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Shrinking Aid Flows Risk

New aid figures released last week by the OECD make for sombre reading. Globally, aid has fallen since 2010, with poor countries hardest hit.

New aid figures released last week by the OECD make for sombre reading. Globally, aid has fallen since 2010, with poor countries hardest hit. This is worrying news for children worldwide as it further jeopardises the Education for All goals, which are already in danger of not being met by 2015. If funds for education become scarcer, access to education will continue to stagnate and the quality of schools will decline, denying the most vulnerable children in the world's poorest countries the opportunity to learn. Given that 250 million primary-school aged children are not learning even the basics, this downward trend in aid needs to be reversed urgently.

The new OECD figures show that total aid stagnated in 2010, and has fallen since then - by 2% in 2011 and by a further 4% in 2012. As we showed in the 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, aid to education generally follows the same pattern as overall aid flows. When aid to development stagnated in 2010, it led to a stagnation of aid to education too. Subsequent declines in aid mean that the prospects for children and adolescents who are out of school do not look good.

It is also of concern that bilateral aid to less developed countries has declined severely, falling by 12.8% in 2012. As we showed in the latest EFA Global Monitoring Report, poor countries rely heavily on aid to keep their education systems afloat. In nine sub-Saharan African countries, we estimate that aid accounts for a quarter of the education budget, contributing to faster education progress. In a context of economic downturn, reducing aid to these countries now will only mean one thing: fewer children in school and learning.

The EFA Global Monitoring Report has recently calculated that the finance gap for education has grown by $10 billion over the past three years. Our analysis showed that this increase is primarily because aid donors have not kept their promises. The total finance gap for basic education now stands at $26 billion a year. With just 1,000 days to go until the 2015 deadline for the EFA goals, the news that aid is falling leaves little hope of bridging this substantial gap.

In 2000, EFA partner countries promised that no country committed to the EFA goals would be left behind due to lack of resources. The failure to deliver on that promise is partly due to a lack of specific funding targets within the eighth Millennium Development Goal on a global partnership, and within the Education for All framework. For the sake of the education of the world's children, we cannot afford to make the same mistake again. It is vital that a new education finance goal forms part of a comprehensive set of post-2015 education goals that also emphasize equity and measurability.

It is hardly surprising that countries suffering the most from the current economic hardship, such as Greece, have cut aid the most. But in such a climate, it is heartening that nine countries have increased their development aid, and that a new donor has joined the OECD's Development Assistance Committee - Iceland. It is essential that donors do their utmost to maintain the levels of aid given to education in poor countries.