This week in Brussels, ministers of education and finance from developing countries, donors and international organisations will decide the fate of the world's 57 million out of school children (OOSC). Hosted by the European Commission, governments from around the world will make their financial pledge to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) - a pooled fund at arm's length of the World Bank that directs much needed investment into developing public education provision in the world's poorest countries.
Since 2003, the GPE has disbursed over US$3.7 billion in grants to 59 countries such as Niger, Pakistan and Malawi, to strengthen and extend education opportunities to the world's poorest and most marginalised children. Yet, with close to US$1.3 billion in grant requests from country partners to support the implementation of their education sector plans in 2013 alone, the GPE is facing higher than expected demand that is far outstripping its supply of funds.
Former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, current chair of the GPE, has said the fund needs to secure at least US$3.5 billion of pledges for the period 2015 to 2018 in order to deliver on the increased ambition of many countries and the growing demand for education. US$3.5 billion would be a good start, but still modest, compared to the current financing gap in education estimated by UNESCO to be around US$36 billion. Civil society is calling on donors to contribute a minimum of US$4 billion to the GPE.
Global leaders must take the opportunity this replenishment round provides to halt this education financing crisis. All delegations should display their commitment to education - not with more words - but with investment. Developing country governments need to examine State resources in order to move to spending upwards of 20 per cent of national budgets on education, with at least 50 per cent of this for basic education and improving all aspects of the quality of education. To get there, governments should review budgeting practices and choices, ensuring appropriate policies to deter corruption and wasteful spending, strengthen domestic tax bases, and capture wealth from natural resources for investment in vital public services like education and health.
On the donor side, governments must increase the aid they spend on education, reversing the 10% decline between 2010 and 2012. Donor governments must also provide better aid, spending less for example on scholarships to study in their own countries. The GPE and the World Bank should do more to ensure education becomes a beneficiary of innovative financing for development, which amounted to over US$50 billion between 2000 and 2008. The private sector should embrace the benefits of a global pooled fund for education that supports national education sector plans and significantly increase funding to public education systems.
For all, the case for investing in education is clear. Research shows that the estimated economic gain from achieving universal primary education exceeds the estimated increase in public spending required to achieve it. The research found that a country such as The Gambia loses about 10 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a result of having a high number of out-of-school children. In Mali and Nigeria, the projected cost of OOSC is over two years of average GDP growth.
Every country's future is inextricably linked to the future of its children. Every child's future is inextricably linked to the education they receive. However figures from UNESCO show that at current rates, universal completion of primary education will only be achieved by poor rural girls in Sub-Saharan Africa by the year 2086. This situation is unjust and a huge waste of potential. Supporting education is one of the best investments that can be made to help end poverty. This current crisis in education will only improve if the world - governments, donors, private sector and international organisations start to take the situation seriously, and invest.
What happens this week in Brussels will be an important signal from global leaders about their commitment to key development and human rights issues and their resolve to work together. The life chances of 57 million children out of school weigh in the balance.