Global Partnership for Education taps former Australian PM to boost funding for education

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Troy Constable

The global campaign for education snagged a high-profile politician this week. Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard will assume the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Global Partnership for Education.

The organization’s model is akin to that of the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria, but it has not been able to wrestle the same financial resources.  The Global Fund managed to raise $12 billion in its December replenishment event, short of the $15b requested, but more than the previous $10b.

The Global Fund for Education hopes to also succeed when it holds its replenishment meeting in June.  A public goal has not been made, but the group said that they received $1.2 billion in funding requests in 2013. The Global Partnership for Education has managed to allocate $3.1 billion since 2002, not enough to stave off the 6.3% decline in global aid for basic education between 2009 and 2011.

“I am also alarmed about the recent sharp decline in donor support to education that threatens the progress achieved over the past decade, particularly for girls’ education,” said Gillard at the time of her appointment. “The global community must respond generously to the upcoming call for a renewal of multilateral, bilateral and national financing for basic education.”

The Australian leader was forced out of office by Kevin Rudd in June 2013 in a bid to win the September Australian elections. Her background on education is traced back to her leadership of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations in Australia while serving as the country’s Deputy Prime Minister.

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Gillard has been making the rounds in the international development circles for the past few months. Education and women’s issues were listed by Gillard as her top issues while at the expensive and exclusive Clinton Global Initiative, held in New York City in September.

That goal, and the opportunity to write a book, was quickly enshrined when Gillard was named Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for Universal Education by the Brookings Institution in October. She then attended and spoke at the World Innovation Summit on Education held in Doha, Qatar later in the month.

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“Without rigor and measurement we cannot know what our schools are achieving in the education of our children and what works best to improve quality,” said Gillard in Doha. “The fact we can’t measure everything should not deter us from measuring what we can.”

She refuted the criticism of the downside to ‘teaching to the test’ by challenging that better assessments and tools will make sure that the focus is on learning, rather than gaming a test. However, Gillard’s new role will call more upon her political experience than her education background and theories.

Gillard delivers her remarks at WISE.

She stressed the need educate the roughly 250 million children who are unable to read, write or do simple math. In both the press release accompanying the announcement and Gillard’s first blog post for the Global Partnership for Education, funding has emerged as a central issue.

UNESCO estimates there to be a $3 billion annual public funding gap towards the goal of achieving basic education in low-income countries by 2015 that amounts to $26 billion.

“One of the things we’re particularly concerned about is that whilst there’s been some growth even in difficult times in aid dollars, education hasn’t held its place in that growth,” said Gillard about the problem to Reuters. “It’s hard for governments to find aid dollars.”

“The decline really is associated with the stresses and strains that many governments are facing up to as a result of the global financial crisis and what that’s done to economic activity and budgets.”

While attention will be on the replenishment and foreign donors, the Global Partnership for Education will continue working to get governments to increase their education spending. Gillard touts that she used transparency to break down government infighting on Australia’s education budgets. It is this kind of experience that may be what will enable her to mediate between the donors and the developing country governments.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.