New report by the Global Partnership for Education highlights education progress and challenges in partner developing countries
The new 2014/15 Results for Learning Report shows that developing county partners of the Global Partnership for Education have made good progress in getting more children in school for a quality education.
According to the report, the number of children enrolled in primary education rose from 169 million to 185 million between 2008 and 2012. The gross enrollment rate in lower secondary education increased from 51% to 57%. Also, there has been progress toward gender parity. In 2012, on average, 89 girls completed primary school for 100 boys. In lower secondary education, 82 girls completed school for 100 boys, which is up from 79 girls in 2008.
But despite this progress, many developing countries still face significant equity challenges in getting more children into school, particularly those children who are hardest to reach.
The analyses show that reaching the 10 to 15 % of children not in school in stable countries, and ensuring that children in fragile or conflict-affected countries can access basic education, are two critical challenges ahead.
In addition to the complexity of these challenges, two other factors put basic education at risk: (i) development aid for education continues to fall in the world’s poorest and most fragile countries and (ii) domestic financing is shifting away from primary education even in countries far from universal primary education.
Equity is at the heart of basic education challenges
The report’s findings reveal that the greatest progress in getting more children in school occurred in fragile and conflict-affected countries (FCACs). Countries that are not fragile or conflict-affected made less progress, revealing that these countries are struggling to reach the most marginalized children who are not in school.
Overall, many GPE developing countries face complex equity issues in basic education that generally involve different factors such as poverty, gender, conflict, location and disability. Moreover, these factors tend to compound themselves. In some countries, for example, girls from poor, rural households have virtually no chance of completing primary education.
The fact remains that 41 million primary-school-age children in GPE developing countries were out of school in 2012, most of them concentrated in 15 countries (see figure 1). Completion rates remain distressing: 25% of children were not completing their primary education in 2012. Increasing progress in fragile or conflict-affected countries and reaching marginalized groups in more stable countries will require targeted policies and increased financing – by the Global Partnership for Education, other development partners and donors and the respective governments.
Domestic financing for education is on the rise…
Government spending is the most important financing source for education. The good news is that public spending on education as a proportion of the gross domestic products (GDP) increased slowly, but steadily, from 4.4 % in 2008 to 4.9% in 2012.
The report’s findings show that the level of investment in education by GPE developing countries increased significantly after joining the Global Partnership.
But many countries are still far from achieving universal primary education and spend less than 20% of public resources on education (see Figure 2). In addition, the decline of primary education as a budget priority, even in countries far from universal primary education, is worrisome.
On average the budget spent on primary education fell from 45.7 % in 2008 to 43% in 2012. In fragile and conflict-affected countries, there was an even sharper decrease, from 53.8 % to 46.2%, even though the average primary completion rate was only 68 % in 2012.
…yet, official development aid to education continues to decrease
Many countries will continue to require additional funding to meet their education targets. However, official development aid to education has decreased for the third year in a row. Overall support for basic education is falling faster than for other areas of education, reflecting a trend among donors of shifting spending away from basic education.
Our analysis also shows that donor funding to education is falling at an even faster pace in some of the world’s poorest countries, particularly in fragile or conflict-affected countries (FCACs).
Shockingly, education aid disbursements declined by more than 16 % between 2010 and 2012 in GPE fragile or conflict-affected countries. Hence, recent progress made in these countries may be under threat.
GPE financial and technical support to developing countries has increased.
The Global Partnership’s financial support to the education sector increased significantly in recent years. In 2012, the Global Partnership disbursed $354 million to basic education and became the biggest donor for basic education. By mid-2014, it had approved 110 program implementation grants for 54 countries totaling $3.9 billion.
In addition, the Global Partnership has significantly increased its support to fragile and conflict-affected countries over the past two years by increasing funding for and adapting funding modalities to support the specific needs of these countries.
While official development aid to fragile and conflict-affected countries has decreased even more sharply than for other countries, GPE increased its funding: from 21% of all approved grants in 2008 to 49% by mid-2014. By end of June 2014, $1.9 billion had been approved.
But the Global Partnership is not just about financing. New analysis shows that direct technical support by the Global Partnership to countries at all stages of the policy process has increased by 60% between 2011 and 2014.
Basic education is at risk
Already the 2013 Results for Learning Report cautioned that much work remained to be done to achieve universal primary education. This warning remains valid today. Not only is there work to be done to reach those children who are out of school, but we need to ensure that the progress that has been achieved is not reversed due to a lack of financing. The situation is particularly worrisome in fragile or conflict-affected countries.
At this critical period when the post-2015 agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals is being developed, basic education must be prioritized as an integral goal. Only a renewed commitment to education for all with a specific focus on the marginalized on the part of donors and developing countries will allow accelerated progress towards universal basic education.
Jean-Marc Bernard is the Deputy Chief Technical Officer at the Global Partnership for Education.