UNESCO urges action to meet rampant $200 billion annual funding gap for education in poorest countries due to COVID-19

By PRESS RELEASE
PARIS, Sep 4 2020 (IPS-Partners)

New research by the Global Education Monitoring Report at UNESCO shows an increase in the annual funding gap for education in the poorest countries to as much as US$200 billion a year. These findings are published in the new paper, Act Now: Reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the Cost of Achieving SDG4.

The paper calls for the immediate introduction of emergency remedial programmes, which could reduce the potential cost of COVID-19 on education by 75%. This could also reduce the social cost of failing to meet the Sustainable Development Goal on Education (SDG4) which calls for the provision of inclusive quality education for all by 2030. It is therefore imperative for leaders to prioritize investment in education for low and middle-income countries and avoid the higher cost of catching up on lost education later.
Before the pandemic, UNESCO estimated the annual spending requirement to meet SDG4 at US$504 billion, of which US$148 billion were unavailable. Under plausible school closures and present GDP growth scenarios, COVID-19 looks set to increase this funding gap by up to a third.

COVID-19 is pushing countries’ educational costs up due to the need to re-enrol students and to offer remedial programmes to support the return to school of the most marginalized learners, help them catch up and maximize their chances of staying in school. Additional costs are needed to ensure children are safe in the classroom, with access to hygiene facilities and more space to enable physical distancing. These programmes and actions imply costs of up to US$35 billion. Immediate action is, however, far cheaper than having to roll out second chance programmes later.

With less than a decade to go before the SDG deadline, the world is facing a funding crisis that threatens to unravel progress in education so far. An entire generation is at risk due to the pandemic. An estimated 11 million children of primary and secondary school age may not return to school. But while education is clearly a victim of the pandemic, it is also the solution to longer-term recovery. To #SaveOurFuture, investment in education must become an urgent priority.

Actions to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on children’s education:

    • Governments in low- and middle-income countries must resist pressure to cut their budget for education because of the downturn of their economies. Governments must also direct a significant part of their education budget to the most marginalized, groups, regions and schools;
    • International donors must protect their share of international development aid to global education and use equitable funding to support countries and regions with chronic inequalities. At present, only 47% of aid to basic and secondary education goes to low- and middle-income countries where it is most needed;
    • This health crisis has exacerbated the effect of intersecting inequalities on education opportunities. Countries will need additional funding for COVID-19 responses that were previously not programmed. Donors must ensure flexibility so that existing programmes can be restructured and realigned to help countries ensure that COVID-19 is only a temporary setback;
    • Ministries of education and social protection need to work together and target their policies towards the most disadvantaged. Social protection such as conditional cash transfers and child grants with an education component and gender dimension are particularly important. Such policies could ensure that fewer children drop out of school.

Manos Antoninis, Director of the GEM Report added: “The uncertainty about when schools will reopen means reduced participation and prolonged learning loss, particularly for the most marginalized children. We know from previous research that poorer learners are least likely to catch up, which will affect their future ability to earn a living. Urgently needed long-term planning for recovery from the pandemic must include increased funding for education in the form of remedial programmes, rather than waiting to pay for second chance classes many will not be able to join or afford.”

Filling a finance gap that risks rising to $200 billion per year due to COVID-19 requires systemic change- and is only possible if leaders respond to the ongoing global education emergency.

UNESCO has warned that total aid to education is likely to decline by 12% by 2022 due to the economic consequences of COVID-19. This poses a threat to the recovery of education from the disruption of the pandemic.

The international community urgently needs to mobilize additional funding for education if there is any hope of achieving the SDG 4 targets made all the more difficult by the pandemic.