The Global Learning Crisis: Inaction is giving up on an equitable future

By Amanda Clark, Minerva Strategies –

 

There are currently 263 million children and young people not in school, 60 million of them living in dangerous conflict zones. Fast forward to year 2030 and we’re looking at a world where more than half of the world’s children – 800 million out of 1.6 billion – will lack the basic skills necessary for the modern workforce. The rise of automation and changing technologies will increase the demand for high-level skills and make it far more difficult for these children to get jobs. The result will be increased global unemployment, poverty, and instability.

 

With this gloomy backdrop, how will we achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal for education ensuring quality education for all by 2030? According to the Education Commission, an impressive group of leaders from government, business, and civil society, the answer is we won’t. At least not if current trends in education financing remain the same. To tackle this enormous challenge, the Commission has developed a bold and innovative plan. The Commissioners are dedicated to identifying innovative financing solutions to bridge the gap in education investment.

 

The Education Commission’s ambitious goal – as described in their 2016 report The Learning Generation – is to enable the largest expansion of education opportunity in history. Getting all the world’s young people into school and learning within a generation is possible, but it’s going to take a global movement engaging all levels of society from the grassroots all the way up to national political leaders.  It also requires that all nations commit to accelerating their education investment to match the rate of the world’s 25 percent fastest growing education improvers – countries like Ethiopia, Burundi, Malawi, and Ghana.

 

Achieving the learning generation depends on both increased investment and educational reform. Commissioner and Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Gordon Brown recently explained this: “We can’t look at this as a choice between money and reform. You need money to reform. And if you have just money and no reform then you’re going to waste a huge amount of resources. You must do both together.” The proposed reforms include providing better training for teachers, focusing investment on results-driven systems, and developing creative programs to capitalize on innovation and technology. Additionally, education systems must prioritize the most vulnerable people – the poorest of the poor, those who face discrimination, and girls – to ensure no child is left behind in the learning generation.

 

On the funding side, the Commission is calling on both donor countries and low- and middle-income countries to increase education investment. Countries that need external financing for education have been asked to do much of the heavy lifting – raising public expenditures on education from $1 trillion in 2013 to $2.7 trillion by 2030. To achieve this, low- and middle-income countries would have to up their annual rate of GDP expenditure from 4 percent to 5.8 percent. To support these efforts, the Commission is calling upon the international community to increase its education financing to $90 billion by 2030. This still won’t cut it, there would still be an external financing gap of more than $20 billion by 2030.

 

To close the external financing gap the Commission recommends an innovative path forward – an International Financing Facility for Education (IFFed). The IFFed would be modeled after GAVI’s International Finance Facility for Immunization which has averted more than 8 million deaths in developing countries through vaccinations in the past 17 years.

 

The IFFed would be financed by public and private donors. Through a combination of guarantees and buy-downs the IFFed would work with international financial institutions such as the World Bank and regional development banks to create attractive financing packages for low- and middle-income countries. This favorable financing is critically important as countries’ income levels rise and they become ineligible for grants and zero- or low-interest loans. This is similar to the frustration of many middle-class Americans as costs of college tuition are high, yet they’re often unable to qualify for financial aid.

 

The IFFed has the potential to raise an additional $13 billion annually for education starting in 2020, helping to close the financing gap and ensure the money is spend more effectively, reaching the children who need it most.

 

The time is now to avoid a crisis. Let’s back the Education Commission and help spark a global education movement ensuring we don’t condemn half of the world’s children to poverty. The Education Commission recommendations could help us reach the SDG goal on education, which would consequently help us reach many of the other SDGs such as gender equality, good health, and decent work and economic growth. The world can’t afford not to.