Global Action Week for Education – underfunding education puts entire global development agenda at risk

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© UNESCO A. Soomro/A young girl at school in Karachi, Pakistan

UNESCO marks Global Action Week for Education (24-30 April, 2016) with a special panel event exploring opportunities and challenges in financing the new Education 2030 Agenda.

Global Action Week for Education (GAWE) is a worldwide annual event organized by the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) to raise awareness of the importance of education for all. This year’s event takes education financing as its theme under the banner Funding the Future.

The panel, titled Financing for SDG4-Education 2030: Leaving no one behind – what will it take to narrow inequity gaps? is organized with the GCE at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris on 25 April and will explore opportunities and challenges in financing the new agenda with a focus on marginalized populations.

In a video message marking the launch of GAWE, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said: “Failing to make adequate investments in education puts the fulfilment of the entire global agenda at risk.”

Under the Education 2030 Agenda, governments have committed to providing a full course of free, equitable and high-quality primary and secondary education. But without an additional USD 39 billion in education funding each year, poor countries face severe challenges to reach that goal.

In light of the funding gap, governments are being urged to spend 15 to 20 per cent of budgets on education, (4 to 6 per cent of GDP), and donors are called upon to increase support which has been lagging since 2010.

Targeting funding where it is needed most

Many poor countries already spending the recommended percentages still struggle to meet basic education needs. According to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), Ethiopia allocates 27 per cent of its total budget to education, of which 6 per cent goes to primary education, but this amounts to a mere USD 76 per primary student per year. Meanwhile, 2 million children, roughly between the ages of 6 and 11 are out of school in the country, or 13.5 per cent of the primary school-age population.

UIS data suggest that families are covering a quarter to a half of the total cost of educating a child, including tuition, uniforms and other fees. In Benin, for example, for every USD100 spent by the government on primary education, families pay about USD 70.

The cost of education is one of the many reasons 124 million children and young adolescents (roughly between the ages of 6 and 15) are out of school. 

Better data to help countries develop policy and plans

To shed light on the allocation of aid to education, the UIS has developed a set of interactive maps contrasting data on aid to basic education from the OECD-DAC Creditor Reporting System with UIS data on out-of-school children. This shows that the aid flow is not necessarily reaching countries with high rates of out-of-school children.

For example, Mali, where 36 per cent of children of primary school age are not enrolled in school, received about USD 40 million in aid to basic education between 2012 and 2013. Whereas neighbouring Niger, with an out-of-school rate of 37 per cent received a total of USD 26 million. And conflict-ridden Sudan, where 46 per cent of children are out of school, received about USD 7 million.

Scarce data on education finance and multiple funding sources make it difficult to see the whole picture. For this reason UIS together with the IIEP is developing a set of methodological tools, under the National Education Accounts initiative, to help countries improve the quality of data and better target policies and plans. 

Live stream in English of UNESCO’s Global Action Week for Education panel discussion, 25 April 2016 from 10am to 12am.