Leaving no one behind: what does it mean for GPE 2025?

By Stuart James Cameron, Thematic Lead, Equity and Inclusion, GPE Secretariat

“Leaving no one behind” is a central principle in the mission of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the world’s only partnership and fund on providing quality education to children in lower-income countries. Through the GPE 2025 strategic plan, the partnership aims to transform education systems in ways that achieve education outcomes at scale, address systemic inequities and focus financing on the poor and the most marginalized children, with gender equality at the heart of planning and implementation. GPE’s mission

Increasingly, conversations among governments and development partners have rightly recognized that access to basic education alone is insufficient to ensure that all children can learn. Through the Incheon Framework and Declaration for Action, agreed in 2015, countries and development partners have raised aspirations, agreeing to ensure all children could access 12 years of free, publicly funded, equitable quality primary and secondary education, and achieve relevant learning outcomes. But is there a danger that in shifting the conversation towards learning and quality of education, we lose sight of the children not in school in the first place?

The new GPE working paper ‘Leaving No One Behind: Transforming Education Systems, Equitably and Inclusively’ asks how countries can manage this risk and move towards all children learning without leaving any of them behind, by understanding the links between access, equity and learning.

Progress on access in low-income countries has stalled

The reality is that, as of 2021, some 250 million children, adolescents and youth remain out of school. In many GPE partner countries, large barriers to universal access to basic education remain. In 25 partner countries, more than 20% of children are out-of-school at primary or lower-secondary age, and in a further 25, more than 20% do not complete even primary education.

Many children remain out of school or unable to complete primary education in GPE partner countries. (Countries shown are GPE partner countries in which 20% or more are out of school, or 20% or more do not complete primary education.)


These challenges reflect a global slowing of progress. Dramatic progress was made in expanding educational opportunities between the 1990s and 2010, but since then, progress on access has slowed to a near halt. Moreover, the data available now were mostly gathered before the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted the education of millions more children and left many at risk of dropping out even when schools reopened. There is an urgent need for reforms that can bring all children back into the classroom, as well as ensure that they learn when they are there.

How countries can work with GPE towards all children learning

GPE 2025—GPE’s strategic plan for 2021–2025—works toward the goal of all children learning through a system transformation approach. The approach aligns partners around “catalytic” reforms to remove existing barriers and lead to wider system transformation. Each element of GPE’s operating model includes mechanisms to ensure these reforms leave no one behind. Systemwide reforms that improve efficiency, enrollment at an appropriate age, school readiness and the flow of learners through the system are likely to be important to addressing issues of access and completion.

Faced with an ongoing learning crisis, countries may choose to prioritize reforms that focus on school quality, teaching and learning. Governments and development partners need to be accountable not just for children being in school, but also learning at the expected level. But to achieve these goals, they need to apply a holistic system lens that understands links between access, equity and learning. Reforms need to be driven by inclusive policy dialogue wherein the voices of different groups, including the most marginalized, are heard.

Principles for leaving no one behind

The working paper suggests 4 principles for governments and international development partners to consider so that no one is left behind in GPE partner countries:

  1. Retain a strong focus on access and completion in education policy and planning, at least in GPE partner countries that have either low access or low completion. In Uganda, for example, a partnership compact between the government, GPE and other partners recognizes that persistent low enrollment and completion rates still stand in the way of the goal of all children learning, and plans a reform focused on both access and quality of primary education, including for vulnerable groups.
  2. As education systems expand toward universal enrollment, they will need to adapt to the needs of an increasingly diverse body of learners. This will require fundamental changes in how schools and teachers work and equipping them to cater to a wider range of learning needs. Disability inclusion is a necessary part of this adaptation. Countries such as Tanzania have sought to advance disability inclusion across the GPE-funded activities, such as improving teachers’ instructional practices.
  3. Focus on all children learning—not just those who are currently completing school. This means understanding potential unintended consequences when activities and indicators focus only on in-school children, and how these can be avoided or offset. It also means considering how the effects of learning interventions may differ between learners, and the implications for equity.
  4. Focus public resources where the needs are greatest—in particular, by carefully considering trade-offs when support is directed to higher levels of education, such as upper secondary, when there remain large numbers of children not completing primary education. In countries that are making secondary education free, such as Ghana, it may be important for development partners to retain a strong focus on equity and quality in primary education – as support from GPE and other partners through a Multiplier grant has done.



1 comment

  1. School leadership is essential to implement these views. What is GPE doing to foster educational leadership and competence at the localleve ? Most managers have no training and no status.

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