Primary education is a fundamental building block of lives and livelihoods - and of wider development. But progress toward universal primary education has stagnated, there are still 57 million children out of school, and aid to basic education has dropped for the first time since 2002, as was revealed in a policy paper published this week by the EFA Global Monitoring Report and the UNESCO Institute of Statistics. Leaders of the G8 countries have a chance to do something about that by making a strong commitment to basic education at their summit in Northern Ireland next week.
The fall in aid is particularly bad news for sub-Saharan Africa, home to over half of the world's out-of-school children: between 2010 and 2011, G8 donors reduced their spending on basic education in the region.
It is especially worrying that aid to basic education from the World Bank's International Development Association - to which G8 countries contribute - has declined dramatically since 2004: in 2011 the IDA gave less than a quarter of the aid to basic education that it gave in 2002.
The most recent G8 accountability report confirms the trends identified by the EFA Global Monitoring Report: aid to basic education is one of three areas that the report classifies as only "satisfactory". But the G8 report itself underestimates the needs of children around the world. By concentrating on countries eligible for financing from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the report estimates the financing gap at $1.2 billion - far short of the gap for all poor countries, which is $26 billion. This vastly underplays the full gravity of the shortfall in the G8's commitments, as the Overseas Development Institute shows in its recent commentary on the G8 report.
The United Kingdom, which is now the largest bilateral donor to basic education in sub-Saharan Africa, has shown admirable leadership in meeting aid commitments and making basic education a high priority. Having assumed the presidency of the G8 this year, we encourage the UK to ensure that other G8 countries follow its lead.
The message is clear: strong, dependable funding to basic education is urgently needed; it is a crucial part of the solution to development crises such as malnutrition and hunger, and it is an essential to ensure all children can fulfill their potential.