Promoting quality education for all.

GORDON BROWN: Leaders must take lead from people on education

May 25, 2011

Source: BusinessDay

VISIT any slum or poor rural village in Africa and it is hard to avoid being struck by the drive for education. Amid squalor and deprivation, parents and children demonstrate extraordinary resolve and ambition in pursuing opportunities for learning. Political leaders must share in equal measure that resolve and ambition.

Just over 10 years ago, governments around the world promised the world’s children that they would have universal basic education by 2015. We are now four years away from that deadline. And we are one primary school generation from a broken promise.

The headline facts speak for themselves. There are 67-million children of primary school age out of school. Millions more drop out before they have learned to read, write and count; and many of those in school are receiving an education of such abysmal quality that it does little to prepare them for the job market. And there are worrying signs that progress towards the 2015 target is slowing.

The word "crisis" is overused in international development. But the pace of progress towards universal basic education represents a crisis of the first order. That crisis is consigning millions of children to lives of poverty and diminished opportunity. It is hampering efforts to tackle youth unemployment in the poorest nations. Accelerated progress in education could increase per capita economic growth in the poorest countries by as much as 2% a year. That would give impetus to efforts to reduce poverty and create jobs.

Achieving that result would, of course, require increased investment, but for every $1 in new spending, the education growth premium would generate $10- $15 in increased wealth.

National governments have to take the lead. The key ingredients for success include increasing investment in education, removing school fees, developing effective teacher-training systems, and an unrelenting commitment to equity.

International co-operation also has a vital role to play. Many of the poorest countries cannot afford to increase investment in education on the required scale. To translate the commitment to universal primary education into real opportunities, sub-Saharan Africa alone needs another 1-million teachers.

Bluntly stated, the international aid system for education is failing the world’s children. Too many donors have broken their promise to ensure that countries with credible education plans receive the support they need. The poorest countries need $16bn a year in aid to achieve the 2015 target. They currently receive just $2bn- $3bn.

But it is not just the aid system that is failing. Education has drifted to the periphery of the agendas of the Group of Eight (G-8) and the Group of 20. This has to change. Leaders of the G-8 are being asked to support the creation of a new global fund for education that would tap into increased aid, philanthropic donations and innovative financing. A priority is support for countries emerging from forgotten conflicts, such as South Sudan.

There is a strong case for a public- private partnership that links Africa’s schools and teacher-training institutions to the universe of learning opportunities opened up by information and communication technologies. The region is currently excluded from that universe by the high cost of connecting to the internet. And we are looking beyond governments, donors and the business community to the power of public opinion. We need a global campaign to "train a million teachers" — a campaign that mobilises finance and galvanises political leaders to act.

But when they meet at Deauville this week, leaders of the G-8 are also being asked to match the increased support from civil society, extending the fast- track initiative into a new global fund for education.

It is through education that we build hope, realise ambition, combat poverty, strengthen democracy and sow the seeds of innovation and economic growth. G-8 leaders have a chance to put education where it belongs — at the centre of the global poverty reduction agenda. There are competing priorities and resources are constrained. Making a difference will take bold leadership, iron resolve and commitment.

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Brown is co-convener of the Global Campaign for Education’s High Level Panel.

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