Protecting education aid is more vital than ever


To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, we have invited the Report’s previous directors to share their views on progress and prospects for Education for All.

By Christopher Colclough

Much has been achieved over the dozen years since the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal. The proportion of primary age children who are in school has increased from around 82% to 88%, while the number of children not in school has been reduced by about 40 million. Gender disparities in enrolments have greatly narrowed, and transition rates from primary to secondary school have increased. These are considerable accomplishments.

At the same time, the high hopes for meeting the development goals for education by 2015 will turn out to have been too optimistic. The fundamental goal of achieving universal primary education by that date will be missed by a considerable margin. It seemed, some years ago, to be achievable, even in the world’s poorest countries, but going by current progress, the number of those out of school may increase again over the next few years.

The overall enrolment tally hides many imbalances that need to be tackled if enrolments are to get back on track. Dropout rates from school remain high in Sub-Saharan Africa – often because children enrol late and the quality of schooling they receive is low, making it difficult for parents to justify their continuation. Furthermore, gender parity of enrolments remains off target in almost 70 countries. The absence of girls from primary school in these cases represents a huge loss to the individuals involved, and reduced benefits for the next generation.

Many of these imbalances are caused by primary systems being of such low quality that those enrolled do not learn enough, or do not learn quickly enough, to make staying on worthwhile. Yet leaving school after five or six years without having achieved basic literacy and numeracy is a tremendous waste of financial and human resources, and sets up losses for society that extend for years ahead.

Filling these gaps is a very high economic and social priority, particularly in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the greatest numbers of out-of-school or under-educated children live. There are signs that some African countries have returned to growth in the last few years. Here, the resource gaps should be narrowing and the challenge for governments is to ensure that allocations for education are increased, so as to improve performance on the goals.

In countries where economic circumstances remain bleak, the prospects for receiving significant increases in aid have been harmed by the recession in Europe and North America.  The financial crisis has brought shrinkage in the real economy, and it will need a determined effort from wealthy countries if aid resources, for education and other sectors, are to be protected.

Yet such protection is vital for the global assault on poverty to resume. Remarkable pledges have been made by donors in recent years, to provide full support for education for all where a financial need is demonstrated and where realistic plans exist for its attainment.

The arguments and evidence presented in the EFA Global Monitoring Report over the past decade have been critical to demonstrating the wisdom of this continued commitment. They have shown that such a stance is not only morally right, but that achieving the goals is as much in the interests of donor nations as it is in the interests of recipient states. The GMR must continue to demonstrate, through objective analysis and evidence, that this is the best way forward for dialogue, policy and action in education over the coming years.



  1. Of the 77 million children unable to attend primary schools, 25 million are children with disabilities.

    It follows that the goals of Education for All and MDG2 cannot be reached until governments take action to implement their basic human right to free primary education.

    113 governments have now ratified the new UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 24 commits them to make their schools accessible to children with disabilities.

    The UN has provided leadership in working for the education of girls, with impressive results. Now is the time to take action to provide quality education to 25 million girls and boys with disabilities.

    1. The 2007 EFA GMR quoted a background paper by UNESCO officials which estimated that more than one-third of out-of-school children have a disability, and that in Africa, fewer than 10% of disabled children are in school (Balescut and Eklindh 2006). At that time there were 77 million children not in school.

      Since then, disabled children have been all but invisible in EFA statistics and reviews – right up to the current UNESCO Institute of Statistics Policy Paper 4 prepared for Rio + 20 which stated that of the 61 million children who were out of school in 2010, 47% are “expected never to enter school”, most of them in Central Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab States and South and West Asia.

      We need to know how many of these are children with disabilities because their right to education is being denied.

      The former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has just been appointed UN Special Envoy for Education. Representations have been made to him to use his influence to ensure that thei right of children with disabilities to education does not continue to be ignored in meeting EFA and MDG targets for 2015.

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