At least 58 million children worldwide are still out of school. The international development community knows very well that educating children — especially girls — is one of the most impactful development interventions, with benefits for health, the economy and stability. Yet despite this need, UNESCO reported this year that donor countries have reduced official development assistance for education by 10 percent since 2010.
The Global Partnership for Education is the only multilateral and multisectoral partnership devoted to the mission of “galvanizing and coordinating a global effort to deliver a good quality education to all girls and boys, and prioritizing the poorest and most vulnerable.” Since it was established in 2002, GPE partners have helped to get nearly 22 million more children in school, including 10 million girls. In 2011, 72 percent of girls in GPE partner countries finished primary school, compared to just 55 percent in 2002.
In late June, the GPE held its second replenishment pledging conference in Brussels, where it was a pleasant surprise to note that developing country partners committed to investing $26 billion over the next four years, $10 billion more than expected. The bad news, however, is that donor partners pledged only $2.1 billion — 40 percent short of their target.
With the breakthrough pledge made by developing country governments, the international development community has been granted its long-advocated wish: Locally led development that responds to the needs identified by developing countries themselves. Many developing countries have pledged to increase their domestic education spending by up to 20 percent of their overall budgets. They have shown donors that education is their priority. The GPE provided the platform — and donors could be taking greater advantage of this by pledging more money.
Donor countries are thus missing several major opportunities.
1. More bang for their buck
● The GPE can complement and increase the impact of bilateral aid programs by reaching more countries, issues and systems than one individual donor country can reach alone. For example, the U.S. pledge is about 5 percent of its current basic education development budget. Is this enough for the United States to benefit from the GPE’s capacity to complement its own bilateral education efforts?
● Generous pledges to the GPE mobilize higher pledges from other donor countries in response. The United Kingdom put a cap on theirs — no more than 15 percent of the total commitments. Right now at 24 percent, the U.K. can’t give the full amount that they are willing to. Higher pledges from other donors can “unlock” additional funds.
● The replenishment target is a simple calculation of the cost per child in school. The GPE anticipated that it would be able to support 29 million with a full replenishment but with donors falling short of the replenishment target, that same level of support can’t be provided.
2. Shifting the model of development
● The developing country pledge outcomes point to why the world needs the GPE as a global convener and mobilizer of education resources and a holistic approach. If donor countries would like a repeat performance of the breakthrough developing country investments in education, they are going to have to signal their political and financial buy-in as well.
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● The GPE builds the accountability and oversight capacities necessary to ensure that developing country governments are using their education dollars effectively and building a sustainable national education system that works well into the future.
● Civil society organizations can positively influence the education systems in their countries. The GPE has a separate fund to support the development of CSOs across 45 developing countries. For instance, this can benefit the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has agencywide goals to channel more of its funding through effective local institutions, including government-to-government assistance and local organizations.
So what’s next for the GPE? If donors mobilize the additional resources required to meet the replenishment target, it suggests that an additional 12 million children could be supported to attend school. The international development community is hopeful about Canada’s upcoming pledge, anticipated to be an important piece in the puzzle toward unlocking funds from the U.K. and reaching the replenishment target. The U.S. should step up further as well.
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