DOHA, Qatar — Educate A Child, the world’s only fund dedicated to enrolling out-of-school children, has unveiled a new strategy to help countries get the hardest-to-reach kids into the classroom.
The news comes as the United Nations and others warn that progress on enrolling out-of-school children has stagnated and global education targets are way off track. More than 260 million children are still out-of-school — some 60 million of whom are of primary school age — according to recent UNESCO projections.
This trend is likely to continue as global education donors increasingly shift their focus to improving outcomes for children who are already in school, experts warn.
Educate A Child’s new “Zero Strategy” — launched Thursday at a star-studded session at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha with support from pop star Shakira — aims to work alongside committed governments in countries that are close to achieving universal primary education but need help reaching the “last-mile” children.
Part of the Qatar-based Education Above All foundation, the Educate A Child model offers co-funding to implementing partners with a proven track record and the ability to enroll 10,000 excluded children per year. The foundation’s approach is distinct from others in that it only pays for outcomes and leaves partners to decide how best to meet the targets.
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While the foundation will continue to support EAC’s current work, which aims to reach 1 million out-of-school kids per year on an ongoing basis, the new Zero Strategy will take a different approach and target smaller numbers, EAC’s Executive Director Mary Joy Pigozzi told Devex.
“Several countries have enrollment campaigns that are at 99% and have been stuck there for a decade or longer. The last mile are not being reached no matter how hard the government is trying. We want to work with governments to get that number to zero,” Pigozzi said.
“This is not a strategy about big numbers, it’s about big impact,” she added.
EAC hopes to work with three governments per year and is currently in negotiations with countries including Thailand and Botswana, although no agreements have been signed, Pigozzi said.
Having a “shared goal” and developing country-specific plans with governments will be key to success, she added.
Safeena Husain, founder and executive director of Educate Girls, which has been funded by EAC to enroll more than 500,000 out-of-school girls across four Indian states, said that EAC’s focus on the most marginalized children was welcome.
“So much of the focus in recent years has been on learning outcomes that inclusion and equity have taken a beating. We are missing out the last mile and the most needy,” Husain told Devex on the sidelines of the WISE conference.
Husain also praised EAC for its funding approach, which is model agnostic and offers large, multi-year funding. That made it easier for Educate Girls to plan for scale, fundraise for additional money, and try new approaches, she said.
Shakira, who founded the Barefoot Foundation — which builds and runs schools for excluded children in Colombia — was also at the launch of the strategy and announced a new partnership with EAC to enroll 54,000 children who are out of school, or at risk of dropping out, in her country over the next two years.
“We are extremely confident that this partnership … will be a model to replicate across my country until not a single child is out of school,” she said.
Editor’s Note: Devex’s travel for this reporting was supported by WISE. Devex maintains full editorial control and responsibility for this content.