2019 is a critical year for children and young people everywhere. It’s critical in building a world where every child gets the chance to learn.
The United Nations High-Level Political Forum July in New York will include a review of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), which promises quality inclusive education for all by 2030.
While there are some exceptions, an honest appraisal of progress towards achieving SDG4 will point to serious and often growing gaps. We know that too many children and young people are still being denied access to education, particularly those who face deprivation and marginalisation:
- 262 million children and young people remain out of school
- Refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than their non-refugee peers
- Twice as many girls as boys will never start school
- Half of all children with disabilities in low- and middle-income countries do not go to school.
And when we consider those children who do access school, we see that many children are in school, but are not learning and are not realising their right to a quality, inclusive education. A staggering 387 million children of primary school age will not achieve minimum proficiency levels in reading; two-thirds of them – 262 million – are in school.
It doesn’t have to be this way. This year presents some real opportunities to unlock education for everyone. But only if we nail down exactly how we’re going to do it and where the money is going to come from.
Today, the Send My Friend to School coalition in the UK, which Save the Children is a member of, launches its 2019 campaign, ‘Unlock Education for Everyone’. Thousands of schools and young people across the UK will create and present paper keys to their local MP, calling on the UK to give all children the chance of an education.
And the campaign has launched with a new report, ‘Unlock Education for Everyone’, which identifies why inequality in education persists and what needs to be done to tackle it.
Why does inequality in education persist?
Access to education and learning is far from being a level playing field. Inequitable education systems – constrained by underinvestment, a lack of data and accountability, and entrenched discrimination – deny children and young people their right to a quality, inclusive education simply because of who they are and where they live.
Conflict, gender, geography, minority status and disability are all key factors in children’s exclusion from education. Crucially, a child may experience two or more of these factors at the same time, so that they overlap and reinforce each other.
For example, conflict significantly exacerbates the barriers girls face: girls in conflict-affected countries are almost two and a half times more likely to be out of school than those in countries that are not in conflict. Likewise, poverty intersects with and exacerbates other forms of disadvantage: the poorest children are four times more likely not to go to school than the richest, and five times less likely to complete primary education.
To be effective, therefore, education policy and programming needs to address multiple forms of disadvantage simultaneously. But a lack of investment, data, and evidence on what works at scale mean that implementing this in reality can be a challenge.
What can we do to stop inequality in education?
Given the scale of the problem we need action in three crucial areas if we are going to deliver quality, inclusive education for all by 2030.
Global leadership: Governments around the world must reaffirm and champion the leave no one behind pledge in education and use international meetings and events, including the G7, G20 and the High-Level Political Forum, to press other governments and international organisations to take action to address intersecting inequalities in education
Working with countries: Donor governments should work with developing country partner governments and other key stakeholders to support education sector plans and budgets that are inclusive and sensitive to gender and disability, in order to ensure that no child is left behind.
Governments need robust, disaggregated data, and data systems that can identify and account for those children who are currently hidden in data sets, in order to identify the furthest-behind groups, and to plan and budget for education equitably.
Equity-based stepping stone targets (EBSSTs) can be a useful methodology for governments to plan and budget better for equitable education systems. EBBSTs are intermediate targets for the furthest-behind children and young people in education (identified through an open and participatory leave no one behind assessment process) set at regular intervals between now and 2030 that plot a trajectory for reaching SDG4.
EBSSTs therefore support governments to identify who is the furthest behind in education and, when these targets are incorporated into education sector plans, commit governments to act on advancing progress for the furthest behind.
Investing more, and doing it more equitably: Donors and developing country governments should commit to progressive universalism and allocation by need and impact (prioritising the progress of the furthest-behind children) when making decisions on education financing.
We urgently need more and better financing for education. Current trends in education financing mean we’ll be half a century late in delivering SDG4. Developing countries must finance the vast majority – 97% – of education financing. To achieve this, many governments need to increase the share of their budget that goes to education to a least 20%. Domestic financing of education in many countries also needs to be better targeted – too often it is regressive. Governments can improve how they spend their education budget, ensuring it reaches the furthest-behind groups, by using progressive funding formulae within education budgets to allocate resources equitably.
The international community also needs to step up. Aid to education is stagnating and is not being allocated effectively or going to the countries that need it the most. While over half of the 262 million children out of school globally live in sub-Saharan Africa, the region has been receiving a declining share of aid to basic education. In 2002, the region received 50% of global aid to basic education. In 2015, this proportion had fallen by almost half to 26%.
2019 is the year to unlock education for everyone
Unless we act now we are at serious risk of depriving millions of children and their communities of a future. Without education we have no hope of eradicating poverty or reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.
Next year marks ten years till the SDG4 target date. In 2019 we have the opportunity to course correct on the inequality that still persists in education. We can do this by identifying the children who are furthest behind in education and then agreeing, financing and implementing the actions that will deliver the promised accelerated progress for these groups.
Let’s make 2019 the year that we unlock education for everyone.