A pay­ment plan for uni­ver­sal education

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The com­mis­sion was es­tab­lished last Septem­ber by the Nor­we­gian prime min­is­ter, and co-con­vened with the pres­i­dents of Malawi, Chile, and In­done­sia and the di­rec­tor­gen­eral of UNESCO. Its mem­bers, in­clud­ing five for­mer pres­i­dents and prime min­is­ters, three for­mer fi­nance min­is­ters, six No­bel Prize win­ners, and three of the world’s most suc­cess­ful busi­ness lead­ers – Jack Ma, Aliko Dan­gote, and Strive Masiyiwa – will re­port their find­ings to United Na­tions Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon and the co­con­ven­ers in Septem­ber. On Jan­uary 24, we met in Lon­don to chart the way for­ward.

The chal­lenge is daunting. Some 60 mil­lion pri­ma­ryschool-age chil­dren have no ac­cess to for­mal education. Of the roughly 590 mil­lion who are at­tend­ing school, some 250 mil­lion – roughly two in five – are fail­ing to learn the ba­sics of read­ing, writ­ing, and arith­metic. And some 60% of school pupils in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries do not meet ba­sic math­e­mat­ics stan­dards.

If cur­rent trends per­sist, by 2050, chil­dren in most re­gions of the world will re­ceive, on av­er­age, ten or more years of school­ing – up from three years in 1950. Some coun­tries in Africa, how­ever, will lag far be­hind, with just 3-4 years of school­ing on av­er­age.

If we main­tain a busi­ness-as-usual ap­proach, it will take more than a hun­dred years – well into the twenty-se­cond cen­tury – be­fore ev­ery child is pro­vided with an op­por­tu­nity to com­plete his or her school­ing.

Even as education lev­els play an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant role in eco­nomic growth, the funds needed to raise them have failed to ma­te­ri­alise. In­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment aid for education has fallen by nearly 10% in re­cent years – and govern­ment spend­ing in low-in­come coun­tries has failed to make up the dif­fer­ence.

In 2002, education ac­counted for 16% of to­tal do­mes­tic spend­ing in poor coun­tries. To­day, the fig­ure is just 14%. Mean­while, out­lays for health in­creased from 9% to 11% of to­tal spend­ing. And, to make mat­ters worse, in many of the coun­tries with the great­est need for education – in­clud­ing Pak­istan and Nige­ria – gov­ern­ments are spend­ing too lit­tle on it (some­times as lit­tle as 2% of na­tional in­come).

Nor is the money – when it is made avail­able – spent equitably. In low-in­come coun­tries, al­most half of all education funds are spent on the most ed­u­cated 10% of chil­dren. Very lit­tle trick­les down to street chil­dren or boys and girls in re­mote ru­ral ar­eas, con­flict zones, or ur­ban slums.

Ac­cord­ing to UNESCO, the ra­tio of pupils to qual­i­fied teach­ers in the Cen­tral African Re­pub­lic, Chad, GuineaBis­sau, and South Su­dan is more than a hun­dred to one. And those teach­ers re­ceive lit­tle sup­port, en­cour­age­ment, or feed­back.

Good teach­ers are un­doubt­edly the education; but they can do only so much pro­vided with skilled su­per­vi­sion, a cur­ricu­lum, and ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy.

The phrase “uni­ver­sal education” will mean noth­ing if it does not ap­ply to chil­dren liv­ing in huts, hov­els, and refugee tents. When war or disas­ter strikes, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity rightly mo­bi­lizes fund­ing for food, shel­ter, and key to qual­ity if they are not well-or­gan­ised health care. All too of­ten, how­ever, fi­nanc­ing education is only an af­ter­thought. With refugees spend­ing more than ten years away from home, on av­er­age, this ne­glect can­not be al­lowed to con­tinue.

For­tu­nately, progress is be­ing made in this area. In an ex­cit­ing ex­per­i­ment in Le­banon, schools have been put on dou­ble shifts in or­der to ac­com­mo­date the coun­try’s Syr­ian refugee pop­u­la­tion. Lo­cal chil­dren at­tend in the morn­ing, and in the af­ter­noon, Syr­ian refugee chil­dren study in the same class­rooms.

The pro­gramme has been a stun­ning suc­cess, pro­vid­ing school­ing for some 207,000 chil­dren who might oth­er­wise have been de­prived of an education. And plans are un­der­way to ex­pand the pro­gram to cover one mil­lion chil­dren in Le­banon, Turkey, and Jor­dan. The big­gest ob­sta­cle to what would be a spec­tac­u­lar achieve­ment – as is so of­ten the case – is a short­age of money.

It is to sup­port ef­forts like this one that the In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion on Fi­nanc­ing Global Education Op­por­tu­nity was formed. UNICEF leader An­thony Lake, UNESCO head Irina Bokova, and Global Part­ner­ship for Education Chair Ju­lia Gil­lard have lent their sup­port to a plat­form for the pro­vi­sion of education in emer­gen­cies, a pro­posal that I hope will be for­mal­ized at the World Hu­man­i­tar­ian Sum­mit in Turkey in May. And it is my goal that by the end of the year we will also have a timetable to pro­vide pri­mary and sec­ondary education to ev­ery child in the world – and the fund­ing with which to achieve this most im­por­tant of ob­jec­tives.

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