The power of education is clear – brighter futures, healthier communities, and increased economic growth for individuals and countries. Education increases security and stability, spurs economic growth, and provides proven results across development sectors. As outlined in USAID’s Education Strategy, “the U.S. Government recognizes that its investments in international education serve as a force multiplier for all of its work in international development.” Addressing education means more than just addressing learning: education support is also vital to creating positive outcomes for stopping the spread of disease and reducing gender disparities.
At the Global Campaign for Education-US (GCE-US) -- a coalition of more than 80 international nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups, and advocates dedicated to ensuring quality, universal education for all children and youth -- we urge the United States Congress to allocate for Fiscal Year 2022:
- At least $1.1 billion for International Basic Education, including at least $150 million for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and at least $50 million for Education Cannot Wait (ECW), both of which complement U.S. bilateral education efforts, and
- We recommend funding the Vulnerable Children account with at least $35 million.
This funding will ensure that the United States (U.S.) Government, particularly through the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), continues to play a leadership role in critical efforts to achieve universal quality, inclusive education, right from the start, which is more important than ever in light of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing humanitarian emergencies have rendered bilateral and multilateral investments in education all the more critical. School closures during the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted over 91% of the world’s school-aged children and youth. When children and youth are out of school, they may be exposed to the results of education loss, including regression in foundational knowledge, increased exposure to health and well-being risks (both psychosocial and physical), and increased risk of not completing school. Additionally, World Vision estimates that, because of the pandemic, an additional 85 million children worldwide may be exposed to physical, sexual, and emotional violence. The risks are even higher for girls and children with disabilities. For example, teenage girls experience a 65% increased risk of pregnancy when schools are closed during a crisis, which is estimated to result in one million girls not returning to school in sub-Saharan Africa after the pandemic and a $10 billion loss for the region. Underlying health conditions can make children and youth with disabilities more vulnerable to the consequences of the pandemic. They face additional barriers to accessing remote learning strategies and enrollment or re-enrollment efforts when schools reopen. Schools often deliver key health, nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene supports. ECW has done this via schools in Cameroon, Mali, Chad, and Burkina Faso.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, USAID and multilateral partners have found effective solutions to address evolving education needs. USAID programs reached more than 24 million learners in 2020 from pre-primary through secondary levels through a variety of in-person and distance approaches in order to navigate school closures. Complementing these bilateral programs, GPE and ECW are making significant strides to build more resilient, national public education systems and education in emergencies, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first year of the pandemic, ECW has mobilized $45.4 million across 27 countries and reached over 9 million vulnerable boys and girls. GPE mobilized over $500 million across 66 countries, reaching 355 million children.
Failing to act now to address this monumental gap could result in a lost generation – a generation without education and with severely limited opportunities for economic prosperity, in addition to its impact on health, poverty reduction, and climate change. According to the World Bank, Malala Fund, and Brookings Institute, educating girls is a key aspect to fighting climate change. The Malala Fund estimates that in 2021 climate-related events will prevent at least four million girls in low- and lower-middle-income countries from completing their education: If current trends continue, by 2025 climate change will be a contributing factor in preventing at least 12.5 million girls from completing their education each year. Schooling provides skills to overcome climate-related shocks, including the critical thinking capabilities needed to process and act on the risk of weather reports. Countries that have invested in girls’ education have suffered far fewer deaths from droughts and floods than countries with lower levels of girls’ education.
GPE is a unique, multi-stakeholder partnership, and the largest global fund solely dedicated to transforming education in lower-income countries. It brings together developing country partner governments, donors, international organizations, and civil society to pursue the shared objective of equitable, quality education for all, providing financial and technical support to ensure educational opportunities in developing countries. GPE focuses on leveraging more and better domestic financing as the most significant and sustainable form of funding for education. To receive GPE funding, governments must commit to making significant domestic investments in education. GPE supports educational continuity and helps partners keep their education systems functioning through wars, displacement, crises, climate disasters and health emergencies, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
ECW brings together governments, humanitarian and development actors, donors, and civil society to deliver a collaborative and rapid response to the educational needs of children and youth affected by crises, emergencies, and conflicts. ECW ensures that education and learning are central components of humanitarian response efforts, and that emergencies and crises do not disrupt a child’s right to education. ECW’s investments have reached children and youth in some of the most challenging crisis settings: ongoing armed conflicts, forced displacement, refugee exodus, and climate-related emergencies. When the pandemic hit, ECW mobilized quickly with almost half of the $45.4 million used in the COVID-19 response targeting refugees and people who were internally displaced.
With the implementation of the U.S. Government Education Strategy, the development of the Advancing Protection and Care for Children in Adversity strategy, and the Global Child Thrive Act, USAID and its partners have a solid foundation to improve the lives and futures of children and youth around the world. These strategies seek to address the needs of the world’s most at-risk and to intervene when children and youth need it most, providing nurturing environments to keep children safe, fostering their early development, and engaging them in quality, inclusive education from the early years. These strategies must be backed by sufficient financial resources to be effective, particularly in light of the resulting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Robust funding can address the education needs that existed prior to the pandemic and give us the chance to build back better, supporting Sustainable Development Goal 4 to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
We recommend funding the Vulnerable Children account with at least $35 million to support implementation and reporting as mandated by the Global Child Thrive law, which was enacted into law in January 2021. Recognizing that global education is a force multiplier for all our work in international development, it is vital that the U.S. provides at least $1.1 billion for the Basic Education account in the FY2022 State and Foreign Operations Bill, including at least $150 million for GPE and at least $50 million for ECW.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more imperative to fund effective humanitarian and development assistance, which is why we urge that this funding not come at the expense of other development or humanitarian accounts. We strongly support sustained funding for the entirety of poverty-focused development accounts, which work together to serve the common goal of building a safer and more prosperous world.
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Jennifer Rigg is the Executive Director of the Global Campaign for Education-US (GCE-US). GCE-US, a coalition of over 80 organizations, promotes access to quality education as a human right and mobilizes the public to create political will in the U.S. and internationally to ensure universal access to quality education worldwide.