A sharp decline in aid to basic education to developing countries threatens to reverse progress towards the international goal of universal primary schooling. This is the stark conclusion drawn by UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report Team.
According to the latest figures from the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC) for 2007, total aid commitments to basic education declined from US $5.5 billion in 2006 to US $4.3 billion in 2007, representing a decrease of nearly 22%.
UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report 2009 warned that the world will fall short of goals agreed by the international community at Dakar in 2000. There are currently 75 million children out of school; many millions more drop out before completing primary education. Projections indicate that the target of universal primary education by 2015 will be missed by at least 30 million children.
“Aid to basic education has played a vital role in getting millions more children in to school, in training teachers, in building classrooms and in other tangible results seen over the last decade,” said Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director-General. “The drop jeopardizes this and future progress towards the Education for All goals.”
A huge fall in bilateral aid commitments to basic education between 2006 and 2007 is behind the drop, with a decline by 31% in real terms to below US$3 billion in 2007. Behind this striking downward shift are some important changes in individual donor commitments. While the Netherlands and the United Kingdom had registered sharp increases in 2006 to their aid to basic education, these commitments were significantly lower in 2007. Apart from the United States, whose aid to basic education rose substantially in 2007, too few bilateral donors stepped in to fill the financing gap. Aid to education from multilateral agencies did rise over the same period, but it was not enough to counteract the large drop.
“The concentration of aid to basic education among just a few donors means that financial assistance for countries is highly unpredictable, states Kevin Watkins, Director of the Global Monitoring Report. “It also poses serious questions about the commitment of donors as a group to meet the pledge made at Dakar.”
The Report argues that donor pledges made at the 2000 education conference are not being met. Having risen from 2000 to 2004, aid to basic education had stagnated since 2004 before this sharp drop. The priority given to basic education in sector aid is particularly weak. Only 5% of all sector aid went to basic education in 2007 – the lowest level since 2000.
These disappointing figures contrast with other more positive trends also revealed in the OECD-DAC data. After two years of decline, the good news is that total net aid increased by more than 10% in 2008. However, there are question-marks over how much of this will be allocated to education..
There are also worrying signs that the global economic downturn may threaten all aid levels. Increased pressure on budgets and slower economic growth means that overseas aid measured as a proportion of national income could suffer substantially. This could represent a loss in aid to education of up to US$1.1 billion by 2010.
“This is not the time to be cutting aid to basic education,” commented Mr Watkins. With the economic downturn pushing millions of vulnerable households into poverty and putting budgets under strain, donors should be providing a fiscal stimulus aimed at keeping children in school.”
Mr Watkins added that the Spring meeting of the IMF and World Bank provides an opportunity to reverse the decline in aid to education. “It’s important that the meeting goes beyond the recycling of commitments and pledges that were made at the G20 summit to deliver real results” he said.
According to the Report, an estimated US $11 billion is needed in aid annually to reach key education goals in the world’s poorest countries. In 2007, aid to basic education in these countries was just US $2.6 billion, at least 4 times less than what is needed – and an infinite fraction of the trillions of dollars injected into banks and industries hit by the global economic crisis.
UNESCO is calling for aid donors to deliver the finance urgently needed to protect the world’s poorest from the devastating effects of the crisis. According to the organisation, both donors and governments must ensure that budgets to education and other social services are maintained.
“Millions of children stand to be hardest hit by the crisis, and face irreversible long-term consequences if denied health, nutrition and education”, states Matsuura. “We must invest in their future and provide them with the education they need to end poverty and improve their lives.”