Education has been the focus of many high-level UN events, but this year’s UN General Assembly truly put the spotlight on education – and particularly on the financing of quality, inclusive, equitable, and free education.
GCE and its members have long fought to deliver financing at national and international levels, and this year’s shift by the UN to explicitly focus on financing to strengthen public education systems was welcome – and long overdue. Civil society has been consistent in the message – now widely acknowledged – that education is a foundational right, and SDG 4 underpins the full sustainable development agenda: failing to deliver this goal risks failing the agenda as a whole. Two years into the Education 2030 period, now is the time to act: we must fund education.
As we now know, France and Senegal will co-host the February 2018 financing conference of the Global Partnership for Education, with Presidents Emmanuel Macron and Macky Sall personally announcing this during the high-level event ‘Financing the Future: Education 2030’. The landmark event, hosted by the governments of Norway and Malawi as well as France and Senegal, saw UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai, Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway, and President Peter Mutharika of Malawi among many others take the stage and make commitments to support both the increase of financing for education, and to mobilize others to do the same.
Welcome boost for education in emergencies
A small number of new financial pledges were made during the event; as it is expected that the February conference will be the moment for commitments to GPE, all commitments at the UN event focused on education in emergencies:
- The European Union: 8% of its humanitarian budget will go to education in emergencies in 2018 – this is far above the global average of 3.6% and follows its earlier pledge to increase to 6% in 2017; it also pledged a further US$13.2 million to the Education Cannot Wait fund.
- Denmark: a new commitment of US$16.1 million to the Education Cannot Wait fund.
- Dubai Cares committed US$500,000 to the Education Cannot Wait fund.
In addition, President Macky Sall reiterated Senegal’s commitment to allocating 25% of its domestic budget for education.
Sustainably financing education: supporting domestic resource mobilization
We also co-convened a major event during UNGA, which focused the spotlight on tax justice to achieve sustainable financing for education at the domestic level, as a balance to the donor focus at several of the other education-related events during UNGA.
Hosted by GCE, Education International, and the Global Alliance for Tax Justice, and in alliance with ActionAid, RESULTS, Light for the World, the Open Society Foundations, the International Council for Adult Education, and Oxfam, ‘Sustainably Financing Education’ highlighted the fact that the vast majority of financing – 97% – must come from domestic budgets. Yet without radical action to increase overall domestic resources, a pledge to spend 20% of national budget on education, in line with commitments made in the Education 2030 Framework For Action, will not deliver the full agenda, because many domestic budgets are woefully insufficient to start with.
Speakers all underlined the criticality of an overall push to find new resources to finance education.
Dr. Shermaine Barrett, ICAE Vice-President for the Caribbean, reminded participants that SDG 4 concerns more than education in schools; adult literacy is consistently overlooked in global education debates – an oversight which becomes all the more acute when it comes to financing.
Both Professor Sachs and the Chair of the Global Alliance for Tax Justice, Dereje Alemayehu, specified that this financing already exists: it is money being denied to governments by tax avoidance, tax havens, and unfair tax rules. As both Irina Bokova and Alice Albright pointed out, civil society must continue to hold governments to account to ensure that the resources are not only found, but also allocated and spent in a way that delivers the full vision of equitable, inclusive and free quality education and lifelong learning for all.
What happens next?
After this strong demonstration of support for financing education, it is down to all of us to maintain the pressure on our governments to transform words into action. This must mean a working partnership between supportive and champion governments, education actors such as GPE, national civil society education coalitions, teachers’ unions, academics, individual education activists and international NGOs – with each using its strengths to make the most of the opportunities before us in the coming months.
Citizens of the countries represented at September’s UN events must follow up with their Heads of State and senior ministers – we must make it clear that taking the stage is not enough.
At the same time, the World Bank Annual Meetings are shortly to take place in Washington DC, and civil society must use the twin opportunities of the support shown during UNGA, and the Bank’s first-ever World Development Report exclusively focused on education, to ensure education financing is firmly on the agenda of finance ministers.
Addressing the learning crisis is urgent
The GPE financing conference cannot be regarded in a vacuum. Rather, it must be seen as a critical starting point for governments to increase their commitments to financing for education within ongoing advocacy work on both donor and domestic finance.
A recent UIS factsheet found some shocking results. 133 million children of primary- and lower-secondary-age are either not in school, or are likely to drop out before completing school – and this figure stands alongside the 142 million children of upper-secondary age out of school. However, even these combined figures do not come close to the 484 million children in school and not receiving quality education. In total, that’s three quarters of a billion children who are not receiving quality – or any – education. Another recent UIS factsheet identified that 750 million adults (of which 102 million are aged 15-24) are unable to read or write.
Much of this comes down to money: to build education infrastructure for all levels and ages, to train and pay for teachers, and to provide learning materials and resources. We are two full years into the SDG4 and Education 2030 agendas, and these figures alone must act as a call to action.
Civil society will maintain pressure on governments to increase financing to education overall, and on donor countries to include GPE as part of the overall commitment, but we must all work together to ensure that the loud noises made by governments during the UN General Assembly are transformed into louder actions. We must be committed to seizing this moment to secure greater financial commitments, for every adult and child to access their right to education.