By Caroline Mwanga
NEW YORK (IDN) – As country lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19 pandemic come to an end, an immediate priority is the fate of 30 million children who may never return to school, warns a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report.
With this in view, former world leaders, economists and educationalists say in a letter to the Group of Twenty (G20) nations and other countries: “We cannot stand by and allow these young people to be robbed of their education and a fair chance in life.” They urge them to take action to prevent the global health crisis creating a “COVID generation” – leaving tens of millions of children with no hope of education.
The leaders include former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, now UN Special Envoy for Global Education, and many other prime ministers and presidents. In a letter to G20 heads, national governments and global financial institutions, they plead for urgent measures.
They also warn that the world’s poorest children have been locked out of learning, denied internet access and, with the loss of free school meals – once a lifeline for 300 million boys and girls – hunger is growing.
Leaders are also urging the G20 to ramp up funding and “rebuild education better”, stating: “The World Bank now estimates that over the next year overall education spending in low and middle-income countries could be $100-150 billion lower than previously planned.”
Gordon Brown, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Ban Ki-Moon, former UN Secretary General; Graca Machel; and Helen Clark, former New Zealand Prime Minister, said in the letter: “We call on the G20, the IMF, World Bank and regional development banks and all countries to recognise the scale of the crisis and support three emergency initiatives.”
The leaders are grateful for support for this initiative from: Global Women Leaders: Voices for Change and Inclusion; World Leadership Alliance-Club de Madrid; the Nizami Ganjavi International Center (NGIC); Berggruen Institute 21st Century Council; Global Leadership Foundation and the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank and IMF.
Following is the full text of the ‘Letter to G20, IMF, World Bank, Regional Development Banks and National Governments’:
“We write to call for urgent action to address the global education emergency triggered by COVID-19. With over one billion children still out of school because of the lockdown, there is now a real and present danger that the public health crisis will create a COVID generation who will lose out on schooling and whose opportunities are permanently damaged. While the more fortunate have had access to alternatives, the world’s poorest children have been locked out of learning, denied internet access, and with the loss of free school meals – once a lifeline for 300 million boys and girls – hunger has grown.
An immediate concern, as we bring the lockdown to an end, is the fate of an estimated 30 million children who according to UNESCO may never return to school. For these, the world’s least advantaged children, education is often the only escape from poverty – a route that is in danger of closing. Many of these children are adolescent girls for whom being in school is the best defence against forced marriage and the best hope for a life of expanded opportunity.
Many more are young children who risk being forced into exploitative and dangerous labour. And because education is linked to progress in virtually every area of human development – from child survival to maternal health, gender equality, job creation and inclusive economic growth – the education emergency will undermine the prospects for achieving all our 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and potentially set back progress on gender equity by years. According to the World Bank the long-term economic cost of lost schooling could be as much as $10 trillion in lost productive output.
We cannot stand by and allow these young people to be robbed of their education and a fair chance in life. Instead we should be redoubling our efforts to get all children into school – including the 260 million already out of school and the 75 million children affected by protracted conflicts and forced displacement, including 35 million children living as refugees or internally displaced – with the comprehensive help they need – and to make it possible for young people to start or resume their studies in school further and higher education .
There is a longer-term challenge we must also meet. Even before COVID-19, the world faced a learning crisis. Over half of the children in developing countries suffering “learning poverty” and even at age 11 had little or no basic literacy and numeracy skills. As a result, 800 million of today’s young people leave education with no qualifications whatsoever. If we are to avoid this, millions of children who are now preparing to return to school, who have lost over half a year of education, need their governments to invest in catch-up programmes and proper learning assessment. When schools reopened after Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake attendance recovered, but four years later children had lost the equivalent of 1.5 years of schooling.
Resources are now urgently needed to get young people back into education and enable them to catch-up. What is more, we should rebuild better: more support for online learning, personalised learning, teacher training, conditional cash transfers for poor families and safer schools that meet “distancing” rules, building on the enormous community effort that has been displayed during the pandemic. And to spur global momentum in support of progress in education, a coalition of global organisations has now joined forces in the Save our Future initiative launched on August 4.
Yet at the very time we need extra resources, education funding is in danger on three fronts:
As slower or negative growth undermines tax revenues, less money may be available in almost every country for public services, including education.
When allocating limited funds, governments are prioritising expenditure on health and economic recovery leaving education crowded out and underfunded.
Intensifying fiscal pressure in developed countries will result in reductions in international development aid, including aid for education, which has already been losing out to other priorities in the allocation of bilateral and multilateral aid. There is also a danger that multilateral donors, who already under-invest in education, will reallocate funds.
The World Bank now estimates that, over the next year, overall education spending in low and middle-income countries could be $100-150 billion lower than previously planned.
This funding crisis will not resolve itself.
We call on the G20, the IMF, World Bank and regional development banks and all countries to recognise the scale of the crisis and support three initiatives to enable catch-up to happen, and progress towards SDG4 to be resumed:
First, every country should pledge to protect front-line education spending, prioritising the needs of the most disadvantaged children through – where appropriate – conditional and unconditional cash transfers to promote school participation
Second, the international community must increase aid for education, focusing on the most vulnerable, including the poor, girls, children in conflict situations and the disabled. The quickest way to free up resources for education is through debt relief. The 76 poorest countries have to pay $86 billion in debt-service costs over the next two years. We call for debt suspension with a requirement that the money for debt servicing be reallocated to education and other priority investments for children.
Third, the IMF should issue $1.2 trillion in Special Drawing Rights (its global reserve asset) and its membership should agree to channel these resources toward the countries that need them most, creating a platform for recovery.
And the World Bank should unlock more support for low income countries through a supplementary International Development Association budget, and, following the lead of the UK and Netherlands which have now pledged $650 million to the new International Finance Facility for Education (IFFED) to help unlock billions in extra finance for education in lower middle income countries, invite guarantees and grants from donors.
This is in addition to – and complements – over the next two years the replenishment of GPE (Global Partnership for Education) and scaled-up investment in ECW (Education Cannot Wait) and continued support for the UN agencies focused on education and children led by UNESCO and UNICEF. We call on private sector corporations and foundations to make support for global education a greater priority
Sustainable human development can only be built upon a foundation of quality education. While the challenges are momentous, the impact of the crisis on children has made us even more determined to realise our ambition contained in Sustainable Development Goal 4, that ours can be the first generation in history in which every child is at school and has the chance to develop their potential to the full. Now is the time for national governments and the international community to come together to give children and young people the opportunities they deserve and to which they are entitled.
Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, was one of the signatories asking G20 heads, national Governments and global financial institutions to urgently ramp up funding to “rebuild education better”.
“We cannot stand by and allow these young people to be robbed of their education and a fair chance in life”, the letter stated on behalf of 275 world leaders.
The former leaders also warned that the world’s poorest children have not only been locked out of learning, often without internet access, but also denied critical school meals – once a lifeline for 300 million boys and girls – leading to rising hunger.
Citing World Bank estimates, they said that “over the next year overall education spending in low and middle-income countries could be $100-150 billion lower than previously planned”.
“At the very time we need extra resources, education funding is in danger on three fronts”, they added, pointing first to the repercussions of slower or negative growth, which undermines tax revenues, and ess money in almost every country for public services, including schooling.
Secondly, when allocating limited funds, Governments are prioritizing health and economic recovery expenditures, “leaving education crowded out and underfunded”, they continued.
And finally, the former leaders shone a light on intensifying fiscal pressure in developed countries, which will result in international development aid reductions.
“There is also a danger that multilateral donors, who already under-invest in education, will reallocate funds”, they stated.
The signatories of the letter – which include former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon; Mary Robinson, former UN human rights chief and Irish president; Helen Clark, former UN Development Programme chief and Prime Minister of New Zealand; and Graca Machel, women’s advocate and former UN adviser – spelled out that the funding crisis “will not resolve itself”.
To work out these issues, the former leaders called on the G20, IMF, World Bank and regional development banks, “and all countries to recognize the scale of the crisis and support three emergency initiatives”.
They stated that every government should “pledge to protect front-line education spending” and prioritize the needs of the most disadvantaged children through cash transfers to promote school participation.
Next, the international community must “increase aid for education, focusing on the most vulnerable”, through debt relief: “We call for debt suspension with a requirement that the money for debt servicing be reallocated to education and other priority investments for children.”
They also called on the IMF to release a further $1.2 trillion from its global reserves for members to channel towards countries most in need.
“Now is the time for national governments and the international community to come together to give children and young people the opportunities they deserve and to which they are entitled.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 20 August 2020]
Photo: Shefuka (9) studies at home with support from her mother and teacher, while her learning centre remains closed in the Rohingya refugee camp. Credit: UNICEF | UNI340770
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