Financing our future: 3 ways to transform education spending in our response to COVID-19

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18 Jun
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Financing our future: 3 ways to transform education spending in our response to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the biggest disruption to education that the world has ever seen. At its height, 9 out of 10 students in the world were out of school, and today 1.2 billion students are affected. If we don’t act now to safeguard financing for education, there is a very real risk that we will fall even further behind.

COVID-19 has closed the world’s schools. The economic and social costs are devastating; as are the potential costs in lost learning.

Developing country governments have mobilized quickly to mitigate the immediate impacts. They have launched and delivered remote learning initiatives on an unprecedented scale, delivering educational content through radio and television networks, training teachers, and providing guidance to parents.

Sustaining learning through the pandemic and – when the time comes – safely re-opening schools has a cost. The Global Partnership for Education has moved quickly to help our partner countries mitigate the immediate impacts of school closures, putting in place a COVID-19 emergency fund.

The demand for support is significant. In just 8 weeks since the fund was announced, GPE has received proposals from close to 50 countries, totaling more than US$500 million, and more are expected in the coming weeks. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

What can be done to protect children’s education?

With children’s futures quite literally on the line, we need to work together to do three things: safeguard education budgets, build back better, and fill the gaps in education financing.

  • Safeguard education spending

Our immediate priority must be to safeguard education spending, which, in the face of a potentially severe liquidity crisis for developing countries, means freeing up resources.

For many developing countries this means confronting the issue of debt servicing. At least 30 GPE partner countries spend the equivalent of half or more of their annual education budgets servicing public sector debt. As budgets are impacted by the coming recession, many governments may have to borrow even more. Every dollar spent on debt servicing is one less dollar for learning, the engine of future recovery, resilience and growth.

The G20 has delayed debt servicing on bilateral loans for IDA-eligible countries, and the IMF has offset repayment costs for 25 vulnerable economies until December 2020. These measures are commendable, but they are not enough. Relieving, postponing and restructuring debt for low- and lower-middle income countries must be a part of the solution to create the fiscal space for countries to invest in education.

Donor countries, despite their own economic pressures, should also maintain their commitment to education – particularly for low-income countries, where development assistance makes up a higher percentage of education funding.

  • Transform education: increase efficiency, effectiveness and innovation

With growing needs and shrinking resources, it is even more critical that we support countries to make sure every dollar spent reaches the frontline of education systems; teachers and learning. This might mean tackling waste in procurement, making sure that teachers are paid transparently and on time, or negotiating more effectively for the hardware education systems run on, ranging from classrooms to textbooks.

The pandemic also offers us the opportunity of transformation. Remote learning solutions should be leveraged to reach the 258 million children who were out of school before the pandemic. Investing now in resilience to school closures should focus our efforts on designing learning so that no girl or boy is left behind.

  • Transform education: increase efficiency, effectiveness and innovation

With growing needs and shrinking resources, it is even more critical that we support countries to make sure every dollar spent reaches the frontline of education systems; teachers and learning. This might mean tackling waste in procurement, making sure that teachers are paid transparently and on time, or negotiating more effectively for the hardware education systems run on, ranging from classrooms to textbooks.

The pandemic also offers us the opportunity of transformation. Remote learning solutions should be leveraged to reach the 258 million children who were out of school before the pandemic. Investing now in resilience to school closures should focus our efforts on designing learning so that no girl or boy is left behind.

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