Lessons for Oslo

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

World lead­ers who care pas­sion­ately about ed­u­ca­tion gath­ered in Oslo for a sum­mit, con­vened by Nor­way’s gov­ern­ment, to dis­cuss the ed­u­ca­tional needs of the world’s poor­est chil­dren. This is a piv­otal year, when the world is de­cid­ing on the con­tent and fi­nanc­ing of the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals (SDGs) that will guide de­vel­op­ment ef­forts for the next 15 years. And it is be­com­ing a year of high-level fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion. As it should be.

This re­newed fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion partly re­flects the world’s shock at re­cent at­tacks on ed­u­ca­tion, in­clud­ing the Pak­istani Tal­iban’s shoot­ing of Malala Yousafzai and the rad­i­cal Is­lamist sect Boko Haram’s kid­nap­ping of over 200 school­girls in Nige­ria. If these girls can show so much brav­ery in seek­ing an ed­u­ca­tion, surely the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity can do more to make sure they suc­ceed in ob­tain­ing one.

But there are more good rea­sons why ed­u­ca­tion should rise to the top of the global de­vel­op­ment agenda. Most no­tably, the world must recog­nise how great the ed­u­ca­tional needs are, gain a more so­phis­ti­cated un­der­stand­ing of how the de­vel­op­ment agenda re­lies on ed­u­ca­tion, and en­sure a grow­ing ca­pa­bil­ity to re­spond.

First, the needs. Over the last 15 years, the Mil­len­nium De­vel­op­ment Goal to achieve uni­ver­sal pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion has gal­vanised the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, with nearly 90% of the world’s pri­mary school-age chil­dren now in school (up from 82% in 1990). The share of pri­mary- and lower sec­ondary-age chil­dren not en­rolled in school has dropped by 39%.

De­spite this progress, roughly 121 pri­mary and lower sec­ondary school mil­lion chil­dren age re­main out of of school. Of the 58 mil­lion not in pri­mary school, about 31 mil­lion are girls.

More­over, an es­ti­mated 250 mil­lion chil­dren are re­ceiv­ing ed­u­ca­tions of such poor qual­ity that they never at­tain even the most ba­sic bench­marks in lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy. As World Bank Pres­i­dent Jim Yong Kim re­marked at the re­cent World Ed­u­ca­tion Fo­rum in Korea, if these chil­dren all in­hab­ited one coun­try, it would be the fifth-largest on earth.

And there is more painful news: It will take a very long time to close the ed­u­ca­tion gap be­tween the de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing worlds. In terms of qual­ity, the Har­vard economist Lant Pritch­ett es­ti­mates it will take at least 100 years for chil­dren in schools in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries to reach the same learn­ing out­comes as those at­tained to­day by stu­dents in de­vel­oped coun­tries.

In terms of ac­cess, UNESCO’s Ed­u­ca­tion for All Global Mon­i­tor­ing Re­port es­ti­mates that, on cur­rent rates of change, uni­ver­sal lower-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion will not be achieved in sub-Sa­ha­ran African un­til 2111. Un­sur­pris­ingly, it will be the girls who get there last, with the poor­est girls gain­ing ac­cess to lower-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion a full 70 years af­ter the rich­est boys.

These star­tling sta­tis­tics all add up to one stark con­clu­sion: busi­ness as usual is nowhere near good enough. Un­less we ac­cel­er­ate progress con­sid­er­ably, we will fail to meet the needs of the world’s chil­dren, par­tic­u­larly the poor­est girls.

While the world’s ed­u­ca­tional needs are huge, and the im­por­tance of meet­ing them is pro­found, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s ca­pac­ity to de­liver change is grow­ing.

The Global Part­ner­ship for Ed­u­ca­tion (which I chair), has been work­ing to sup­port this progress, in­clud­ing by im­ple­ment­ing ma­jor re­forms aimed at ex­pand­ing our own ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Through our part­ner­ships glob­ally and within 60 de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, we ad­vance a coun­try-led de­vel­op­ment model, as we com­bine tech­ni­cal ca­pa­bil­ity, ad­vo­cacy, re­source mo­bil­i­sa­tion, and mu­tual ac­count­abil­ity to im­prove ed­u­ca­tion in our part­ner coun­tries. At last year’s re­plen­ish­ment con­fer­ence, $2.1 bln in donor funds were lever­aged to bring about an ad­di­tional $26 bln in pledges from na­tional gov­ern­ments.

To en­hance the funds’ ef­fec­tive­ness, GPE al­lo­cates 30% of fund­ing based on the achieve­ment of spe­cific re­sults cho­sen by the gov­ern­ment and its de­vel­op­ment part­ners in the ar­eas of learn­ing qual­ity, ed­u­ca­tion-sys­tem ef­fi­ciency, and eq­uity. We have also been build­ing our ca­pac­ity to re­spond quickly in emer­gen­cies, with half of our fund­ing in 2014 sup­port­ing ed­u­ca­tion in con­flict-af­fected and frag­ile coun­tries.

GPE is mak­ing a real dif­fer­ence. But I re­main haunted by the knowl­edge that, if we are to move be­yond busi­ness as usual and slash those hun­dred-year time­lines to meet the 15year time hori­zon of the SDGs, we must do much more.

Sim­ply put, ad­vanc­ing the global ed­u­ca­tion agenda will re­quire more re­sources and more re­search. Ac­cord­ing to UNESCO, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity will need to pro­vide at least an ad­di­tional $39 bln an­nu­ally to ed­u­cate the world’s chil­dren – and that is as­sum­ing that de­vel­op­ing-coun­try gov­ern­ments in­crease their own ex­pen­di­ture on ed­u­ca­tion.

Re­source con­straints are com­pounded by a lack of re­search. In fact, the frag­men­ta­tion and paucity of in­for­ma­tion about ef­fec­tive strate­gies for school­ing and learn­ing has long im­peded progress on ed­u­ca­tion. Af­ter all, donors un­der­stand­ably want to en­sure that their money is di­rected to­ward the most ef­fec­tive ini­tia­tives. Ev­i­dence of what works also turbo-charges the ef­fec­tive­ness of ad­vo­cacy.

Against this back­drop, par­tic­i­pants at the Oslo Sum­mit will be dis­cussing how to gen­er­ate the mo­men­tum and po­lit­i­cal will to broaden and deepen the donor base, and as­sess the high­est-im­pact use of these funds. The sum­mit also pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to de­velop strate­gies for bet­ter meet­ing the needs of chil­dren who are be­ing de­nied an ed­u­ca­tion be­cause of cri­sis and con­flict.

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