Transforming Education



Published: Project Syndicate, 08 September 2022


At a time when investing in children should be an urgent priority, many developing-country governments have had to cut their education budgets. A new global compact between these countries and the developed economies that provide donor aid could generate billions of dollars in additional funding for schools.

EDINBURGH – Global Education is in crisis. Today, nearly 300 million children don’t go to school, and 800 million young people will leave school without any qualifications. Recent data show that global learning poverty in low- and middle-income countries is estimated to have risen to 70%, with more than half of the world’s children unable to read or write a simple text at the age of ten and no accredited skills for the workplace when they leave school. Coupled with the “violation” of children’s right to education, evidenced by these high levels of learning poverty, this is bound to have a devastating impact on future productivity, earnings, and well-being for this generation of children and youth, their families, and the world’s economy.

This failure to deliver an inclusive and equitable quality education for all puts us at grave risk of failing to achieve the laudable aims of the Sustainable Development Goal for education (SDG4) and of the many other SDGs that depend on it. It also means we are only providing for half of our future.

Education budgets in low- and lower-middle-income countries will have to more than double, to $3 trillion, by 2030 if we are to achieve SDG4. Unless we address the shortcomings in education investment, the loss in lifetime earnings of the current generation of school-age children and youth is estimated to reach more than 15% of today’s global GDP ($21 trillion). This economic cost will be disproportionately borne by low- and middle-income countries and their students, further aggravating already serious intergenerational inequalities and divides, as well as gaps and divides among and within countries.

Despite this recognized demand for investment, countries across the globe have had to cope with the financial pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, now compounded by the food, energy, debt, and currency crises triggered and exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. But the reduction in education spending is particularly damaging, because an educated and skilled workforce is central to achieving economic recovery and growth, escaping poverty, and eliminating the gender and wealth disparities that continue to plague our societies. While the internationally recommended level of spending on education is at least 4% of GDP, the majority of the world’s 82 low- and lower-middle-income countries continue to underspend – in some cases, less than 2% of GDP.

And, sadly, despite their promises, the official development assistance that rich countries channel to education has been falling, too – from 8.4% of ODA in 2010 to just 6.5% in 2020. Today, even when the world’s education aid is combined, including from bilateral and multilateral sources, it amounts to just $18 per African child, hardly enough to pay for a textbook, much less a teacher or a classroom.

This month, UN Secretary-General António Guterres will convene the Transforming Education Summit in New York City. With COVID-19 waning, and in light of the complexity of converging crises, we must shift resolutely into build-back-better mode and address the enormous challenge of access to education for all, on which much of our future will depend. Without addressing the persistent exclusion of minorities, migrants, refugees, and other marginalized groups in our education systems, the entrenchment of existing inequalities within societies will only deepen, and we will fail to achieve inclusive, peaceful, and sustained development.

Modernization of education systems through better training and rewards for teachers, the application of new technologies and digital learning, and new pathways for skills training will have significant impact on the outcomes we are able to achieve – but so will money. One proposal now being considered is for a global education coalition between developing countries and the developed economies that provide donor aid.

Through such a compact, countries would agree to raise education spending in stages to at least 4-6% of their national income over a period of five years, and invest at least 15-20% of all of their public spending in education.

Sustainable funding for education can be increased through domestic action to reform national tax systems, coupled with international action to close tax loopholes and choke off illicit financial flows. Implementing taxation reforms that support equity and redistribution can address critical poverty and inequality challenges in many low- and middle-income countries.

In parallel, multilateral institutions can offer enhanced support to encourage the fast-tracking of educational opportunities.
The World Bank’s financing facility for low-income countries – the International Development Association (IDA) – could increase the share of its spending on education from 10% to 15% by leveraging new resources from donors and enhanced use of its reflows – the capital returned from past loans. Larger support for schools and teachers in the developing world alone would unlock education opportunities for more than 20 million children every year in the poorest countries.

Most out-of-school children are located in lower-middle-income countries, which host a large share of the world’s refugees and displaced young people. But the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the World Bank’s financing facility for middle-income countries, currently allocates just 4% of its loans to education in lower-middle-income countries (home to 700 million children), down from an already low 8% in 2010.

IDA and IBRD funding could be complemented by the International Finance Facility for Education proposed several years ago by the Education Commission in the Learning Generation report. This facility would fund education programs in low- and lower-middle-income countries at low interest rates, akin to that of IDA’s credits, using guarantees backed by grants from donor countries through the various multilateral development banks.

Such funding would be additional to bilateral aid from Development Assistance Committee donors who would commit to higher ODA levels. A greater amount of the ODA would be channeled through international and multilateral institutions, including UNESCO, UNICEF, and other UN agencies, and through educational initiatives such as the Global Partnership for Education and Education Cannot Wait. Funding could be further enhanced by a call for greater and more innovative social-impact investments in the education sector through cross-border individual funding and corporate philanthropy.

Over the next five years, this plan could produce an extra $10 billion of new educational funds for low-income countries, together with $10 billion in additional resources for middle-income countries.

In the 2021 Our Common Agenda report, Guterres identifies the need for a second World Social Summit in 2025. This event could serve as a critical platform to support better coordination and more innovative responses to catalyze the type of initiatives needed to transform the education sector globally.

We are so far from achieving our goal of universal education by 2030 that, unless we act quickly and generously, we will fall further behind on our SDG4 commitment to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” We therefore call on countries to support these bold measures.

We can be the first generation in history in which every child goes to school. Instead of developing some of the potential for some children in some countries, we can develop all of the potential for all children in all countries. But we have to act. To achieve this, we urge all countries in the UN family to support this initiative at the summit this month.

This commentary is also signed by:
Philippe Aghion – Professor of Economics, Collège de France and the London School of Economics
María Elena Agüero – Secretary-General of Club de Madrid
Bertie Ahern – Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland (1997-2008)
Hamid Ansari – Vice President of India (2007-17)
Shaukat Aziz – Prime Minister of Pakistan (2004-07)
Jan Peter Balkenende – Prime Minister of the Netherlands (2002-10)
Oriana Bandiera – Director of STICERD; Professor of Economics, London School of Economics
Kaushik Basu – President of the International Economic Association; Chief Economist of the World Bank (2012-16)
Erik Berglöf – Director of the Institute of Global Affairs, London School of Economics; Chief Economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (2006-14)
Sali Berisha – President of Albania (1992-97); Prime Minister of Albania (2005-13)
Ana Birchall – Prime Minister of Romania (2016-19)
Mario Blejer – Governor of the Central Bank of Argentina (2002); Director of the Centre for Central Banking Studies, Bank of England (2003-08)
Patrick Bolton – Professor of Finance and Economics, Imperial College London; Professor, Columbia University
Dumitru Braghiș – Prime Minister of Moldova (1999-2001)
Lakhdar Brahimi – Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Algeria (1991-93); UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria (2012-14); Member of The Elders
Gordon Brown – Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (2007-10)
Robin Burgess – Professor of Economics, London School of Economics
Fernando Henrique Cardoso – President of Brazil (1995-2003)
Wendy Carlin – Professor of Economics, University College London
Hikmet Çetin – Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey (1991-94); Speaker of the Grand National Assembly (1997-99)
Lynda Chalker – Minister of Overseas Development of the United Kingdom (1989-97)
Laura Chinchilla – President of Costa Rica (2010-14); Vice President of Club de Madrid
Bai Chong-En – Dean, Tsinghua School of Economics and Management, Tsinghua University
Helen Clark – Prime Minister of New Zealand (1999-2008); UN Development Programme Administrator (2009-17)
Joe Clark – Prime Minister of Canada (1979-80)
Emil Constantinescu – President of Romania (1996-2000)
Chester Crocker – Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, United States (1981-89)
Mirko Cvetković – Prime Minister of Serbia (2008-12)
Marzuki Darusman – Attorney-General of Indonesia (1999-2001)
Mathias Dewatripont – Professor of Economics, Université libre de Bruxelles
Beatrice Weder di Mauro – President, Centre for Economic Policy Research; Professor of International Economics, the Geneva Graduate Institute
Philip Dimitrov – Prime Minister of Bulgaria (1991-92)
Elena Duro – Secretary of Educational Evaluation, Ministry of Education, Argentina (2016-19)
Victor J. Dzau – President of the National Academy of Medicine
Barry Eichengreen – Professor of Economics and Political Science, University of California, Berkeley
María Fernanda Espinosa – President of the UN General Assembly (2018-19); Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador (2007; 2017-18); Minister of Defense (2012-14)
Gareth Evans – Foreign Minister of Australia (1988-96); President and CEO of International Crisis Group (2000-09)
Jan Fischer – Prime Minister of the Czech Republic (2009-10); Finance Minister of the Czech Republic (2013-14)
Louise Fréchette – UN Deputy Secretary-General (1998-2006)
Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle – President of Chile (1994-2000)
Chiril Gaburici – Prime Minister of Moldova (2015); Minister of Economy and Infrastructure of Moldova (2018-19)
Ahmed Galal – Finance Minister of Egypt (2013-14)
Lawrence Gonzi – Prime Minister of Malta (2004-13)
Dalia Grybauskaitė – President of the Republic of Lithuania (2009-19)
Ameenah Gurib-Fakim – President of Mauritius (2015-18)
Sergei Guriev – Chief Economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (2016-19); Professor of Economics, Sciences Po
Ángel Gurría – Secretary-General of the OECD (2006-21)
Alfred Gusenbauer – Chancellor of Austria (2000-08)
Tarja Halonen – President of Finland (2000-12)
Han Seung-soo – Prime Minister of South Korea (2008-09)
Hilda Heine – President of the Marshall Islands (2016-20)
Bengt Holmström – Nobel Laureate for Economics (2016); Professor of Economics, MIT
Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu – Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (2004-14)
Dalia Itzik – Interim President of Israel (2007); President of the Knesset (2006-09)
Mladen Ivanić – Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (2014-18)
Harold James – Professor of European Studies and Professor of History and International Affairs, Princeton University
Mehdi Jomaa – Prime Minister of the Republic of Tunisia (2014)
T. Anthony Jones – Vice President and Executive Director of the Gorbachev Foundation of North America
Lee Jong-Wha – Professor of Economics, Korea University; Chief Economist and Head of the Office of Regional Economic Integration at the Asian Development Bank (2007-13)
Ivo Josipović – President of Croatia (2010-15)
Mats Karlsson – Vice President, External Affairs at the World Bank (1999-2002)
Ban Ki-moon – UN Secretary-General (2007-16); Deputy Chair of The Elders
Jadranka Kosor – Prime Minister of Croatia (2009-11)
Leonid Kuchma – President of Ukraine (1994-2005)
Aleksander Kwaśniewski – President of Poland (1995-2005)
Luis Alberto Lacalle Herrera – President of Uruguay (1990-95)
Zlatko Lagumdzija – Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina (2001-02); Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina (2012-15)
Professor Justin Yifu Lin – Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank (2008-12); Dean of the Institute of New Structural Economics, Peking University
Tzipi Livni – Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel (2006-09); Minister of Justice of Israel (2013-14)
Petru Lucinschi – President of Moldova (1997-2001)
Igor Luksic – Prime Minister of Montenegro (2010-12)
Ricardo Luna – Minister of Foreign Affairs of Peru (2016-18)
Nora Lustig – President Emeritus of the Latin American and Caribbean Economic Association; Professor of Latin American Economics, Tulane University
Cristina Manzano – Director of Esglobal; Representative of Founding Constituent Member FRIDE
Moussa Mara – Prime Minister of Mali (2014-15)
Giorgi Margvelashvili – President of Georgia (2013-18)
Dalia Marin – Professor Emeritus, University of Munich
Colin Mayer – Professor of Management Studies, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford
Péter Medgyessy – Prime Minister of Hungary (2002-04)
Rexhep Meidani – President of Albania (1997-2002)
Stjepan Mesić – President of Croatia (2000-10)
James Michel – President of the Seychelles (2004-16)
Amre Moussa – Secretary-General of the Arab League (2001-11); Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt (1991-2001); Board Member of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center
Rovshan Muradov – Executive Secretary of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center
Mustapha Kamel Nabli – Governor of the Central Bank of Tunisia (2011-12)
Piroska Nagy-Mohácsi – Program Director of the Institute of Global Affairs, London School of Economics; Director of Policy, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (2009-15)
Olusegun Obasanjo – President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999-2007)
Jim O’Neill – Chair of Chatham House (2018-21); Member of the Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development
Djoomart Otorbaev – Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan (2014-15)
Anand Panyarachun – Prime Minister of Thailand (1991-92)
Georgi Parvanov – President of Bulgaria (2002-12)
Andrés Pastrana – President of Colombia (1998-2002)
P.J. Patterson – Prime Minister of Jamaica (1992-2006)
Thomas R. Pickering – US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (1997-2000); Ambassador to the UN (1989-92)
Christopher Pissarides – Nobel Laureate for Economics (2010); Professor of Economics and Political Science, London School of Economics
Rosen Plevneliev – President of Bulgaria (2012-17)
Richard Portes – Professor of Economics, London Business School; Founder and Honorary President of the Centre for Economic Policy Research
Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca – President of Malta (2014-19)
Iveta Radičová – Prime Minister of Slovakia (2010-12)
Hélène Rey – Professor of Economics, London Business School
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero – Prime Minister of Spain (2004-11)
Gérard Roland – Professor of Economics and Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley
Petre Roman – Prime Minister of Romania (1989-91)
Jeffrey D. Sachs – Director of the Center for Sustainable Development, Columbia University
Mirko Sarovic – President of Bosnia and Herzegovina (2002-03), Deputy Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina (2015-19)
Ismail Serageldin – Vice President of the World Bank (1992-2000); Co-Chair of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center
Rosalía Arteaga Serrano – President of Ecuador (1997)
Javier Solana – Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union (1999-2009); Secretary General of NATO (1995-99)
Devi Sridhar – Professor of Global Public Health, University of Edinburgh
Eduardo Stein – Vice President of Guatemala (2004-08)
Petar Stoyanov – President of Bulgaria (1997-2002)
Laimdota Straujuma – Prime Minister of Latvia (2014-16)
Boris Tadić – President of Serbia (2004-12)
Jigme Y. Thinley – Prime Minister of Bhutan (2008-13)
Cassam Uteem – President of Mauritius (1992-2002); Vice President of Club de Madrid
Raimonds Vejonis – President of Latvia (2015-19)
Vaira Vike-Freiberga – President of Latvia (1999-2007); Co-Chair of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center
Ernst-Ludwig von Thadden – President, Mannheim University (2012-19); Professor of Macroeconomics and Finance, Mannheim University
Filip Vujanović – President of Montenegro (2003-18)
Leonard Wantchekon – Founder and President of the African School of Economics; Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University
Shang-Jin Wei – Chief Economist of the Asian Development Bank (2014-16); Professor of Chinese Business and Economy and Finance and Economics, Columbia Business School
Kateryna Yushchenko – First Lady of Ukraine (2005-10); Board Member of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center
Viktor Yushchenko – President of Ukraine (2005-10)
Valdis Zatlers – President of Latvia (2007-11)