Education for All is affordable – by 2015 and beyond

If governments and donors make concerted efforts to meet the promises they made in 2000, basic education for all could be achieved by 2015, according to analysis in a new policy paper released by the Education for All Global Monitoring Report team.

$26 billion finance gap to achieve basic education
$26 billion finance gap to achieve basic education

The report team estimates that poor countries need an extra $26 billion of external financing per year to achieve good quality basic education with measures to target the marginalized by 2015, up from $16 billion in 2010. I will be going to Dakar next week to attend the Global Meeting on Education after 2015, where proposals for new education goals post-2015 will be discussed, which I expect to include universal lower secondary education. The report team has calculated that such a move would extend the annual finance gap to $38 billion.

With fewer than 1,000 days left until the 2015 deadline of the Education for All goals, the global community needs to make a final push to bridge the financing gap, which is one of the biggest obstacles to education in the world’s poorest countries. It might seem impossible to close the gap of US$26 billion for basic education – by which we mean pre-primary education, primary education and adult literacy. But our analysis shows that by targeting government and donor resources at education, and basic education in particular, the gap can be filled.

Governments in low income countries could raise an additional US$7.5 billion just by spending the recommended 20% of the national budget on education, and allocating 50% of these resources towards basic education.

If donors were to increase the share of their aid that goes to education from 9% to 20% by 2015, and allocate half of this funding to basic education, this would raise a further US$4 billion to help fill the funding gap.

Currently around one-quarter of total direct aid to education never even leaves donor countries. This money is spent on scholarships and imputed student costs for students in developing countries to study in donor countries. Allocating a proportion of these funds to basic education in the poorest countries would contribute US$2.4 billion

These contributions make a combined total of US$14 billion and would go a long way to filling the financing gap, reducing it to US$12 billion.

Governments in poor countries could raise more money by broadening their tax base –for example, by reducing tax avoidance. If they were to increase the share of gross domestic product that is available for government spending, and allocate a share to basic education, this would contribute an additional US$7.3 billion, leaving a remaining financing gap of US$5 billion.

European donors committed to allocating 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) to aid, but most have not reached this target, and some are far off or even going backwards. If those making this commitment were to keep their promise, it would add US$1.3 billion to the resources available for basic education.

These reforms would collectively reduce the financing gap for basic education in the poorest countries from US$26 billion to just US$3 billion. This remaining gap could easily be filled if, for instance, the United States were to increase its aid commitment to 0.7% of gross national income and target spending at basic education. The gap could also be filled if philanthropic organizations gave as much to basic education as they have given annually to the health sector, on average, over 2005-2010.

If these targets are too ambitious to achieve before the deadline of the existing goals, they should certainly be feasible after 2015.

Extending goals to include lower secondary education would leave a larger gap to fill, but there is no reason why a lack of finance should hold back progress after 2015. To ensure that it does not, the EFA Global Monitoring Report proposes setting a new education goal specifically related to finance:

By 2030, ensure that no country is prevented from achieving education goals by a lack of resources:
1. by maximizing government revenue and ensuring that government spending covers education needs, targeting the marginalized when necessary;
2. by maximizing aid, and targeting it at countries and groups who need it most;
3. by maximizing resources from the private sector, and targeting it at countries and groups who need it most.

If governments and donors, guided by this goal, prioritized basic and lower secondary education after 2015, they could reduce the annual financing gap to US$7.6 billion.

Other sources of education financing, including the group of emerging economies known as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), private corporations and foundations, and the proposed International Financial Transaction Tax, also have a larger role to play in funding education in the future.

The global community must renew its promise that no country will be left behind in education due to lack of resources. Further delays will have grave human consequences, especially for the world’s most vulnerable children.



  1. This sort of reasoning worries me greatly, for three reasons: it is completely unrealistic, it offers an excuse for lagging behind on the goal of basic education for all, and it ignores the reality that increases in funding without policy discipline can actually make matters worse. Few people would argue with the premise that additional funding is important. Indeed, I would argue that additional funding is very much in the self-interest of the donors and the private sector, not to mention the developing countries themselves. But when it is suggested that the education sector cannot achieve its goals without massive, not-going-to-happen increases in external financing (though the blog entry is somewhat confusing here, since it references increases in both internal and external financing), it then is implicitly arguing that the goals themselves are unrealistic, unattainable. All of the experience that I have gained over a career working in the education sector suggests that the primary challenges to EFA are, and have always been, the priorities and policy decisions countries make, and the way they manage the resources they do have. Additional resources may help, but the sudden massive increases in external financing advocated here would completely swamp existing resources, dramatically increasing donor dependency and the risk of misuse. They could also provide an excuse to avoid the sort of tough decision-making that can help countries achieve sustainable universal education (many low-income countries, for instance, still spend a significant portion of education financing on overseas scholarships for children of the wealthy elite). Countries can achieve universal basic education, and significantly improve quality, with the resources available if those resources are used sensibly. The development of the education sector depends on making good choices based on the likely resources available. There is no shortcut for the hard work of establishing priorities, managing resources well, monitoring closely, and creating a culture of high expectations. Yes, let’s maintain pressure for the donor countries to keep their Gleneagles promises, and for developing countries to give higher priority to basic education. But let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that money is the main barrier here, and let’s not set the bar so unrealistically that we are simply setting ourselves up for failure.

    1. Brilliant response, this is often something which fails to get mentioned when discussing EFA, looking beyond the ideals and directly at the present reality.

    2. Many thanks for your comment. We entirely agree with you that money on its own is not enough – it is also about the way in which that money is spent. These are issues that are thoroughly discussed in every Education for All Global Monitoring Report. But suggesting it is a choice between more money or better use of the available money is misleading. It risks letting donors off the hook for the commitments they have made to ensure no country should be prevented from achieving Education for All due to lack of resources.

      The paper looks at ways to improve domestic finance in the world’s poorest countries (which is ultimately key to ensure the sustainability of education reform). The recommendations include proposals for the allocation of their education spending, as you suggest.

      It also provides proposals for increasing and better allocation of external resources. Whether providing these resources to poor countries are in the interests of those giving the funds very much depends on how it is given. This is why, in a recent paper, we propose the private sector needs to align its support with national priorities and plans, which is too rare at the moment. It is also why we suggest donors focus their aid budgets on educating children in the poorest countries, rather than paying for students from developing countries to study in their own countries. Without spending any more money, donors could double the amount they spend in poor countries and so help to send millions more children to school.

      Absorptive capacity constraint arguments are a red herring. Currently some countries are not even able to pay teachers on time, let alone have sufficient teachers on the payroll. Since teacher salaries are the largest component of education budgets, more money will make a big difference. Some aspects of education reform will take longer, such as improved training of teachers, but countries need money now to start planning for the future– they can’t wait. Indeed, countries that have made the biggest progress over the past decade have done so thanks to a combination of government and donor commitment – Mozambique and Tanzania are good examples.

      I think we are in agreement of the need for continued pressure on donor countries to keep their Gleneagles promises, and for developing countries to give higher priority to basic education. This is precisely why the paper shows that filling the financing gap is possible, and why there should be no more delays in doing so – money would then no longer be an obstacle.

    3. Bob, you hit the nail straight on the head when you said “funds flow per donors’ interest.”

      This is the situation with our society. while we have our own profiled education needs; donor agencies would think there’s otherwise and so the EFA thing belongs to someone else’ views and not as we anticipate for our genuine pace of learning.
      But; then and again whatever we desire to do for the sake of EFA, the funding agencies will always have the last say. For instance, we may accrue that Adult Literacy is the issue in hand as compared to Basic Education Services. If the Donors for education programmes do not have Adult Literacy in their agenda, then farewell even beyond 2015.

      You are right in alluding that the primary challenges to EFA are the priorities and policy decisions countries make; and how they manage available resources. These priorities and policy decisions become even difficult to achieve (developing countries) when they are at the first cycle of planning designed under the influence of external interests of people who have the money.

      So, no matter what we desire to do especially in developing countries, the end product will always be for the good of the rich (individuals & organisations) who has the funds. Like it or not; context does not count here; but; how their ends meet.

      NGO projects come; live for 1 to 3 years when project funds are there; and die when project winds up. That is the trend here – sustainability? No! We are only worried about the project goals set by donor agencies.

      Farewell EFA – See you in 2030!

      Alex El. Pwahe
      Education Officer – TVET for 25 years, since 21 years of age.(Now 44 years old).

  2. Big investment makes big differences. Emergence of new instruments and aid modalities like results based aid, sector wide approach and local consultative groups were possible only because donors commited big investment and demanded improvement, not only in education indicators but also in policy, financial management and governance indicators. In many countries education and health ministries pioneered public financial management reform and admintrative restructuring because those ministries had sector programmes with huge investment from donors. In a post-conflict state, the first government payroll is likely to be the teachers’ payroll, done with donor money, paving the way for further state building. Similarly, the universal education act is likely to be one of the least controversial pieces of legislature in many conflict ridden countries.

    Countries take tough decisions when they see big investment is at stake, not when they are lectured up on on the virtue of hard work and good choices.

  3. Nice Blog…..
    JEE Main 2013 Solutions JEE Main Solutions 2013, JEE Main Answer Key, JEE Main 2013 Answer Key, JEE Main Answer Key 2013, JEE Main 2013 Rank Predictor, JEE Main 2013 Video Solutions, JEE Main 2013 Marks Predictor…

  4. If this is acctually by those who promised it,then the future of our oncoming generation will be brighter than it is now.

Leave a Reply