits
  • Supporting education in emerging markets will have high payoffs. By 2030, not only will emerging market economies contribute 65% of global GDP but they will also be home to the majority of the world’s working-age population. (Winthrop et al., 2013)
  • Getting all children into primary education, while raising learning standards, could boost economic growth by 2% annually in low-income countries. If all students in low-income countries acquired basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, equivalent to a 12% reduction in world poverty. (UN Global Compact, 2013)
  • Reducing child marriage provides savings for education. In Niger, the country with the highest prevalence of child marriage, ending child marriage and early child birth in 2015 would have created US$327 million in savings to the education budget by 2030. (World Bank, 2017)
  • The cost to integrate early childhood development into existing services is not high. An additional US$0.50 per person each year is all that is needed for early childhood development to be integrated into existing services. (Light for the World, 2020)
  • A single additional year of education yields great economic gains. In some cases, an additional year of education has generated as much as 35% higher GDP per capita and a 10% increase in income, with larger gains for women. (Patrinos & Psacharopoulos, 2013) (UNICEF, 2015)
  • Early childhood education is a sound investment. Investing US$1 in early childhood education can generate returns as high as US$17 for the most disadvantaged children. In sub-Saharan Africa, every US$1 invested in tripling pre-primary education enrolment can generate up to US$33 in returns. (Zubairi & Rose, 2013) (Education Commission, 2016) (Copenhagen Consensus Centre, 2016)
  • Education generates above average financial returns. One US dollar invested in a one-year increase in the average years of schooling attained generates a 10% rate of return in lower-middle-income countries, well above average returns to investment in stocks (4.6%), bank deposits (4.6%), housing (2.8%), and long-term bonds (2.7%). (Psacharopoulos et al., 2016)
  • Education lifts children out of poverty and decreases the likelihood that their children will be impoverished. If all students in low income countries acquired basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty. (EFA GMR, 2014)
  • Educating girls and women is one of the most efficient ways to promote economic growth. Increasing the number of women with a secondary education by 1% could increase a country’s economic growth by 0.3%. (Brookings Institution, 2016)
  • Education has a transformative impact on a country’s economy and future trajectory. Educational attainment explains nearly half the difference in growth rates between East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa over a 45-year period. If Guinea, whose citizens average 3.3 years of education attained, reached Kenya’s average of nine years, its GDP per capita could double. (UNICEF, 2015  GEM, 2016)
  • Education increases income. In Guatemala, each additional school grade that a child completed raised their earnings as adults by 10%. Increasing their reading comprehension test score to the average score raised their wages by 35%. (Behrman et al., 2009)
  • Literacy matters. If all young people acquired functional literacy skills within the next 15 years, middle-income countries would achieve economic gains equivalent to more than eight times their current GDP over the next 80 years. In Pakistan, women with strong literacy skills earn 95% more than those with weak literacy skills. (EFA GMR, 2013) (OECD, 2015)
  • Secondary education provides economic opportunity and raises millions out of poverty. If every child in low-income countries completed secondary school by 2030, income per capita would increase 75% by 2050 and the elimination of poverty would be advanced by 10 years. (GEM, 2016)
  • Increasing enrolment in early childhood education in every low- and middle-income country by 50% would result in an 8-18% return on investment. Early learning programmes can have a return on investment of up to 10:1 for disadvantaged children. (Engle et al., 2007) (Global Business Coalition for Education, 2016)
  • Education has a positive impact on GDP per capita. The estimated impacts vary between studies, but the median value is that one additional year of schooling is linked to an 18% increase in GDP per capita. (UNICEF, 2015)
  • Education is an important source of economic growth. Increased educational attainment, especially for girls and women, accounted for about half of the economic growth in OECD countries over the past 50 years. (OECD, 2012)
  • Education is strongly associated with GDP. Worldwide, each additional year of schooling has been linked to an increase in GDP per capita of around 18%. (UNICEF, 2015)
  • Investment in education can yield high returns. Each dollar invested in education can yield more than US$5 in additional gross earnings in low-income countries and US$2.50 in lower-middle-income countries. (Education Cannot Wait, 2019)
  • Higher education leads to increases in productivity and earnings that feed back to governments through higher taxes. Over a 34-year period in the US, states that invested more in education ended up having higher per-capita income. (Contemporary Economic Policy, 2008)
  • Quality education leads to positive growth scenarios for countries. Recent evidence shows that two growth scenarios – the ‘Latin American growth puzzle’ and the ‘East Asian miracle’ – are almost entirely explained by investment in learning and skills. (Hanushek & Woessmann, 2015).
  • Closing the skills gap unleashes economic potential. If education systems successfully address the skills gap for the future of work, as much as US$11.5 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2028. (Accenture, 2018)
  • Educating girls leads to economic growth. Even a 1% increase in the number of women completing secondary education can increase a country’s economic growth by 0.3%. (Brookings, 2016)
  • Educating girls raises earnings. Each additional year of schooling helps a woman increase her wages by about 12%. (Brookings, 2016)
  • School-based mental health education yields high returns. Every US dollar invested in social-emotional learning interventions in schools can yield a return of US$11. Normalising and prioritising mental health from an early age makes financial sense. Globally, depression and anxiety lead to 15 billion lost days of work every year, at an estimated annual cost of US$1.15 trillion. (Belfield et al., 2015) (Chisholm et al., 2016)
  • In the US, virtually all growth in the labour force over the next 40 years is predicted to come from immigrants and their children. It is essential that this group is provided with a high-quality education to maintain economic growth. (Passel, 2011)
  • Investing in early childhood education and nutrition yields immense economic gains. Each US$1 invested in early childhood nutrition can generate up to US$18 in economic returns. Solving malnutrition could reap economic benefits 100 times as large as the interventions needed. Conversely, malnourished children who do not meet their developmental potential may forfeit up to a quarter of adult earnings, costing some low and middle-income countries twice their national expenditure on health. (Theirworld, 2020) (Save the Children, 2013)
  • Education lifts people out of poverty. If all adults had a secondary education, 420 million people could be lifted out of poverty – more than half of the world population still living in extreme poverty. (UNESCO, 2017)
  • When a country achieves universal primary education, its poorest households enjoy a higher share of income. The expansion of primary education enrolment from 50% to 100% is associated with an 8% increase in the share of income going to households in the poorest 10%. (World Bank, 2018)
  • Education reduces crime and increases earnings. A US study calculated that a 5 percentage point increase in male high school graduation rates would have nearly US$20 billion in total benefit to the US economy via reduced crime and higher earnings. (DeBaun & Roc, 2013)
  • Improving the efficiency of public education spending in sub-Saharan Africa would significantly advance access to education. If spending efficiency for public education in Africa was the same as in Latin America, the primary school completion rate would increase from 79% to 98%. (AfDB, 2020)
  • Providing early childhood education in sub-Saharan Africa yields significant returns. Every dollar spent towards tripling pre-primary education enrolment in the region could yield a return of as much as $33 return on investment. (Copenhagen Consensus Centre, 2016)
  • Education can provide the security and stability necessary for sustainable growth and development. An estimated 40% of the world’s population younger than 18 will live in African countries vulnerable to fragility, conflict, and climate change by 2050, a region already host to the greatest number of refugees in the world. The risk of conflict in the areas of sub-Saharan Africa with the highest education inequality is almost double that in other areas. (UNICEF 2022) (ISPI, 2020) (Brookings, 2019) (EFA GMR, 2013)
  • Providing quality education for all in sub-Saharan Africa would increase productivity and generate significant economic growth. If the region were to realise the highest education and health scores on the World Bank’s Human Capital Index, GDP per worker could increase as much as 250%. (Brookings, 2020)
  • Educating girls leads to economic growth. Even a 1% increase in the number of women completing secondary education can increase a country’s economic growth by 0.3%. Educating girls to the same level as boys could benefit developing countries to the tune of US$112 billion a year. (Brookings, 2016; UNICEF 2021)
  • Donors have an important role to play in supporting an increase in finance for education. To meet the Sustainable Development Goals, donors need to increase aid to education to 15% of total official development assistance and channel additional aid multilaterally. (International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, 2016)
  • Education aid was increasing before the pandemic struck. Aid to education in 2018 reached a record of US$15.6 billion, increasing 9% from the prior year. This represented the highest allocation of aid ever to go to basic education, secondary education and higher education. (UNESCO, 2020)
  • Investing in education in developing countries to reduce inequality is a moral imperative. On average, a low-income country will invest US$1,300 in a child’s education, while the average high-income country will spend US$110,000 (World Bank, 2020)
  • Norway’s commitment to education at the outset of the Sustainable Development Goals demonstrates how a donor country can effect significant impact. Norway doubled its investment in education for development, and increased aid to education in emergencies by 150% between 2013 and 2016. These contributions provided education for five times as many children as there are primary education students in Norway, supporting over 3.1 million girls and boys, providing 11 million students with learning materials, and training 140,000 teachers. (NORAD, 2017)
  • New innovations in finance can multiply philanthropic investments. The new International Finance Facility for Education leverages donor funding, unlocking four US dollars of additional investment for every dollar contributed. (Education Commission, 2018)
  • New, innovative platforms and channels are needed to increase philanthropic giving to education – and there is appetite from investors. There is growing interest in expanding the use of innovative financing mechanisms, which can mobilise and leverage new and additional sources of finance for education and improve effectiveness and accountability. Just 2% of all impact investments are in education, but 22% of investors plan to increase their investments in the sector. (Global Development Incubator)
  • Education has the potential to tap into innovative financing and impact investing. The health sector has successfully utilised these channels, raising US$7 billion through innovative financing since 2000, in comparison to US$500 million in education funding. (Global Development Incubator, 2014) (Bellinger et al., 2016)
Child labour
  • Simply increasing the duration of compulsory education can reduce child labour. In China, requiring one additional semester of schooling reduced the rate of child labour by 8%. (Tang et al., 2029)
  • Education has an intergenerational impact on child labour. Educated parents are more likely to invest in their own children’s education, and children of educated parents are far less likely to be child labourers. (UCW, 2017).
  • Providing education and eliminating child labour is good social and economic policy. Eliminating child labour and implementing universal education would deliver benefits seven times greater than the costs. (ILO, 2004)
  • A little cash can incentivise families to choose school over work. A review of five conditional cash transfer programmes in Latin America showed that cash incentives reduced the number of children working and the number of hours of child labour. (ILO, 2007)
  • Early childhood education is a key tool to eliminating child labour. Children enrolled in early childhood education programmes are more likely to transition successfully to primary school rather than the workforce. (ILO, 2018)
  • Financing education can reduce carbon emissions. Closing the education financing gap in low- and lower-middle-income countries could reduce emissions by 51.48 gigatons by 2050. (GEM, 2020)
  • Disaster resilience increases with girls’ education. For each additional year of schooling a girl receives, her country’s resilience to climate disasters can be expected to improve by 3.2 points on the ND-GAIN Index, which measures climate change vulnerability. (Brookings Institution, 2017)
  • Nurturing care interventions can mitigate the impact of poverty on brain development and early learning outcomes. A recent randomised controlled trial in Switzerland found that a biweekly home visit to the most deprived families led to a significant improvement in children’s adaptive behaviour, developmental status, and language skills, narrowing the learning gaps associated with poverty. (Schaub et al., 2019)
  • Missing out on nurturing care in the early years can lead to lower cognitive, language, and psychosocial outcomes. A study showed that 15-year-old immigrant youths who attended early childhood education on average scored 49 points higher in reading, equivalent to more than one year of school. (GEM, 2019)
  • Early childhood interventions lead to significant individual benefits later in life. In Jamaica, early childhood interventions in the cognitive and socioemotional development of stunted children aged 9-24 months old led to lower crime rates, better mental health, and 25% higher earnings 20 years later, compared to children not receiving any intervention during early childhood. (World Bank, 2018)
  • Mental health services from schools during crises prevent irreversible damage from ‘toxic stress’. Every US dollar invested in social emotional learning interventions in schools can yield a return of US$11. (Education Cannot Wait, 2019)
  • Investing in education helps build a strong public health workforce to combat future pandemics. Without the immediate ramping up of education, there will be a shortage of 15 million health workers worldwide by 2030. (Liu et al., 2017)
  • Without investments in education, there will be a severe shortage of health workers. Without increased investment in education, by 2030 there will be a shortage of 15 million health workers worldwide – double what it is today. (Liu et al., 2017)
  • Investing in education delivers impressive and lasting health returns to society. Each US dollar invested in a one-year increase in schooling generates a health-inclusive benefit of US$10 in low-income countries. (Jamison & Schaferhoff, 2016)
Skills and jobs
  • Early childhood development is a key opportunity to develop important 21st century skills, including cooperation, teamwork, communication, creativity, self- discipline, and motivation. Early development of these critical skills will create a virtuous cycle and help children to continue to learn and engage in later life. (Global Business Coalition for Education, 2018)
  • It is important to remember the long-term horizon. In Jamaica, providing toddlers with psychosocial stimulation increased earnings by 25%, but these returns only materialised 20 years later. (World Bank 2019)
  • Education spending is more effective at job creation than tax cuts. A study found that spending on education created almost twice as many jobs as would be expected from tax cuts of equal value and also resulted in better paying jobs. (Pollin et al., 2009).
  • Better educated individuals are more resilient in the labour market. In the US, unemployed workers with at least a high school degree are 40% more likely to find a job again within one year compared with those who did not complete high school. Each additional year of schooling increases the chance of re-employment by about 6-7 percentage points. (Riddell & Song, 2011)
  • Most of the new jobs created in the previous economic recovery went to college-educated workers. After the 2008 recession, jobs for college graduates in the US sharply rebounded and increased by 8.4 million, but jobs for those with a high school diploma or less only increased by only 80,000. (Carnevale et al., 2016)
  • Investment in education is urgent to meet future skills demand. It is estimated that 42% of core skills required for existing jobs will have changed by 2022. By 2030, more than half of youth worldwide will not have the necessary skills for what the workplace of the future requires. (Education Commission, 2016) (World Economic Forum, 2020)
  • Investment in STEM education and jobs will boost recovery. Cities with more STEM workers tend to have higher job growth, employment rates, patent rates, wages, and exports. In the US, for each high-tech job added, an additional five jobs are created. (Moretti, 2013) (Rothwell, 2013)
  • Innovation is almost exclusively accomplished by those with advanced degrees. In the US, more than 90% of patent holders have at least a bachelor’s degree, and 70% have at least a master’s degree. If Finland had not invested substantially into engineering education in the postwar era, the number of US patents obtained by Finnish inventors is likely to have been 20% lower. (The Hamilton Project, 2017) (Toivanen & Väänänen, 2016)
  • Early childhood education and increased childcare availability helps parents, especially mothers, re-enter the workforce. A low-cost, universal childcare programme in Quebec increased labour force participation by 12.3%. (MacEwan, 2013; see also Lefebvre & Merrigan, 2005)
  • Education integrates refugees into the local economy. Among refugees in Germany, good German speaking, reading and writing skills were associated with a 19% higher probability of employment and 18% greater wages. (Hanemann, 2018)
  • An educated and skilled workforce is key to growth and technological progress. Data from 19 OECD countries between 1960 and 2000 show that their growth was more driven by skilled human capital rather than the total human capital of the workforce. (Vandenbussche et al., 2004)
  • Prioritising education for the most marginalised provides the highest returns. Financing primary and early childhood education, and the education of the poorest, the disabled, and those with social disadvantages, is the quickest route to achieving equity, with the greatest potential social dividends. (Education Commission, 2016)
  • Investments in early childhood education promote equity. Creating a level playing field from the beginning improves the chances for a fair start in life, reaping benefits to nutrition and health, cognitive development, and school achievement. (GBC-Education, 2018) (Black & Dewey, 2014) (Nonoyama-Tarumi et al., 2009)
  • Investing in the most disadvantaged generates the greatest impact. In Ghana, building nurseries for the poorest children in the poorest districts had an impact on primary completion four times that of providing nurseries to the general population. (UNICEF, 2016)
  • Providing equitable education is an important driver of national economic growth. More equal access to education reduces income inequality and poverty, offering all segments of society more equal economic opportunities. If education inequality in sub-Saharan Africa had been halved, the annual per capita growth rate would have increased nearly 50% over a five-year period. (EFA GMR, 2013)
  • A marginal increase in education has transformative effects on inequality. One additional year of education is associated with a 1.4% decrease in income inequality. Societies with high income equality are able to reduce poverty 75% faster. (Patrinos & Psacharopoulos, 2013)
  • Education promotes greater equality. Using data for 114 countries from 1985 to 2005, one extra year of education is associated with a reduction of the Gini coefficient by 1.4 percentage points. (UNICEF, 2015)
Teaching and learning
  • Digital connectivity in schools is possible and rapidly improving. Korea has rolled out fast connectivity to all schools, Uruguay is on track to connect all schools, and China is expanding full broadband coverage by 2020 with a priority to connect poor schools. (Education Commission, 2016; ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission, 2015)
  • More investment in early childhood education is crucial to help children reach their full potential. It is currently estimated that 250 million or 43% of children under five in low- and middle-income countries will not reach their developmental potential, which means a loss of 19.8% in adult annual income. (Black et al., 2017)
  • Quality early childhood development prepares children better for future learning. Children in Uganda who did not attend pre-primary education are twice as likely to repeat first grade. (Brunette et al., 2017)
  • Children who attended early childhood education are more likely to be on track with learning outcomes. In low- and middle-income countries, 44% of children who attended early childhood education programmes are on track in literacy and numeracy skills compared with only 12% of children who did not attend any programmes. (UNICEF, 2019)
  • Simple, cost-effective programmes can boost refugee enrolment. Cash transfer programmes for refugee children to support their transportation and other education costs can help increase school attendance by 20%, as was found in a randomized control study in Lebanon. (Hoop et al., 2018)
  • There is a global shortage of teachers. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goal for education by 2030, countries will need more than 69 million more teachers. (UNESCO, 2016)
  • Investing in quality teachers is a smart investment. A teacher in the top 15% produces over US$400,000 in added income for her class of 20 students through their future earnings. In the US, replacing the bottom 5% of teachers with average teachers has a present value of US$100 trillion. (Chetty et al., 2010)  (Hanushek, 2010)
  • Inclusive education is also the most financially efficient way to educate students with disabilities. Segregated education systems can cost seven to nine times more than inclusive education. (Hayes & Bulat, 2017) (Labon, 1999)
  • Educating children with disabilities has high returns on investment. In the Philippines, returns on education for people with disabilities in terms of higher earnings can reach more than 25%. (International Disability and Development Consortium, 2016) (Mori & Yamagata, 2009)
  • Basic classroom infrastructure can make the difference between quality learning and marginalisation. Classroom features such as good electric lighting or daylight, shelter from heat, ventilation, and space to sit affect learning. In Southeast Asia, children exposed to higher classroom temperatures lost 1.5 years of school on average, a cost which could be entirely offset by air conditioning. (Barrett et al., 2015) (Randell and Gray, 2019)
  • Schools are indispensable settings to champion the wellbeing of migrant and refugee students and families settling in a new community or country. Schools connect these children with the host culture, helping lay or rebuild a healthy social-emotional base to best prepare them for success. In Australia, school refugee wellbeing and transition committees have successfully helped families adjust to new learning environments and address psychosocial needs, while providing opportunities for the host communities to learn from a diversity of cultures. (UNESCO, 2019) (Foundation House, 2016)
  • Instruction and curricula can positively influence post-conflict inter-group relations. Conflict-sensitive teaching can promote inclusion and eliminate harmful stereotypes, creating a pathway to social reconstruction, transitional justice and lasting peace. (Freedman et al., 2008) (Cole & Barsalou, 2006)
  • Peace education — including human rights, civics, and multicultural education — can help to prevent future violence. Peace education interventions can lessen youth aggression, bullying and support of violence, and improve the probability that students will try to prevent conflict. (Barakat et al., 2013)
  • Pedagogy matters. Data from 38 countries that participated in the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study in 2009 show that students in classrooms that encourage open democratic discussions are 5-8% more likely to endorse equal rights for all ethnic groups. (Sandoval-Hernandez et al., 2018)
  • Open classroom environments can advance the rights of minority groups. Students who perceived their classroom environment as open were more likely to endorse equal rights for all ethnic groups and believe that this was a benefit for democracy. An open classroom climate can foster political participation by students from disadvantaged backgrounds. (Treviño et al., 2018) (GEM, 2019Campbell, 2008)

Key opinions

Alice Albright

Education is the single best investment a country can make to raise to the most pressing challenges of our time. In an interconnected world, an educated population – especially girls – is an insurance policy for every aspect of a country’s future development, with wide-ranging benefits extending to health, economic growth, peace and stability. However, economic pressures brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic are squeezing education budgets around the world, just as investments are needed more than ever before. Sustaining domestic and global education budgets around the world is the key to a shared future fit for our children.

Alice Albright, CEO of Millennium Challenge Corporation
Tariq Al Gurag

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the world's interconnectedness like nothing before it. At this moment in history, the opportunity increases to reinvent institutions and paradigms of education. It requires the world to come together in ways that have never been seen or done before - across borders, sectors and disciplines. Big changes start with small steps, so let’s use this moment as an opportunity to build back better education.

His Excellency Dr. Tariq Al Gurg, Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Cares
kristalina georgieva

Safeguarding our post-pandemic future means safeguarding our human capital. More than a billion learners across the world have been affected by the virus-related disruption to education. That is why we need more investment—not just spending more on schools and distance-learning capacity, but also improving the quality of education and the access to life-long learning and re-skilling. These efforts can pay large dividends in terms of growth, productivity, and living standards. We can build a more resilient world by harnessing the vast potential that education provides for people to learn, grow, and transform their lives.

Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the IMF

Searching for more in-depth reporting or quick refreshers on the relationship between education, government and politics? Check out Theirworld’s groundbreaking reports and explainers that examine the issue in further detail.

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Better Angels is live from the UN Supporting the future of Syria and the region conference in Brussels

In this episode, you will hear from Christos Stylianides, the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Jean-Louis De Brouwer, Director of Operations in the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department and Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – a global fund to transform the delivery of education in emergencies.

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