About 250 million of the world’s 650 million children of primary school age are not learning. 130 million of them can’t read, despite having completed four years of education.

Growing momentum for education financing

It’s a simple fact: the world has not given education the priority it needs.

Last week, UN Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown stated that ensuring every child has access to education is “the civil rights struggle of our time”. But if current trends continue, we will be 50 years late in meeting the target set by world leaders of ensuring inclusive quality education for all by 2030.

However, last week it felt the tide might be starting to turn. At the World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington DC, education financing was firmly on the agenda. This is a big deal, because we need donors and finance ministers around the world to engage in financing education. Fulfilling the world’s promise to get every child learning will require total spending on education to rise from $1.2 trillion per year today to $3 trillion by 2030 across all low- and middle-income countries. This is a big increase but, as the Education Commission has shown, it’s achievable – and urgently needed.

A growing learning and skills crisis

Ensuring every boy and girl learns from a good-quality education is a bold and important promise. Without it, we won’t even come close to eradicating poverty or reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Achieving the SDGs isn’t just about whether children are in school – it’s about whether they are learning. And currently the world is facing a major learning crisis. About 250 million of the world’s 650 million children of primary school age are not learning. 130 million of them can’t read, despite having completed four years of education.

Without a significant increase in funding for education, the current learning crisis will only get worse, denying the next generation of young people the skills they need and preventing the economic prosperity needed to alleviate global poverty. Without urgent change, by 2030 more than 750 million young people in low- and middle-income countries will miss out on basic secondary-level skills, and more than 1.5 billion adults will have no education beyond primary school.

International support must get behind growth in funding for education at national level

The responsibility for providing education for all children lies first and foremost with national governments. Domestic public spending is by far the most important and sustainable source of finance for education. The Education Commission projects that approximately 97% of the funds needed to fill the education financing gap need to come from national governments.

However, international financing plays a critical role. While only 3% of total financing will be needed from international sources, this will still require an increase in international financing from today’s $16 billion per year to $89 billion per year by 2030.

A promising innovation in education financing

One solution for changing this and the subject of much discussion last week was the establishment of an International Financing Facility for Education (IFFEd) – an investment mechanism for multilateral development banks (MDBs) and other donors. The aim of the facility would be to ensure that education benefits from an unprecedented opportunity to increase MDB financing through much greater prioritisation and leveraging of their balance sheets. The Education Commission estimates that the IFFEd could mobilise $13.5bn annually in additional resources for education by 2020.

This is so important, because as noted by former President of Tanzania and Education Commissioner President Kikwete, even if low- and middle-income countries increase their spending on education, and we see an increase in bilateral aid and funding to multilateral funds such as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), there will still be a $10 billion shortfall in funding for education by 2020, and a $25 billion shortfall by 2030.

So it was incredibly welcome to see support for education and the IFFEd from Kristalina Georgieva, the CEO of the World Bank, who said: “We need to have all children in school, graduating, and continuing with life-long learning…We – with our members – would very much like to see The International Financing Facility materialise.

The UK government has also expressed its support. Last week Permanent Secretary Sir Mark Lowcock from the Department for International Development (DFID) said: “My government is very interested in exploring the potential of the [IFFEd] facility that Gordon Brown and the Commission has proposed… For my money, this is the best proposition we have out there at the moment”.

Save the Children is supportive of the IFFEd. It could be instrumental in leveraging new education financing. To succeed, we believe that the IFFEd must adhere to a set of principles, which include:

  1. Focus on equity and fulfilling the promise of leaving no-one behind as the overall objective of the IFFEd, in line with the Education Commission’s call for progressive universalism.
  2. Ensure that funds are used to support nationally owned and developed policies, and in particular, national education sector plans.
  3. Align with existing education funding mechanisms. It should ensure that funding and investments build on available knowledge and evidence of what works.
  4. Ensure debt sustainability, with borrowers and lenders sharing responsibility for thorough risk assessments.

Coherence across the financing solutions for education

Last week also saw the launch of the Global Partnership for Education’s (GPE’s) ‘Case for Investment’. UN Special Envy for Education Gordon Brown, GPE board Chair Julia Gillard, UNICEF Executive Director Tony Lake and President Kikwete all spoke at the event about the complimentary roles that GPE, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) and the IFFEd could play in helping to mobilise additional funding for education.

The message from that launch event is clear: GPE’s replenishment is critical to success. GPE is an essential part of the education architecture, supporting and monitoring the implementation of national education plans, and bringing together developing country governments with donors, civil society, the teaching profession and the private sector to pool resources and knowledge in support of education, both globally and nationally.

GPE’s case for investment sets out how it plans to meet the target set by the Education Commission to reach a financing target of $2 billion a year by 2020, which would require donor governments to provide $3.1 billion over the next replenishment period (2018–2020). World leaders must respond to this and step up their financing to GPE if we have any hope of fulfilling our promises to the world’s children.

Turning words into action

This is an exciting time for education. Save the Children is working with a number of NGOs to deliver the message loud and clear that we need greater financing for education now. The next big test for education will be at the G20 in July, and then GPE replenishment later in the year. Save the Children is committed to continuing to campaign ahead of these moments on the need for greater education financing. We have published a new briefing called ‘Financing Learning for Every Last Child’, which sets out what we believe to be the solutions to the education financing gap.

We’re calling on governments and the international community to provide a step change in education financing and to ensure resources are used in the interests of those children last in line for an education. We’ll campaign with others to ensure that both GPE and ECW are fully funded and that the IFFEd is established in order to close the education financing gap.

All children have the right to an education that enables them to learn and to fulfil their potential. If we are truly committed to achieving the SDGs, we need world leaders to put their money where their mouth is, and deliver on their promise of an equitable and good-quality education for every last child.


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