Aid dollars directed to education short of the mark, again

Liberian girls in a school outside Monrovia. (Credit: UN/Christopher Herwig)

Global foreign aid spending is on the rise, much of it a response to the global refugee crisis, but education programs are not benefitting from the trend.

Overall, according to the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), foreign aid spending has increased by nearly 20 percent since 2010. But spending on education over the same time period has declined by about four percent.

“Aid remains far short of what is needed to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4, putting our commitments at risk,” said Irina Bokova, director-general of the the U.N.’s education arm UNESCO. “Aid would need to be multiplied by at least six to achieve our common education goals and must go to countries most in need. Yet, we see that donors to education are shifting their attention away from the poorest countries.”

Worse yet, the money available is not going to where it is needed most. More than half of the world’s children who do not go to school live in sub-Saharan Africa. However, just 22 percent of money dedicated to basic education, including primary schooling, goes to the region.

The data comes from a new UNESCO report analyzing the latest aid data produced by the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation.

Access to education has, however, improved significantly over the past decade. More than 90 percent of children living in developing countries are enrolled in primary school. Conflict and displacement (i.e., the refugee crisis) is the leading reason why 57 million children remain out of school. The fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) sets out a series of targets related to improving education access and quality by 2030.

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The primary goal for the international community is to achieve universal enrollment in primary and secondary school. An increase in funds for secondary education is one of the few promising trends coming out of UNESCO’s report. Still, more money is needed to make significant progress, the agency says.

UNESCO estimates a $39 billion shortfall in education financing for developing countries between 2015 and 2030. That assumes that the trend of countries spending more money on education that occurred in since 2000 continues. External funding is crucial if leaders want to achieve SDG 4.

The Global Partnership for Education, a bilateral funding group similar to the Global Fund and GAVI focused on education rather than health issues, helps fill in the aid gaps. But it also needs more money. The Partnership hopes to raise enough to spend $2 billion on education per year by 2020 – four times more than what it spends today. Its upcoming replenishment meeting will request from donors $3.1 billion over the next 3 years.

Campaigners are using the information to push on world leaders ahead of the upcoming meeting of the 20 leading global economies (G20 summit). The International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity is advocating for donor countries to dedicate at least 15 percent of their aid to education. That is a significant increase from the 6.9 percent share education got in 2015.

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UNESCO asks that donors return to the 10 percent aid spending share, as they provided in 2010. To do so, the body urges countries to make good on the target of spending at least  0.7 percent of their gross national income to aid. Only a handful of countries, including the U.K., give at that level. It also asks donors to give money to the countries that need it most.

There are other opportunities for donors to do more. The International Finance Facility for Education and the Education Cannot Wait fund are newly established initiatives aimed at increasing spending on education. The finance facility will work with development banks to bring more financing opportunities to lower middle-income countries.

And the fund is another multilateral body, but its mission is to help in emergency situations. Conflict and natural disasters often force children out of school. The fund wants to raise $3.85 by 2020 so it can deploy financial support to ensure children can still go to school, even when war breaks out.

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About Author

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.