DAKAR, Senegal — More than 1,000 educators, human rights activists, senior development officials, ministers of education, and private sector representatives assembled in Dakar for the partnerships day of the Global Partnership for Education Financing Conference. Outside the meeting halls, discussions of this pivotal replenishment year formed the underlying buzz with questions around how close both developing countries and private donors will come to pledging the estimated $3.1 billion required in education financing over the next two years.
Everyone had an agenda. Some researchers used the conference to push for increased data to monitor and track progress on educational objectives. Other human rights experts advocated for girls’ rights to education and inclusive education for the disabled.
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Government officials, like Lesotho’s Deputy Minister of Education Ntoi Rapapa said he came for the knowledge sharing. Rapapa said he met with Zimbabwe-based telecoms company, Econet, to learn how to further integrate mobile technology into their education system. Currently, students in Lesotho can receive the result of their high school exit examination via SMS.
“I want to learn how we can do more with smartphones for educational purposes,” he said. In cases of lower schools, he said, smartphones could lower technology costs typically allocated for laptops and tablets. Rapapa said he also discussed district and nationwide data collection via SMS with Econet representatives.
“The purpose of my participation is to learn from other participants, he told Devex. “And after today, I realized, that in some cases we are more advanced in building our education system.”
While the world waits for the pending pledging announcements Friday, here are three topics leading discussions so far this year.
1. Education financing
Domestic resource mobilization emerged as a recurring theme in an effort to increase the financial provisions made by developing countries for education. The Education Commission asserts that 97 percent of funding required to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 of ensuring inclusive and quality education for all. The Education 2030 Framework for Action recommends a minimum of 20 percent of a government’s national budget be dedicated to education. As of 2016, only a handful of developing countries were meeting that goal.
For low- and middle-income countries, greater tax collection is also widely recognized as a key to unlocking the required finances to deliver on education development goals. The United Nations recommends a minimum tax-to-GDP threshold of 20 percent required to stimulate sufficient tax revenues and reduce tax incentives to companies and large corporations. “One of the things I want to emphasize is that all multinational companies that have part of their business earnings going to education ought to be at the forefront of showing transparency in their own tax practices,” Global Campaign for Education board member David Archer said during a tax justice and education panel on Thursday.
2. Providing education in emergencies
More than 75 million children, of those at least 40 million girls, live in countries facing conflict and are in need of educational support. In 2016, education in emergencies which include national disasters, conflict, and health epidemics received 2.7 percent of global humanitarian aid, according to GPE research, much below the global 4 percent target. A lack of education and the subsequent limitation on economic opportunity for displaced and refugee children can exacerbate protracted crises and perpetuate cycles of migration.
“We have yet to recognize the approach to education as a means to addressing and mitigating conflict and recovery requires investment in the population’s education,” director of the UNICEF-tied emergency education fund Education Cannot Wait, Yasmine Sherif said during the conference. “We have to adjust our approach to look at providing education holistically, by looking at adequate conditions and safe environments for girls, an empowering curriculum, water and sanitation.”
3. Emphasis on the quality of education
This year, many conversations on education have pivoted from increasing its access to improving the quality. Discussions about how to improve to curricula and teacher training were both emphasized.
Hang Chuon Naron, Cambodia’s education minister said teachers have to be paid well to perform well. “Teachers work more than 10 hours a day and must be appreciated with adequate pay,” he said.
Quality education systems must adapt to prepare learners for a digital society, experts argued. Introducing students to science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, fields at young ages were suggestions for today’s youth. However, some remarked about the challenge facing developing countries, where numbers of certified professionals in those fields may be minimal.
Capacity development at all levels will be critical to achieving overall improvement to learning outcomes, including supporting educators to enhance delivery and technical capacity, while also supporting institutions in forming structures and policies that are conducive to an enabling education environment.
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