Last week, world leaders gathered in Brussels to pledge money to ensure quality education for all children everywhere, particularly girls.
The Global Partnership for Education conference happens every four years, and it’s the only opportunity governments have to directly pledge funds to support education. I attended the event and was extremely moved by the speeches of leaders from around the globe, many of which were extremely honest. Some women leaders had experienced barriers to education themselves. For them, ensuring girls get educated is personal, and it was great to see specific mentions of girls’ education in some pledges, which shows how seriously some countries are taking girls being out of school.
Every child has the right to an education, and education is fundamental to all other development. Despite this, 126 million children remain out of primary and lower secondary school around the world. Of these, 65 million are girls.
Globally, there are also 250 million children in school, but not learning, due to a lack of quality education — untrained teachers, lack of books, inadequate school buildings, over-filled classes. Figures from UNESCO show that at current rates, universal completion of primary education by poor rural girls in sub-Saharan Africa will only be achieved by 2086.
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Moreover, girls especially are vulnerable to rape, exploitation, coercion and discrimination perpetrated by students and teachers, with consequences including unwanted pregnancies, poor performance and high dropout rates.
We should all feel guilty that so many girls are out of school. This is unacceptable and must change, because if we don't act now, in 2086 we'll be in exactly the same situation. At the conference, I told donors exactly this, that enough is enough, that without action we are directly responsible for abandoning our children, for letting them down. We all need to work harder on breaking social obstacles, to create child marriage-free zones, to make sure girls are safe and in school. It is everyone’s responsibility, especially those with the power to create change.
It was wonderful to see new money being pledged at the GPE, and so heartening to see the unprecedented overall commitment of $28 billion for education. Norway doubled its pledge to the to $90 million, while Australia, Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom were generous. On the other hand, although neither France nor Spain contributed new pledges at the meeting, there were indications that they would offer more in the future. But this money — which is critical to getting children into school and learning — is not enough, and below what we at Plan International believe is required to see true commitment to all children’s right to an education. Plan has pledged to spend €402 million (about $548 million) over the next four years, much of it to increase support to girls’ education. I would like to see more countries pledging amounts of this scale to the cause.
The responsibility for delivering education services, though, lies ultimately with with national governments. As such, the domestic pledges are key to progress, and this year some of the poorest countries in Africa, Asia and South America made bold statements, pledging to increase their domestic spending on education by 25 percent to $26 billion over the next four years, exceeding by far the $16 billion target set by the GPE. But it should be noted that the African Union member states pledged to spend only 6 percent of GDP on education, the same as previous years with no increase. South Sudan remained low, pledging 9 percent, in contrast to Cameroon (22 percent) and Benin (27 percent). Nigeria failed to make a significant pledge, including nothing around safe schools, despite the recent scandal of hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram extremists.
As we begin the next four-year funding cycle, we must see that more money is spent. Moreover, we must hold those who made their pledges to account, and ensure that governments follow through on their promises. Any less than everything we can do is just not good enough.
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