By Samer Al-Samarrai, senior policy analyst, Education for All Global Monitoring Report
In this year’s Global Monitoring Report we highlighted the impressive increases in spending on primary education that many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have made since 2000. About two thirds of these rises have been made possible by high and sustained rates of economic growth that have led to buoyant tax revenues. However, the economic downturn is likely to mean that governments cannot rely on economic growth to fuel the future increases in spending required to achieve the Education for All goals.
As we start EFA Global Action Week, it’s worth asking what countries can do to finance the necessary education investments. Many governments could increase the share of their budget devoted to education. International benchmarks suggest that low-income countries should allocate about a fifth of government resources to education. But some countries with large numbers of children not in school fall far short of this target. Pakistan spends only 11% of its budget on education despite having nearly 7 million children out of school. Many countries could also increase the share of the education budget devoted to basic education. Eritrea spends only about a third of its education budget on primary education, compared with an average of 50% among low-income countries.
In recent years some countries have successfully given education a higher priority. In Tanzania, the number of children out of school fell from over 3 million in 1999 to under 150,000 in 2006, mostly because the government abolished school fees gave grants to schools for such things as teaching and learning materials and teachers’ professional development. Education’s share of the government budget rose from 16% in 2000 to 30% in 2007. Ethiopia provides another example. Public spending on education increased from 3.5% of gross domestic product to 5.5%, and education’s share of the total budget rose to 23%. As a result, the number of children out of school fell by over 3 million from 1999 to 2007
Even if low-income countries fulfil their commitments to make education a higher priority, however, this will not be enough on its own to achieve Education for All. A financing gap will remain, which this year’s Global Monitoring Report estimates at US$16 billion. How to fill this gap is the subject of an earlier series of posts on this blog. The numbers are important, but they can also easily obscure how vital it is to provide the resources necessary to achieve Education for All. Better education is the key to development. Without it, countries will be unable reduce poverty, improve the health and well-being of their citizens, and fulfil their potential for economic growth.