What would the world look like if every child could go to school?
Imagine a world where new HIV infections are a rarity. Where children have clean water and adequate food. New mothers survive childbirth and go on to raise the next generation, and vulnerable communities cope with climate-related disasters and economic shocks. The poorest countries receive $80 billion each year for development, and parents earn enough to feed their families, build assets and save for the future.
Although it seems a pipe dream, this vision is possible through education. If every child could go to school, our world would be a dramatically changed place. In fact, the second Millennium Development Goal, universal primary education, is the key to achieving all of the MDGs.
The evidence shows that basic education is one of the most cost-effective development interventions and that its impact extends well beyond transforming the lives of individual children. It leads to measurable improvements in economic growth, HIV prevention, nutrition, child and maternal health, and conflict prevention. Consider:
- No country has reached sustained economic growth without achieving near universal primary education. One year of schooling can increase an individual’s earnings by 10 per cent.
- If all children completed primary school, as many as 700,000 cases of HIV could be prevented each year in Sub-Saharan Africa alone.
- Children of mothers with a full primary education are 40 per cent more likely to survive to age 5, and 50 per cent more likely to receive life-saving immunizations. These mothers are also far more likely to survive childbirth.
We need to build on what we know works, and the facts on education are clear. This leaves unambiguous choices for developing countries, and for the global donor community. UNESCO has estimated that the global Education For All agenda, aimed at bringing a basic education to every citizen in every society, has a financing gap of $16 billion per year. Many developing countries – in Africa especially – have demonstrated their commitment to Education For All, increasing education spending and making impressive gains in primary enrolment in the past ten years. But they have been hit hard by the global economic crisis, and may be further squeezed by donor budget cuts. In an environment of stagnating aid for education, scarce aid dollars must be well spent. One way to do this is through multilateral cooperation that pools funds to support countries with well-designed national education strategies. Yet the Education for All- Fast Track Initiative (FTI), an important international donor partnership to support basic education in poor countries, is also dangerously low on funds.
The global economic crisis has left poor countries with a massive revenue hole. New Oxfam research shows that in 2010, that deficit is being translated into cuts in social spending, with some of the worst impacts felt in education.
On top of this bad news, this year’s G8 Summit in Canada reinforced a trend of deepening budgetary austerity in donor countries. G8 nations have every intention of ignoring their promises on aid, with devastating impacts for education. Of the $50 billion in aid promised five years ago at the Gleneagles Summit, only $30 will be delivered. This $20 billion hole is only 0.0006% of G8 GNI, but it is more than enough to get a seat in the classroom for each of the 72 million children who are currently out of school worldwide.
If we fail on education, it is impossible to achieve the other MDGs. Indeed, they are all inextricably woven together. A serious and urgent effort on the part of the international community is needed to rescue all the MDGs, especially the education goals, before the 2015 deadline creeps any closer. My vision of a changed world – so close within reach – will be only a vision until our governments fulfill their commitments to the world’s children.