Alice Albright “We can’t afford not to invest in education”

World of Work April 09, 2014

To some, the billions of dollars in aid the international community spends to improve education in developing countries seems like a staggeringly expensive commitment of resources, even when spread over millions of children who benefit from this critical support for many years ahead.

But from a different perspective, it’s quite an economical investment, much less expensive than the alternative, which is to starve the education sector in developing countries of the resources it needs to enable more children to go to school and develop the skills they need to thrive.

So it is surprising and troubling that international development funding for education has dropped by an astounding 9.5% since 2010, seven times more than that for global development aid overall.

That’s why the Global Partnership for Education’s Replenishment Pledging Conference, hosted along with the European Union on June 26 in Brussels, is so important. At the top of the agenda is a funding target of US $3.5 billion from donors for the four-year period 2015 to 2018. That level of funding will ensure that 66 low-income nations can meet the annual school costs of 29 million children.

Read 250 Million Reasons to Invest in Education: The Case for Investment

Also, GPE developing country partners will commit at the conference to spending more of their domestic budgets on education.  NGOs, multilaterals, private-sector institutions and others will pledge further funding and in-kind assistance to get more of the world’s children in school and ensure they get a good education. The GPE Replenishment Pledging Conference will be an important indicator on how serious we are about children’s schooling and learning.

The costs of not educating children are enormous

Over the past decade or so, the Global Partnership for Education has allocated US $3.7 billion, of which about US $1 billion was committed this past year. 

This may sound like a lot of money, but it is a tiny amount compared to the $34 billion that are needed to maintain the recent progress. And we are facing an enormous challenge.  To put it quite clearly: the costs of inaction – of not educating the world’s children – are far greater than the costs of action. Consider, for example, that:

– Currently, 250 million children around the world drop out of school or are unable to perform basic literacy and numeracy tasks by the time they reach grade four, which translates into a loss of an estimated US$129 billion per year. The global income loss from not providing every person with one extra year of schooling ranges from 7 to 10 percent of GDP per capita.

– The economic cost to 65 low- and middle-income countries of failing to educate girls to the same standard as boys is US$92 billion per year. This is just under the approximate US$103 billion annual overseas developing aid budget of the developed world.

– If all students in low-income countries completed school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty. This would be equal to a 12 percent cut in global poverty.

– If the current worrisome decline in education aid continues, the international community will struggle to reduce the number of approximately 57 million children who are out of school and the 250 million who either drop out or are not learning basic skills by grade four.

What’s more, we will squander some of the promising gains we’ve seen over the last decade, especially the declining gap between the number of girls and boys in school.

Spending funding the right way

While crucial, funding is not the only ingredient for success. We also need to improve how the funding gets spent. That’s why the Global Partnership will put in place a results-based approach with powerful levers to better support developing countries so they can increase access and ensure better learning outcomes for more of their children.

The new funding model creates a powerful set of incentives to encourage developing countries to improve their policy framework around basic education, consider the affordability of education relative to resources, and invest in and improve those areas that are weak.

To ensure country ownership and sustainability, developing countries have to commit to raising their own domestic education spending while donor partners are asked to better align their support to country priorities. This will promote mutual accountability for progress towards quality education for all children.

Also, this new model will drive better collection and reporting of valuable country-level data, particularly on learning outcomes and marginalization, something that has been sorely lacking in the education sector globally. Good data will enable governments to track education outcomes, develop more effective policies, and improve delivery.  Equally, it will enable improved accountability to citizens for education progress.

We need innovative ideas

Alongside funding, we also need innovative and proven new ideas for solving the tough and persistent twin challenges of increasing access to education and ensuring true learning outcomes. That’s where WISE and its many affiliates have an essential role to play. As an organization that brings together all the various domestic and international stakeholders at the global and local level, the Global Partnership for Education knows that new approaches and strategies, coupled with sufficient funding, can bring revolutionary results to developing countries.

All this takes tenacious commitment – by donor nations, developing countries and many other players – and a recognition that expenditures on education are not a liability but an investment in the lives of countless people and the many societies they can potentially build. We can’t afford not to make this investment.

Alice Albright is the CEO of the Global Partnership for Education, the only multilateral partnership that unites donor countries, developing countries, civil society organizations, teacher groups and the private sector to improve global access to education and improve its quality.