‘Without education, who will bring peace?’ This pertinent question posed by Mezon al-Melihan, a 17-year-old Syrian refugee, at last week’s Syria Donor Conference offers the clearest summary for the importance of education spending.
The Conference brought together world leaders to raise the money needed to help the millions of people affected by the conflict in Syria. Co-hosted by the UK, Germany, Kuwait, Norway and the UN, donors from around the world pledged over US$10 billion in assistance. We have all seen the harrowing images of the various effects of this conflict. This support it vitally needed.
But what does this new assistance mean in terms of education? Participants agreed there would not be a lost generation of children due to the crisis. The co-hosts committed that by the end of the 2016-17 school year all refugee and vulnerable children in host communities, a staggering 1.7 million children, will be in quality education. Furthermore, equal access for girls and boys has been put at the heart of this commitment. It was noted, however, that US$1.4 billion a year is needed to meet this commitment as well as the commitment to increase access to education for the 2.1 million children out of school inside Syria.
The good news is that by co-hosting this summit the UK has shown decisive leadership on one of the most challenging humanitarian crisis to grip the world. As one of the biggest bi-lateral donors the UK’s pledge of an extra £1.2 billion will see the UK’s total investment reach more than £2.3 billion.
Yet, we cannot assume the job is done. All children, no matter where they are born or live deserve the right to access quality education. The Syrian crisis is a stark reminder of the devastation possible but access to education is an issue in countries across the world. 124 million children and adolescents are out school globally.
Education must be firmly placed on the agenda of all humanitarian and development spending. It is woefully underfunded receiving around 2% of humanitarian spending. At current levels of development spending it will be around 100 years until universal education for sub-Saharan Africa at primary and secondary levels is achieved. Education is crucial for long-term sustainable development. Without an educated population economic prosperity dwindles, innovation suffers and societies become more dependent on further aid rather than being in the position to bring themselves out of poverty. A holistic approach, incorporating governments, civil society, donors, teachers organisations and student organisations is the only way that tangible progress can be made.
The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is the key multilateral for education spending. They support 61 developing countries and work to make sure that children can access a quality education, with the vulnerable and poorest not left behind. At their last replenishment in 2014 US$2.1 billion was pledged out of a target US$3.5 billion – just 60%. Next year there will be a further replenishment. If we’re serious about re aching SDG4 - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all - then there must be ambitious financial pledges from donor countries.
Mezon al-Melihan is right. Without education, who will bring peace? And the questions continue; without education who will become health workers? Who will create economic opportunities? Who will advocate for the needs of their society? Who will develop government policies? The spotlight on education should not be allowed to dim, we must continue to focus our efforts and advocate for education for all.