It is estimated that 264 million children and young people around the word remain out of school. This global education crisis is hardly visible, but is nevertheless crucial for the future of societies, economic development and personal fulfilment of millions of children and future adults. In its World Development Report 2018, the World Bank refers to an “education crisis” for some 330 million learners who leave school without a minimum of proficiency in basic knowledge for their personal lives and their vocational integration.
The French President Emmanuel Macron has set out to address this crisis by saying that he wants to make education a top priority. On 2 February 2018, he will be co-hosting the 3rd Refinancing Conference for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in Dakar, alongside the President of Senegal Macky Sall, which is set to be on an unprecedented scale.
This event will put the media spotlight on the cause of global education and should bring about new momentum, especially financial. Because just as with the climate, we need to deliver on promises and commitments to ensure that we do not lose the battle. At this event, France will once again be at the forefront of the international stage and it will be much more than a simple matter of its financial contribution to GPE. It will involve gauging our country’s political determination to make education, which has until now been the poor relation in our development policy, a real priority for action.
“We need to build a school which frees up minds and does not confine them, which is why education will be the top priority of the new partnership I am proposing to you.”
Emmanuel Macron, Speech in Ouagadougou, 28 November 2017
“If you think education is too expensive, try ignorance”
While education is currently experiencing a global crisis, it is first and foremost because it is cruelly lacking financing. With the current rate and volumes of financing, we are already 50 years late in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 on Education, set for 2030 by the United Nations. How many generations will not attend school before the political world wakes up and understands that education is a powerful driver for peace, health and economic development? There is ample evidence of the positive effects of education, yet the share of total global development assistance allocated to education is continuing to decline. It fell from 10% in 2009 to 6.9% in 2015.
According to Unesco, it is estimated that the external financing gap required to provide quality preprimary, primary and secondary education for all children by 2030 stands at USD 39bn a year. By comparison, the 250 million children who do not learn the basics at school bring about a loss equivalent to USD 129bn a year for the global community. Abraham Lincoln already drew the following conclusion from this 150 years ago: “If you think education is too expensive, try ignorance”.
France, through the voice of Emmanuel Macron, has announced education as a priority for French international cooperation. At long last! As for the past 10 years, France’s international aid for education has only shown a downward trend: it was halved between 2007 and 2015, from EUR 2,134m to EUR 1,110m according to the figures of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee.
If France can take pride in the fact that education is today the 2nd largest sector in volume for its bilateral ODA (EUR 1bn, i.e. 16% in 2015), it is in particular thanks to the effects of accounting entries, which inflate the reality of a sector in which there has been relatively little investment until now. Indeed, according to the Education Coalition’s, basic education, which comprises primary education, but also preprimary education and adult literacy, only accounts for 2.5% of French bilateral ODA (i.e. EUR 160m).
Why? Because the remaining two-thirds are allocated to higher education (EUR 740m), particularly for scholarship fees. The problem does not lie in hosting foreign students in France, but in the fact that so little money is earmarked for basic education. Furthermore, these tuition fees are not always assigned in priority to students from the least developed countries or from modest socioeconomic backgrounds. An analysis needs to be made of the actual impact that these scholarship mechanisms have on the reduction of poverty and inequalities in partner countries.
And the African priority? Here again, the figures are out of sync with ministerial discourses and strategies, as in 2015, only 27% of France’s bilateral aid for education was directed towards Africa.
Dakar: The time has come to take action for global education!
2018 could be an historical year for global education. The GPE, the only multilateral financing platform dedicated to education, is gearing up for a record replenishment: USD 3.1bn of contributions are expected. By comparison, the most recent replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria collected USD 12.9bn.
The Dakar conference may be a key moment for the creation of a global leadership for global education, as was the case for the health sector in the 1990s-2000s, or more recently in the climate sector. It also provides the French President with a unique opportunity to turn his words into action “with hard cash” and give visibility to this priority on the international stage.
But Dakar must not be a simple showcase, and moreover for France, which has a lot of ground to make up: in 2016, it only allocated USD 8.4m to GPE, which is well below the efforts made by other countries, such as the USD 136.8m paid by the UK or the USD 58.1m by Norway for the same year. Yet the effectiveness of GPE has been amply demonstrated. GPE has allowed 72 million children to go to school since 2002 (2015 figure). It has demonstrated its main advantage: it leverages other financing, which sets it apart from other multilateral funds. Partner countries contractualize with the Partnership and must, in return, devote a significant proportion of their national budget to education. In 2015, 78% of partner countries maintained or increased their budget for education at over 20% of public spending.
Since it was set up in 2002, the number of GPE partner countries has risen from 7 to 65, including a majority of “fragile States” and Sub-Saharan African countries, which are on France’s priority cooperation list. The Dakar conference aims to open this support to 89 countries in order to meet SDG 4.
GPE: a tree that must not hide the forest
Behind the media hype and unprecedented mobilization of global education actors for this conference, two pitfalls need to be avoided. The first: stake everything on GPE. This multilateral fund cannot single-handedly write global governance for education. For France, the error would be to create a further imbalance in its aid for global education, by fully replenishing GPE to the detriment of bilateral aid for basic education, which is already very modest. It would especially be detrimental to ignore the need for aid that makes it possible to work more closely with local partners and actors who know their territories and the context for interventions. Bilateral aid creates a dialogue between partners of the State, their agencies and civil society organizations and firmly establishes a real territorial, political and technical partnership, unlike the large financial flows of multilateral organizations, which do not act on the same scale.
The second pitfall which needs to be avoided: the recycling of promises, both by partner developing countries and donor countries. In 2014, during the previous GPE financing conference, a lot of promises exceeded expectations by totalling over USD 26bn… on paper! Indeed, many countries did not deliver on their commitments. Only 12% of partner developing countries actually fulfilled their promise. This raises the issue of a lack of clarity and traceability of commitments. But “recycling” is also a habit for donors: transferring money from one pot to another (bilateral/multilateral, for example), use of funds which have not yet been disbursed but have already been pledged… For example, the very recent announcement by the European Commission that it would allocate EUR 287.5m to GPE benefits from a cosmetic effect, as it is aggregated with a 6-year commitment, including the previous period. In reality, it represents an additional effort of EUR 100m for the new GPE financing period. But this anticipated announcement has the merit of stimulating emulation between European countries.
We are expecting courageous and committed acts from the French President, who will be representing France in Dakar. In addition to the GPE support, it is indeed a concrete, credible and predictable bilateral commitment by France for quality global education which is expected today, in particular at a time when the Government is about to redefine the priorities of its cooperation policy with the holding of a new Interministerial Committee for International Cooperation and Development (CICID) in February.
Just as COP21 in 2015, Dakar may be a turning point for the future of the world.
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