The 2011 UNESCO Global Monitoring Report (GMR) was released on Tuesday. The report, which is released annually, details progress toward achieving the Education for All (EFA) Goals. The good news from this year’s report is that the number of out-of-school children in 2008 reduced to 67 million, from 72 million the year before. However, the reduction is slowing and there may be more children out of school by 2015 than there are today if more is not done.
In addition, each year’s report addresses a focus theme, which in 2011 is education and conflict in fragile states. The report, called “The Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict in Education”, points out that the provision of universal education is seriously hampered by armed conflict, war and civil unrest. With half of all out-of-school kids living in conflict affected or fragile countries, this issue needs to be addressed and taken seriously.
Schools, teachers and students are increasingly coming under attack in conflicts across the world, and twenty-one developing countries are currently spending more on arms than on primary education. If they were to cut military spending by 10%, they could put an additional 9.5 million children into school. In addition, donor aid currently neglects education in fragile states, with just 2% of humanitarian aid currently provided to support education.
In its overall assessment of the financing environment for education the report stresses that not only are we not on track to achieving the 2015 EFA targets, but these targets will be significantly missed unless current aid trends drastically improve. For instance, 1.9 million teachers are still needed to achieve universal primary education by 2015 and due to a lack of political will, literacy rates have demonstrated very little progress. The OECD estimates that there is a current shortfall of US$20 billion each year for global education aid.
However, while the report demonstrates that there is still a long way to go, tremendous progress has been made towards the achievement of EFA Goals in some of the world’s most fragile, poor and conflict-affected countries. For instance, from 1999 to 2008, a further 52 million children enrolled in primary education world wide. The report states:
Many countries that started the decade on a trend that would have left them far short of the target of universal primary education (UPE) by 2015 now have a very real prospect of achieving the goal.
Furthermore, gender parity – the ratio of girls to boys in school – has improved, although we are not yet at the stage of equality, and the number of women who are becoming educated about mother-to-child HIV transmission and maternal health continues to increase. Moreover, domestic financing in even the poorest countries has also improved. Several statesin Sub-Saharan Africa, such as Burundi and the United Republic of Tanzania, have doubled or tripled the amount of national income spent on education since 1999.
Over the past decade, where we have come from and where we need to go has been at the forefront of the global financing debate. It has not been an easy time for governments to follow through on their spending commitments with the global financial crisis complicating spending and aid agreements, and in some lamentable cases providing an excuse for rich nations to renege on their promises to help the poorer countries of the world. UNESCO and other international aid organisations have taken a stand on this issue by arguing that now is not a time to ease off on funding for global education, in fact, now is an even more crucial time to be investing in this internationally beneficial, necessary public good.
In their report, UNESCO proposes a few additional sources for more aid which are both new and innovative. UNESCO suggests that a 0.5% tax increase on mobile phone operations could potentially increase aid financing by US$894 million each year. Furthermore, UNESCO recommends an International Finance Facility for Education that would enable donors to secure new resources in a challenging economic climate. UNESCO estimates that US$3 billion to US$4 billion could be raised for education each year through issuing bonds between now and 2015.
The report’s conclusion brings forth the positive message that education is the greatest tool for building peace and resilience against conflict, and makes a powerful argument that we must invest now in education in the most difficult environments in the world.
Schools are the vehicle for teaching pupils around the world the most vital skill for a future of lasting foundation of peace: the skill of building mutual trust between its citizens.