By: Sister Gillian Price FC
Nelson Mandela once said: "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." Education is a vital human right and is one of the most effective ways of building safer, healthier and more prosperous communities, yet it remains woefully under funded. Over the past decade, money for education has declined and learning outcomes have stalled. Today, the sad fact is that 264 million children and young people are not in school, and millions more are attending school but not gaining the basic skills needed for a successful future. Weak education systems and poor quality teaching often stand in the way of children learning and there are huge inequalities in access to education, especially for girls and children with disabilities, while children in fragile and conflict affected countries are more than twice as likely to be out of school as those in more stable countries.
Globally most education funding comes from domestic resources, but a critical part comes from aid from donor countries, and via the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Established in 2002 the Global Partnership for Education works to ensure that all children get a high quality education, prioritizing the most vulnerable. GPE brings together governments, international organizations, foundations, the private sector, and community groups to create a single national education plan. These plans identify the biggest challenges a country faces in achieving quality education for all and how to address them, from teacher training to building accessible schools. Donors and the developing country government can then coordinate their funds to reach these goals. GPE is one of the primary catalysts helping low-income and lower middle-income countries create and sustain strong education systems. Thanks to this model, countries like Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are implementing their first ever national education plans.
The Global Partnership for Education is the only international partnership dedicated exclusively to bringing a quality education to children living in the world's poorest countries. GPE has reached over 72 million children since 2002, delivered 42 million textbooks in 2015 and 2016 alone, and helped build or restore 9,267 classrooms in 2016. The Global Partnership for Education supports 65 developing countries to ensure that every child receives a quality basic education, prioritizing the poorest, most vulnerable and those living in countries affected by fragility and conflict.
Figures such as, '264 million children still out of school' are pretty mind boggling and it's easy to lose sight of the remarkable efforts that governments, civil society and development partners are making, which are making a difference in the lives of millions of individual children. One such child is Bilquis. Bilquis is a 10 year old Rohingya child who with her mother walked for 6 days to arrive in a camp in Bangladesh where thousands of people have gathered after fleeing the violence. Bilqis wants to go to school and learn to read and write. In the future, she wants be a tailor to make dresses for her friends and herself. But there is no school in the camp. However in mid-December, the Ministry of Finance in Bangladesh informed the GPE Secretariat that it decided to allocate US$8.33 million for the education of Rohingya children out of the US$100 million GPE grant it received for the national primary education development program. This allows a government national task force to provide 'informal education to Rohingya children in their makeshift settlements.
In April 2017 GPE unveiled a new strategy to deliver three ambitious goals including increased equity, gender equality and inclusion for the most marginalized children. GPE produced an 'investment case' for US$ 3.1 billion of funding from donors for the period 2018 - 2020. This will help transform the lives of over 25 million children, will see 1.7 million teachers trained, 23,8000 classrooms built and 204 million textbooks distributed worldwide. Most importantly, as well as directly funding education programmes, GPE has a 'leverage fund' to increase other financing for education, aiming for developing countries to increase their own education spending to at least 20% of their overall budget. More success stories can be found here: www.globalpartnership.org/data-and-results/key-results )
In May, 2017 shortly after unveiling its strategy Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia and Board Chair of the Global Partnership for Education, thanked Pope Francis at a Papal audience for his longtime advocacy of the right to education of hundreds of millions of disadvantaged children around the world. After she commented: "Pope Francis has previously spoken of a broken educational pact around the world that has left far too many people excluded from the opportunities they deserve. GPE's work is aimed precisely at restoring that educational pact to all," She added, "Pope Francis has, throughout his career of service in the Church, been an advocate for education for all. We hope that countries and private sector leaders around the world will emulate his example and join in the growing global community of those who seek to give children everywhere the power of learning."
This week on 2nd February the Global Partnership for Education will hold its Financing Conference in Dakar, Senegal. It will be a chance for donor and developing countries to show their political commitment to education by pledging significant financial support. Last week at the World Economic Forum the government of Canada announced that it will double its pledge to GPE affirming that, 'A more peaceful and prosperous world starts with a quality basic education.'
On 23rd January Pope Francis sent another message of support and encouragement to Julia Gillard in advance of the GPE Financing Conference. He sent his blessings to all present at the Funding conference and wrote:
"Mindful that this conference will bring together Heads of State and representatives from various countries, including private and international organizations and businesses, the Holy Father prays that this encounter may strengthen efforts to provide an integrated education for children throughout the world, especially those affected by conflict, famine and inequality."
The UK too can be proud of its work on Global education, being a leading international donor to GPE. This is a critical moment for donors, including the UK to demonstrate that they are serious about achieving 'inclusive and quality education for all'. RESULTS UK is calling on the UK Government to build on its previous commitments by announcing funding for GPE that reflects its critical role. The UK has yet to reveal its pledge, but a pledge of $500 million (£380 million) would make a powerful statement about Britain's values and commitment to future economic growth, stability and social justice in dozens of GPE partner countries around the world.
If you would like to join Pope Francis and take action on this issue please consider signing this letter to the Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt encouraging her to pledge the £380 million needed to transform the lives of millions of children all over the world - and share on social media via the hash tags: #FundEducation #ShapeTheFuture