Fi­nanc­ing ed­u­ca­tion for all

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE - By Jef­frey D. Sachs

Of all of the in­vest­ments needed to achieve sus­tain­able devel­op­ment, none is more im­por­tant than a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion for ev­ery child. In a knowl­edge-based world econ­omy, a good ed­u­ca­tion is vi­tal for find­ing de­cent work; achiev­ing good health; build­ing func­tion­ing com­mu­ni­ties; de­vel­op­ing the skills to be a de­pend­able par­ent; and grow­ing up to be an en­gaged and re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zen.

In­deed, it is no sur­prise that the most brutish and vi­o­lent groups in the world, such as Nige­ria’s Boko Haram, attack ed­u­ca­tion. And it was right on the mark to award the 2014 No­bel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai, the Pak­istani teenager shot by the Tal­iban for her brave ad­vo­cacy of girls’ ed­u­ca­tion.

When the world’s gov­ern­ments launch the Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals (SDGs) this Septem­ber, they will rightly put ed­u­ca­tion for all chil­dren at the fore­front, along­side end­ing ex­treme poverty, hunger, and death from pre­ventable and treat­able causes. Yet, while many poor coun­tries have in­creased do­mes­tic fi­nanc­ing for ed­u­ca­tion, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has not yet done its part. Aid for ed­u­ca­tion re­mains too low and too frag­mented.

In ad­vance of adopt­ing the SDGs, at the Con­fer­ence on Fi­nanc­ing for Devel­op­ment in July, the world has the chance to put real re­sources be­hind the Ed­u­ca­tion SDG. The three ma­jor types of part­ners con­ven­ing in Ad­dis Ababa – gov­ern­ments, phi­lan­thropists, and top com­pa­nies – should pool re­sources to en­able im­pov­er­ished coun­tries to scale up ed­u­ca­tion, es­pe­cially at the pre-K and sec­ondary lev­els. The time has come to cre­ate a Global Fund for Ed­u­ca­tion to en­sure that even the world’s poor­est chil­dren have the chance to re­ceive a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion at least through sec­ondary school. This is how malaria, AIDS, and vac­cinepre­ventable dis­eases have been bat­tled suc­cess­fully in the past 15 years. The United States, the United King­dom, Nor­way, Swe­den, and other gov­ern­ments teamed up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion, pri­vate com­pa­nies like No­var­tis, Glax­oSmithK­line, Eric­s­son, Su­mit­omo Chem­i­cal, and oth­ers to en­sure that life­sav­ing vac­cines, medicines, and di­ag­nos­tics could reach the poor­est of the poor. The re­sults have been re­mark­able: mil­lions of lives have been saved, and eco­nomic growth has been boosted.

We must now do the same for ed­u­ca­tion. Though ac­cess to pri­mary school­ing has ex­panded dramatically over the past two decades, a trans­for­ma­tive break­through in qual­ity learn­ing and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion has re­mained out of reach – un­til now. The spread of com­put­ers, mo­bile phones, and broad­band cov­er­age to the poor­est re­gions of the world could – and should – en­sure that ev­ery child in low-in­come coun­tries has ac­cess to the same trove of on­line in­for­ma­tion and qual­ity learn­ing ma­te­ri­als as chil­dren in high-in­come coun­tries.

Scal­ing up the use of in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy (ICT), to­gether with im­proved ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tional in­no­va­tions, trained teach­ers and vil­lage ed­u­ca­tion work­ers, and bet­ter mea­sure­ment of learn­ing out­comes, would en­able low- and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries to cre­ate high­qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems within the next 15 years. In the mean­time, stu­dents in im­pov­er­ished ru­ral schools that cur­rently lack books, elec­tric­ity, and trained teach­ers would be con­nected on­line – via so­lar pan­els and wire­less broad­band – to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tional ma­te­ri­als, free on­line cour­ses, and other schools, thereby closing a re­source gap that, un­til re­cently, seemed in­sur­mount­able.

The world even has the or­ga­ni­za­tional lead­er­ship to make this pos­si­ble. The Global Part­ner­ship for Ed­u­ca­tion is a world­wide coali­tion of gov­ern­ments and NGOs that has been work­ing for more than a decade with the world’s poor­est coun­tries to help them scale up qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion.

Yet, de­spite the GPE’s tremen­dous suc­cess in en­cour­ag­ing poor coun­tries to mo­bi­lize their own bud­get re­sources to ex­pand the reach and qual­ity of their ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams, rich coun­tries have not ad­e­quately sup­ported this ef­fort by closing the fi­nanc­ing gap th­ese coun­tries face.

The GPE should be sup­ported to help build a true Global Fund for Ed­u­ca­tion to en­sure that ev­ery low-in­come coun­try that puts in place an ef­fec­tive na­tional strat­egy and do­mes­tic fi­nanc­ing would have in­ter­na­tional sup­port to ac­com­plish its goals.

The ad­di­tional fi­nanc­ing re­quired is mod­est. UNESCO re­cently es­ti­mated the an­nual ed­u­ca­tion “fi­nanc­ing gap” of lowand lower-mid­dle-in­come coun­tries – to cover ed­u­ca­tion up through lower sec­ondary school – to be around $22 bil­lion. En­sur­ing the scale-up of up­per-sec­ondary school and ICT ac­cess might raise the needed an­nual sum to around $40 bil­lion, with de­tailed cost es­ti­mates still to be made. Such aid would be needed only un­til to­day’s poor coun­tries achieve enough eco­nomic progress to cover the ed­u­ca­tion bill on their own.

That $40 bil­lion might seem like a lot of money, but con­sider this: The world’s rich­est 80 peo­ple have an es­ti­mated net worth of around $2 tril­lion dol­lars. If they would de­vote just 1% of their net worth each year, they would cover half the global fi­nan­cial need.

Face­book, Google, Eric­s­son, Huawei, Sam­sung, Mi­crosoft, Cisco, and other ICT gi­ants could cover at least an­other $10 bil­lion per year, in cash and in kind. A few for­ward-look­ing gov­ern­ments could then close the re­main­ing $10 bil­lion gap. As we have seen with im­mu­niza­tion, this is the kind of part­ner­ship that is needed to take the SDGs from rhetoric to re­al­ity.

The beauty of a new Global Fund for Ed­u­ca­tion is that, once it got un­der­way, it would quickly at­tract sup­port­ers from around the world. Arab gov­ern­ments would want to en­sure that all Ara­bic-speak­ing chil­dren re­ceive a de­cent ICT-backed ed­u­ca­tion; Brazil and Por­tu­gal would surely con­trib­ute to en­sure that Africa’s many Por­tuguese speak­ers ben­e­fit from scaled-up ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems. In­no­va­tive high-tech com­pa­nies would scram­ble to put their learn­ing tools in front of the world’s chil­dren. Lo­cal uni­ver­si­ties would train teach­ers and vil­lagers on how to max­i­mize the po­ten­tial of th­ese new tech­nolo­gies.

The stars – the SDGs, the ICT gi­ants, mo­bile broad­band, on­line learn­ing, and phi­lan­thropists – are align­ing for such a sce­nario. A Global Fund for Ed­u­ca­tion, an­nounced at the Con­fer­ence on Fi­nanc­ing for Devel­op­ment, would be the best news pos­si­ble for to­day’s chil­dren ev­ery­where and a daz­zling in­au­gu­ra­tion for the SDGs.

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