Former United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Photo by: Mattias Nutt / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA

Ensuring every child has access to education is “the civil rights struggle of our time,” according to former United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Speaking on a panel convened by the Center for Global Development to run alongside the World Bank Spring Meetings, Brown, who is the United Nations special envoy for global education and chair of the Education Commission, called on governments and the development sector to unite to reform and finance the education sector, an agenda which has been “totally neglected for too many years,” he said.

“This is the civil rights struggle of our time; every child should be given the opportunity to develop their potential and bridge the gap between what they are and what they have it in them to become,” Brown said.

His comments came as experts warn of a learning crisis and predict that at current rates of investment, by 2030 more than 50 percent of the world’s children — about 800 million — will not have received the qualifications necessary for the modern labor force. Today 263 million children and young people are out of school, and the number of primary-school aged children not in school is increasing, according to a report by the Education Commission.

Brown outlined a new strategy to unlock additional finance to help meet the sustainable development goals education targets. SDG 4, for example, calls for inclusive, equitable and quality education for all children by 2030.

International and domestic finance for education fall far short of what is needed. The global spend on education currently stands at $1.2 trillion, but according to Brown this will need to rise to $3 trillion by 2030 to achieve the goal. Furthermore, education spending from multilateral donors has dropped from 10 to 7 percent over the past decade.

To address this financing gap, the Education Commission is proposing the creation of a International Finance Facility for Education, which would bring together public and private donors and multilateral development banks to raise additional funds for education. Brown predicts that by 2020 the facility could mobilize an additional $13 billion annually for education for low and middle income countries that have the largest numbers of out-of-school children, refugees, and displaced populations.

Like the International Finance Facility for Immunization, which was set up in 2006 to raise funds from capital markets for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, IFFEd would cut borrowing costs for developing countries while simultaneously expanding the lending capacity of multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank, which has said it supports the plan. The World Bank has dedicated its next World Development Report to education.

Speaking exclusively to Devex, Brown said high borrowing costs often meant governments were reluctant to prioritize education spending. “Currently, developing country governments have to borrow to pay for the education — from development banks at between 3.5 and 4 percent interest - finance ministers don’t want to use that financing for teacher’s salaries,” Brown explained and outlined the IFFEd’s solution.

“We want to get guarantees from individual donor countries that will allow development banks to borrow more money to pay for education and then convert the loans these countries get into credits so they’re not paying high interest rates for the money that they are using,” he said.

By doing this, Brown said, the Education Commission predicts that if it raised $2 billion in guarantees and raised an additional $2 billion to buy-down the loans and convert them into credits, it could raise an additional $9 billion for education.

As part of this, Brown said, institutions like the World Bank will be able to raise more money to spend on supporting education in low income countries — from current levels of $1.6 billion to $4.5 billion by 2020.

However, additional finances must be combined with education reform, he said: “Money has to be used effectively, that’s why big reforms are proposed about the way we teach and the way classrooms work for children.”

Former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who is also a commissioner for the Education Commission, recently returned from visiting 14 African nations where he met with heads of state and other officials to discuss IFFEd and the need to both reform and invest in education.  

Countries targeted in this first wave include Botswana, Chad, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Tunisia and Uganda, which the commission is calling its "pioneer countries". Countries from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean will be targeted during the next wave.

Kikwete told Devex that the ministers he met with supported the Education Commission’s action plan.  

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Brown stressed that the facility will work alongside and not replace existing education financing tools such as the Global Education Partnership, which works with low-income countries by providing grants and technical assistance to develop and implement effective education sector plans and help crowd-in additional funding. And the Education Cannot Wait fund, hosted by UNICEF, which is designed to pool and deploy education resources in crisis and emergency settings.

As next steps, the commission will be asking world leaders to endorse the IFFEd at the G20 meetings in July. It will also be conducting a workshop next month in Nairobi for pioneer country leaders to lay out a path to move forward with results-based education reforms, Kikwete said. Discussions with donor countries and development banks to form the financial structure that will underpin IFFEd are ongoing, Brown added.

Devex was on the ground at the 2017 World Bank Spring Meetings. Read our coverage and analysis and check out our Facebook Live series. Follow @devex, @Sophie_Ed1984 and @AlterIgoe for more World Bank reporting.

About the author

  • Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.