Making the Investment Case for Education at the Financing for Development Conference

15 July 2015

Without prioritizing education and a step change in financing, the ambitious agenda the world is set to adopt to eradicate poverty by 2030 will not be realized, asserted a high-level panel organized by UNESCO and the Governments of Ethiopia, Republic of Korea and Norway, on 14 July 2015 during the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa.

“Education is the most transformative force there is in any society,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, underlining the significance of the Incheon Declaration, adopted at the World Education Forum in May 2015 by 160 countries, which commits to 12 years of free, publicly funded, equitable primary and secondary education, including at least nine compulsory. 

This universal agenda, reflected in the proposed Sustainable Development Goal 4, testifies to the recognition that education lies at the heart of achieving sustainability, with impact across the development spectrum. In light of this, partnerships must aim to break out of silos, said the Director-General, reiterating the links between education and health, jobs, skills, gender equality and resilience to climate change.

“Education is a global public good and quality is vital for the new agenda: we are not talking about any kind of education, but about quality education, about learning. National resource mobilization and aid is important, but the effectiveness of investment is equally important.” She cited investment in pre-school, teachers, relevant curricula, skills training, inclusive policies and the leveraging of new technologies as factors that are determinant for improving quality.

Education is at the core of Ethiopia’s ambition to achieve middle-income status, said the Minister of Education, Mr Shiferaw Shigute. The country has developed strong education sector plans, invested heavily in building schools and training teachers, encouraged girls’ education, vocational skills training and teaching in the 25 mother tongue languages. The comprehensive approach has resulted in rapid expansion, with the big challenge lying in ensuring quality education opportunities, and mobilizing resources.

Proof that education transforms societies lies in the Republic of Korea’s development success story. Analysing this transformation from aid recipient to donor, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se emphasized his country’s continuity of political commitment towards education over the decades. More specifically, he underlined four ingredients of success:  the decision to prioritize education at the end of the war; designing the education strategy in tandem with national development path; high domestic spending and the empowerment of women through education. As a donor country, Korea prioritizes children, especially girls, in the most vulnerable countries, promotes digital literacy, skills and a tailored approach to match each context.

The conviction that education is a human right and development catalyst underpins Norway’s decision to double aid to education between 2013 and 2017, and to establish a Commission on the Financing of Global Education Opportunities. “Allocating resources to education is really about caring for the future,” said the Minister of Foreign Affairs Borge Brende. “The cost of inaction far exceeds the cost of action.” Action means committing more assistance to reach the 37 million children who are out of school because of conflict and emergencies; mobilizing more domestic resources, including through raising tax revenue, and forging strong partnerships.

“Partnerships build reach,” said Julia Gillard, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), referring to strong results achieved in low-income countries where governments, civil society and the private sector work together to support education sector plans. She stressed that 70% of funding goes for costed and credible plans; with 30% is tied to performance. Despite advances, she cited the need for a “partnership in advocacy” to make sure that education comes center stage, as health did after the adoption of the MDGs.

Intervening as a discussant, Jeffrey Sachs urged the international community to do for education what was accomplished for health when the MDGs were adopted, calling for the establishment of a global fund for education.

According to UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report (EFA GMR), the annual total cost for giving all children and adolescents an education in developing countries will rise from US $149 billion in 2012 to US $340 billion between 2015 and 2030. Developing countries will need to increase the amount they spend per primary student from US $70 to US $197 by 2030, and per secondary student from $301 to $536 by 2030.

The Incheon Declaration urges countries to allocate 4 to 6 % of GDP or at least 15 to 20% of total public expenditure to education; to increase support to least developed countries and improve aid effectiveness