Addis – Can we break out of Groundhog Day?

ffdI hesitated about putting pen to paper on this blog. It seems so obvious that we won’t achieve the vision of sustainable development unless we see tangible commitments emerging from the Third Financing for Development taking place in Addis Ababa this week. Why labour the point?  I thought.

And yet for some this point is not obvious. Many political leaders and decision makers are not convinced. And that’s what has driven this blog, and must drive all our efforts until we see real change for education.

An inconvenient truth is that money matters to finance sustainable development, not least in the area of education. Huge amounts – vast even – are needed to make real progress on the ambitious education goal. The EFA GMR has calculated the cost of ensuring all children and youth access a basic cycle of quality education (from one year of pre-school up to upper secondary education). After accounting for domestic resources and current international aid there remains an annual finance gap of $39 billion. This is, without doubt, a scary sounding price-tag.

Financing Education 2030: Facing up to reality

It is fundamental that the onus must remain with national governments for ensuring the provision of free primary and secondary education in their countries. To step up to the ambitions of the new education agenda laid out in the final outcome document for the UN General Assembly this September, low income countries will need to increase the amount they spend on education by 50%.  However, our research has shown that, even with substantial increases in domestic resources, 12 years of education for all will not be achieved without significant external support.


Many donors are likely torn between wanting to keep up ambitions for future development, and the truth told by aid trends over the past decade. I can certainly feel my own hopes rise and fall when I think about it. Donor aid to education stagnated five years ago. It took a mini gasp for breath from 2012-2013, rising by 6%, but is still 4% lower today than it was in 2010. What’s at stake is crystal clear: external aid to the sector needs to increase by at least six times if low and middle income countries are going to get the support they need in their journeys towards the education goal by 2030. Yet, far from facing up to these needs, traditional donors seem to be heading in the other direction: half of them actually decreased their aid to basic education between 2012 and 2013.

CaptureEducation campaigners are quick to equate the scary-sounding $39 billion with other, less vital elements in the world costing the same amount. For our own part, and as Malala told the world during the Oslo Summit, we’ve equated it with just over a week of military spending. Alternatively, for those needing to make the argument, the finance gap for one year of pre-primary through to upper secondary education…

This is fun, obviously, and we’re far from competing against NASA any time soon. Perhaps a more realistic argument is that this gap could be filled if the OECD Development Assistance Committee member states and other new donors, including major global economies in the BRICS and oil-rich Gulf States, delivered 0.7% of GNI to aid, and set aside at least 10% of their aid to basic and secondary education. That’s a target we could rally around. When phrased like that, it doesn’t seem so impossible.

These sorts of new and innovative avenues will need to be explored if we are to break out of the current impasse. Current donors, emerging donors, better tax mobilization, private foundations and far more substantial contributions from the private sector are going to be essential to the success of the new education agenda.

Groundhog day, which as we all know from the film, creates enormous frustration until you figure out a solution to the issue that’s ‘grounded’ you there, and can break free. Financing education sufficiently so that we can reach education targets may easily ground us if governments and donors, the private sector and emerging economies do not grab the reins and find a way to fill the gap. So let’s keep up the pressure. No-one wants to be stuck where we are now, in “Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania”, with 124 million children and youth out of school worldwide, and numbers on the rise.



  1. Unless students start learning in school, financing is unfortunately pointless. The groundhog (to follow up on this americanism) will not see its shadow upon emerging, and it will go back to three more decades of childhood illiteracy.

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