At an unprecedented gathering of heads of global development agencies and ministers from 8 developing countries that account for nearly half the world’s 61 million out-of-school children, leaders called for urgent action to remove the barriers to achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG2) of universal primary education by 2015 and to close the gap between rich and poor in learning access and outcomes. An estimated 250 million children worldwide are unable to read and write. One in 5 young people ages 15 to 24 has not completed primary school and lack the basic skills necessary for life and work.
The 8 developing countries participating in the Learning for All Ministerial are Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Yemen.
“We must have greater ambition in educating children around the world. We need to get all children into school but we need more than that – we need to make sure they are learning,” said Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group. “Countries need a workforce with the skills and competencies necessary to create jobs, fuel innovation, and drive inclusive economic growth. Addressing this global learning crisis is essential to ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity.”
The meeting is part of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative, which gathers a broad spectrum of world leaders and advocates who aspire to use the transformative power of education to build a better future for all.
"We are here to identify concrete actions to ensure that all children and young people have access to school and quality learning by the year 2015,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “We are here for the hundreds of millions who do not have the right opportunities to learn. There is no more valuable investment than education. It takes bold financial decisions - but they are bound to pay off, for individuals, society and our world. We must prove that we can pool our resources and muster our will in the sure knowledge that educating children now will pay dividends to whole societies for generations to come.”
New data on access and learning gaps
New analyses of these 8 countries’ education challenges, prepared for the ministerial meetings in a series of reports to the UN Special Envoy for Global Education and coordinated by the Center for Universal Education at Brookings, show that even countries at very different stages of development face a set of common barriers to education access and quality. The greatest gaps are among children from marginalized socio-economic groups, particularly girls, in fragile and conflict-affected states, in slums and remote communities, from ethnic minorities and lower castes, and children with disabilities. Giving these children a quality education will require targeted and innovative efforts to mitigate the leading causes of disadvantage. Special efforts to promote girls’ education, such as providing conditional cash transfers and other financial incentives, have proven highly effective in increasing the number of girls in school.
"Inequality in education has become the civil rights issue of our generation. With less than 1,000 days to go before the deadline to achieve education for all, pioneering action is needed to make sure that every child goes to school. It is not acceptable that every day 61 million children don’t receive an education because they’re born into poverty, made to go to work instead or forced into child marriage,” said the Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education. “Today’s meetings should precipitate a clear course of action to put countries back on track to schooling their young, placing the needs of the most marginalized at the heart of the global education agenda. Working together - the UN, the World Bank, the Global Partnership for Education, civil society and the governments of countries with large out-of-school numbers - we can take bold strides to help children around the world achieve their potential.”
The analyses also point to alarmingly low or even declining levels of learning as access to education has expanded in recent years. At the meeting, the World Bank also unveiled the first 20 country diagnostic reports produced through the World Bank’s new Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) initiative. The SABER data and analytic tools will help countries put effective policies and systems in place to measure student performance and address other barriers to learning, such as teacher policies, and enable them to benchmark their progress against other countries.
A number of leaders at the meeting noted that the MDGs do not focus on the quality of education and learning, and this should be a priority for the post-2015 development agenda. The UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda will deliver its report on 30 May.
Accountability was also highlighted by leaders as a key constraint. Accountability must be strengthened at all levels, for example ensuring that teachers get paid creating mechanisms of social accountability through parents’ associations, and ensuring that education budget information is publicly accessible at the community level. Leaders also stressed the importance of additional funding to scale up successful learning initiatives, especially in domestic budgets as well as in more and better coordinated external support delivered at the country level, including through the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), and the United Nations agencies.
“With the support of the international community, we launched a far reaching program aimed at guaranteeing access to free basic education for all Haitian children,” said Laurent Lamothe, Prime Minister of Haiti. “In post-earthquake Haiti we faced not only the collapse of school infrastructure and over 500,000 children with no access to education, we also had an acute shortage of qualified teachers. Our program has now provided school access to 1.3 million children, constructed 800 new schools and recruited and trained 8,500 school teachers.”
“Investing in education helps realise every child’s potential – so strengthening education is the single best investment we can make in long-term poverty reduction, especially for girls.” said Peter Baxter, Director General of the Australian Agency for International Development. “Education is a top priority for Australia’s aid program, and we will provide $880 million in funding for education this year.”
World Bank Group support for education
Since 2000, the Bank has invested $29 billion in education, including more than $15 billion from IDA. New commitments for education totaled $3 billion in FY12, with $2.25 billion for basic education. In 2010, the Bank pledged an additional $750 million in IDA financing for basic education over five years to help the poorest countries reach the education MDGs. As of April 1, 2013, the Bank had provided $882 million in additional financing against the pledge, exceeding its commitment a full two years ahead of schedule.