Billions sought to educate the poorest

4th April 2014 at 01:00
Even developing nations are challenged to boost spending

The organisation responsible for collecting international education aid has launched its most ambitious fundraising campaign yet, with Western nations being asked to contribute $3.5 billion (pound;2.1 billion) to finance school reforms in the developing world.

But in return, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is calling on governments in 66 developing nations to invest $16 billion of their own budgets in schooling, equating to at least 20 per cent of their total domestic spending.

International spending on education aid has fallen in recent years: the 5 per cent decrease between 2010 and 2012 has been labelled "unacceptable" by GPE chief executive Alice Albright.

"We, the international community, have to act now and we have to act firmly," she told TES. "Without a greater focus on adequate financing in education, our gains will be elusive and millions of children will still miss out on fulfilling their potential.

"Inevitably, the pattern of who misses out will entrench the current education inequalities between girls and boys, children in urban and rural regions, and for children with disabilities.

"No government can afford to reduce national investments in education. Nor can donors step back from unlocking the full potential of education by cutting down on their funding promises."

At a conference in Brussels in June, the GPE will ask Western governments to pledge $3.5 billion to fund its work for 2015-18 - a similar amount to the total aid it has generated since 2003, and almost double the $2 billion raised at its last pledging conference three years ago.

The funding would help 2.8 million more children to complete primary education, and would reduce dropout and repetition rates in primary and lower-secondary schools by 10 per cent, the GPE argued.

But the goal appears to be a challenging one. In a report published in December, the GPE warned that the decrease in international aid for schools posed a "real danger" to primary participation levels, with funding commitments for education declining at double the rate seen in other sectors. Persuading the world's poorest countries to devote a fifth of their spending to education could prove even more problematic, with experts questioning whether the figures are realistic.

According to official Unesco statistics for 2012, the new target would require some countries already working with the GPE to double their investment in education, with the lowest spenders at present including countries such as Guinea (9.5 per cent), Guyana (10.1 per cent) and Gambia (13.8 per cent).

Global education expert Kenneth King, emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh's School of Education, told TES it was essential that international agencies set achievable goals.

"These targets have got to be realistic," he said. "It's one thing talking about these fantastic figures.but what is the impact on organisations like the European Union? It's an interesting question to be raised: how do agencies react to these big numbers?"

John Rendel, chief executive of Promoting Equality in African Schools, a chain of low-cost private schools across Uganda and Zambia, recently met with the GPE to discuss the possibility of the partnership supporting similar provision in other countries.

"The money for education is falling further away from the 20 per cent target," he said. "For countries like Uganda, there's a growing focus on more productive sectors, such as infrastructure, with a view to wealth generation to spark economic growth in the short term."

Mr Rendel added that he had recently held talks with the Rwandan government about developing his low-cost school model. He also backed the GPE's approach of using aid funding as leverage to encourage countries to increase their domestic investment. "If you go about it in the wrong way, you could raise $3.5 billion but it would just lead to countries spending $3.5 billion less," he said. "The clever way to do it is to use the aid as a lever to support extra spending."

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