A new EFA Global Monitoring Report policy paper, Aid reductions threaten education goals shows that aid to education has been on a downward spiral since 2010, putting the achievement of existing and future global education goals at risk. With 250 million children not learning the basics, it is crucial that donors recommit themselves to education.
Since 2010, aid to education has been on the decline, shows a new policy paper by the EFA Global Monitoring Report (GMR). Basic education - which enables children to acquire foundational skills and core knowledge - is now receiving the same amount of aid as it was back in 2008. As funds diminish, there remain 57 million children and 69 million adolescents still out of school as of 2012, which leaves too little time to reach two key Education for All targets by 2015.
We are now just two weeks before the Global Partnership for Education's Replenishment Pledging Conference where donors are being asked to help raise a much needed US$3.5 billion for education in the poorest countries. The findings of the GMR policy paper show how urgent it is for additional funds to be raised in Brussels at the Conference, and for donors - old and new - to see this as an opportunity to refill the funding pot for education in its time of need.
Although debates continue around aid being 'dead' or increasingly redundant, this paper shows that it is still vital for many, making up over a quarter of public education spending in twelve countries. Yet, with aid flows to the sector falling by 10% since 2010 - far less than the 1% decrease in overall aid levels - donors are clearly backing away from education as a development priority.
These cuts are being felt the most by countries furthest from achieving the education goals. Aid to basic education in sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to over half the world's out of school children, fell between 2010 and 2011 and stagnated between 2011 and 2012. Since 2010, twelve African countries have seen cuts in their aid to basic education of US$10 million or more.
South and West Asia experienced the largest cuts in aid to basic education, worth over a quarter of the levels they were receiving in 2010. The impact was largely felt by Pakistan and India, even though both are among the top five countries with the most children out of school in the world.
Aid to basic education for low income countries recovered slightly in 2012 compared to the decreases felt in 2011, but levels are still 6% lower than they were in 2010. Twenty-two low income countries received less aid for basic education than two years before.
When analysing all flows of aid to education, it is important to include flows of humanitarian assistance as well, yet the new GMR policy paper shows that this funding is also neglecting education needs. What becomes immediately evident is that, contrary to a common perception that humanitarian aid acts as a short-term gap filler, it often represents a large share of aid. In 2012, humanitarian aid made up 23% of external financing in the 21 countries with common humanitarian appeals, for instance, rising to up to over 60% in Somalia.
However, humanitarian aid makes up only a small share of the external financing for education: The sector received only 2% of humanitarian appeals in 2013 - a long way from the modest 4% target set by the UN last year.
Education is suffering a double disadvantage on this front: not only is it receiving the smallest proportion of humanitarian appeals, but it is also receiving one of the smallest proportion of the requests that it makes for funding: in 2013 education received only 40% of the funds it called for from humanitarian aid, compared with 86% for the food sector, or 57% for health.
While the GMR paper has assessed both development and humanitarian aid flows together in order to give the full picture, aid agencies have not always done as much, meaning that many of the needs of the education sector specific to a conflict setting fall through the gaps. Mali, for example, saw its development aid to education fell from US$136 million in 2008 to US$40 million in 2012, at the same time as receiving only 6% of its requests for education funding from humanitarian aid, compared with 61% of its requests for nutrition.
As reported in the 2013/4 EFA Global Monitoring Report, many of the countries furthest from the EFA goals do not sufficiently tap their tax base or devote an adequate share of their revenue to education. If countries raised 20% of their GDP in taxes - the level judged necessary to reach the Millennium Development Goals - and allocated at least 20% of their budget to education, they could go a long way towards bridging the education financing gap.
But many of the poorest countries will still need education aid for some years to come. When the Education for All goals were established in 2000, donors and governments promised that "no countries seriously committed to education for all will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by a lack of resources." Not only have donors failed to keep that pledge, but now many are backing away from education as a development priority. Unless this negative trend is reversed, the likelihood of reaching new global education goals is put at great risk, even with deadlines extended to 2030.