Friday 27th of October 2017

The world is falling behind on education

Hundreds of millions of children are out of school or unable to read, according to UNESCO. It’s time for the international community to take its Sustainable Development Goal on education seriously.


The world is looks set to fall well short of its 2030 target of delivering inclusive and equitable quality education for all. The latest UN figures make for bleak reading: there are still 264 million children and youth out of school and 100 million young people unable to read. In many countries, children are leaving primary schools without a basic proficiency in reading, writing or mathematics.

Passing the buck

A major new report by UNESCO, out this week, gives little cause for optimism. It concludes that many States are failing to hold institutions to account for poor performance – and that teachers are often left to bear the brunt of the blame.

The report singles out the widespread failure of governments to standardize childhood education, regulate for-profit education providers and check corruption in education and training tenders. It also raises concern over a lack of good data: just one in six governments regularly publish annual education monitoring reports.

UNESCO’s research also found that public trust in the teaching profession plays a critical role in accountability measures. Research by The Varkey Foundation, however, has found that the status of teachers varies widely around the world.

The new report, furthermore, cautions against punishing teachers for problems which are beyond their control. Patterns of poor results and high teacher absenteeism, for example, are likely to point to system-wide problems – rather than to an individual failure by schools and teachers in classrooms.

Falling education aid

The accountability problem in education goes far beyond individual governments. The international community as a whole has largely failed to hold donors to account for reneging on their commitments – and defunding education aid.

Aid to education in low and lower middle income countries needs to be six times above the 2012 levels to meet Sustainable Development Goal 4, according to UNESCO. But education’s share of international aid in 2015 was 4% less than in 2010 – even as total official development assistance climbed 24% in the same period. States in Sub-Saharan Africa, home to half the world’s out-of-school children, now receive less than half the aid they did in 2002.

Investing in a safe, high quality education for every child is not just a moral imperative; it is the most hard-headed decision we can make.

The Atlantis Group

The Varkey Foundation is calling for urgent international action to address this issue. This week, the foundation issued an open letter signed by 18 former ministers of education and heads of State, urging G20 leaders to invest in education, target their spending and – crucially – enshrine education aid in law.

The signatories, all members and advisers of the foundation’s expert Atlantis Group, include former ministers from six continents with over 65 years of experience in office managing public education systems.

There can be no more delay. To meet Sustainable Development Goal 4 by 2030, the international community must be prepared to fully fund education – or risk failing a new generation of children on an unprecedented scale.



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