Last year, leaders of the G-8 group of rich countries made a bold promise to the world’s children: No country seriously committed to Education for All, they said, would be thwarted in its achievement because of lack of resources.
Impressed? You shouldn’t be. G-8 leaders have been saying the same thing at every summit for the past decade. Their annual summit communiqués have held out the promise of decisive action on education, but the words have yet to be followed by decisive action.
The next summit, scheduled for June 25-26 in Muskoka, Canada, provides an opportunity to change this picture of sustained underperformance. However, the backdrop is not encouraging. In 2005, aid donors pledged to double aid to Africa. A recent evaluation by the OECD has documented what is described as a “mixed performance” – a euphemism in this case for non-delivery. Several G-8 countries – including Germany, France, Japan and (by a spectacular margin) Italy – have failed to meet their own targets for aid to education.
To add to a bleak picture, Canada recently announced that it would freeze aid next year – not a good message to send as the host of the next G-8 summit.
Trends in aid for education ought to set the alarm bells ringing. We are now just five years away from the target date for the Education for All goals, but projections in this year’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report show that on current trends, there will still be 56 million out of school in 2015. Yet overall, aid to basic education has stagnated and in 2007 commitments were cut by 22%.
Changing this outlook is a global priority – or at least it should be.
Education isn’t just a basic human right. It’s also a foundation for social justice, poverty reduction, democracy and economic growth. That’s why donors need to stop talking and start delivering on the aid promise – a point that the UNESCO Director General has repeatedly stressed.
2010 provides a window of opportunity. The One Goal campaign is gearing-up for a mass mobilisation effort linked to the football World Cup. Britain and South Africa recently announced a plan for a pre-kick-off education summit. This could provide a focal point for a big push on aid.
Meanwhile, the multilateral aid architecture is getting a long-overdue shake up. With the Fast Track Initiative entering a period of reform, there is an opportunity to forge a more broad-based, dynamic and innovative partnership for change. And several donor countries – France, Germany and the United States among them – have promised to do more on education.
The danger, of course, is that the 2010 opportunities will be frittered away in yet another deluge of high-sounding communiqués. So, what needs to happen to avoid that outcome?
The starting point is to establish how much more aid is needed.
In the 2010 Global Monitoring Report addressed this question. Specifically, we asked how much external support would be needed to achieve universal primary education in 46 low-income countries, along with accelerated progress in early childhood care and basic literacy.
Working from an assumption that the developing country governments themselves do far more to mobilize resources, we estimated that they would still fall about $16 billion a year short of the public spending required. With aid to the 46 countries running at just under $3 billion annually, the price tag for delivering on the Education for All promise made in 2000 (and repeated at every G-8 summit since) is around $13 billion annually.
If donors were to act on their 2005 Gleneagles G-8 commitment, the financing shortfall would drop by about $2 billion. That’s a very big “if” by the way. The recent analysis by the OECD suggests that Africa is set to receive less than half of what was pledged at Gleneagles. Redeeming that pledge is a priority. But plugging the financial black hole at the heart of the Education for All project will require a “Gleneagles plus” effort.
The Muskoka summit should be part of that effort. International aid is one of the few areas, perhaps the only area, in which the G-8 is still relevant. Its members still account for seven in every ten dollars in aid to education. And after a decade of broken promises and half measures, G-8 leaders could use the summit to renew the global compact on education and signal a new direction.
Time is running out. We are now just one primary school generation away from a broken promise – and G-8 leaders not to reflect on what a broken promise to children means for the standing of their countries. More than that, they need to arrive in Muskoka ready to make binding commitments.
As in any aid deal, these commitments on education will have to be negotiated – and G-8 negotiations are notoriously prone to deadlock.
In the second part of this three-part post we set out how political leaders might negotiate a “fair shares” arrangement – and we show how individual donors might meet their individual commitments.
In the third part of this post we focus on the other sources of funding for Education for All that also need to be explored, including non-traditional donors, philanthropic foundations and innovative financing.
Nobody is underestimating the scale of the challenge ahead. Accelerating progress towards the education for all goals in the midst of a global slowdown, mounting budget pressures and rising poverty will take resolve, ambition and commitment.
These are three qualities that parents and children living in slums and rural villages across the world demonstrate in abundance every day as they struggle for an education. Political leaders in the G-8 need to follow their example – starting at their summit in Canada in June.