Promoting quality education for all.

Letter to the Editor: Education for All Good for World

September 14, 2011 Source: NJ.com

As children from New Jersey are getting back to school, around the world there are 67 million children who won't go to school at all.

This is true especially for girls. There is no single development intervention that can so radically and comprehensively change the course of a girl's life as education.

Educating girls has been shown to reduce their risk of HIV/AIDS, improve the health of women and their children, alleviate extreme poverty, delay early marriage, reduce female genital cutting, and increased girls' self-confidence and decision-making power.

And while primary education is critical, the full benefits are realized when girls continue through middle and high school. On average, for a girl in a poor country, each additional year of education beyond grades three or four will lead to 20 percent higher wages and a 10 percent decrease in the risk of her own children dying of preventable causes.

Despite the urgent need to educate girls, the recently released USAID education strategy notes that USAID will withdraw funding and de-emphasize support for secondary education. How superior it would be to invest some of our education money in the Education For All - Fast Track Initiative (FTI), which supports girls' primary and secondary school programs.

The FTI is a global partnership of donors and developing countries, multilateral institutions, private foundations and companies, and civil society organizations that aims to ensure that all children receive a quality basic education.

To date, FTI has supported 45 low-income countries, including Afghanistan and 24 African countries. Between 2004 and 2008, the number of children enrolled in school in FTI-supported countries in Africa went up 50 percent, compared to 27 percent in African countries without FTI support.

The FTI has a strong track record of progress on girl's education. More than two-thirds of girls completed the last grade of primary school in all FTI countries compared with only 52 percent in 2000. In most of the FTI countries, the number of girls enrolled in primary school more than doubled between 2000 and 2008. In addition, the gender gap in primary school was reduced or closed in many countries.

Yet the FTI receives more requests for funding support for national education plans than it can fulfill. Half of the 67 million out-of-school children live in fragile and post-conflict states, with a growing number of them FTI-eligible. This population of children creates unprecedented opportunities for FTI funding to help countries bridge the gaps.

It is time for the U.S. to make its first-ever contribution to the FTI, a reasonable requirement for being a voting member to the FTI Board of Directors.

The FTI is asking donors to make three-year pledges totaling $2.5 billion at the first ever replenishment conference in Copenhagen, Nov. 6-7, 2011. The U.S. share is $375 million spread over three years. This contribution would be leveraged six fold with other donors, and many times more with 80 to 90 percent of education budgets coming from donor countries themselves.

The FTI is increasingly viewed as the global partnership for education. In his recent report "Education for All: Beating Poverty, Unlocking Prosperity," former Prime Minister Gordon Brown asserted that the limited support and resources that FTI has received in comparison to the global funds for health "represents a wasted opportunity" since the FTI directly links aid to national education plans and "provides donors with an opportunity to pool resources, thereby lowering transaction costs, and harmonizing their efforts to support national plans."

There is growing support in Congress as well: Representative Nita Lowey (N.Y.-D) ranking member on the Foreign Operations Committee and Dave Reichertt (WA-R) introduced the bipartisan Education for All Act of 2011, which calls on the U.S. to support a multilateral educational initiative like the Fast Track Initiative.

When you look at the numbers, slashing global poverty programs won't make a dent in the deficit. Most Americans believe we spend a quarter of our budget on development assistance; in fact, based on that assumption, most Americans would be happy to "cut" foreign aid to seven to 10 percent of the budget. Actually it's less than one percent! While slashing these effective investments wouldn't do anything meaningful for our national deficit, it would have a tragic impact on these life-improving programs.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) replied to a young constituent, "I will tell you that the real problem in America's spending is not foreign aid. Sometime in the minds of many, our foreign aid is exaggerated. It really is a minuscule part of our overall budget and it's not the reason we have this growing debt in America. Foreign aid is important. If it's done right, it spreads America's influence around the world in a positive way. These are our allies that in the future can help us, not just in political struggles, but who can be our partners in economic trade. A world where people are prosperous and free to grow their economies and pursue their own dreams and ambitions is a better world for all of us."

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