Education, a fundamental part of global stability.

Editor’s Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team 

The education of children in both the European Union and across the globe has been severely affected by the Covid pandemic. Throughout this period, and with the European External Action’s Service’s Team Europe on board, different funding instruments have been used to support education in approximately 100 partner countries. The aim was to minimise the impact of the pandemic on learning and the well-being of children, with the prospects of facilitating a safe return to school. 

This week, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced that the European Union was pledging €700 million for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). The fund is designed to help transform education systems for more than one billion girls and boys in up to 90 countries and territories. The fund will deliver €100 million each year from 2021-2027. 

The Global Partnership for Education was created to deliver on global education commitments made at the Dakar World Education Forum and the Millennium Summit in 2002. The GPE is the only global partnership for education that brings together representatives of all education stakeholder groups including partner countries, donors, international organisations, civil society groups, foundations and the private sector. The GPE’s vision is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Its offices are within the World Bank. 

In providing financial support to low-income and lower-middle-income countries, especially those with high numbers of out-of-school children and significant gender disparities, as well as countries affected by crisis and fragility, the GPE is mandated to ensure education for young people in these countries is not ignored. Most of the funding is allocated to Sub-Saharan Africa. The EU and its Member States together account for more than half of all contributions to the GPE. The European Commission alone provided €457 million for the period 2014-2020, which represents around 8% of the total funding for the partnership.

Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen has correctly highlighted that: “Education has the power to transform lives and societies; it is the foundation of equality and a key to a better future for our youth.” However, it is essential that when leaving school the students have social and economic stability in which to thrive, and employment opportunities especially must be a fundamental part of that stability. 

Commissioner Urpilainen will increase EU investments in education from 7% to at least 10% with a focus on ensuring quality education, equality and equity, and on matching skills and jobs. The objective is  is to invest in well-trained and motivated teachers that can equip children with the right mix of skills needed in the 21st century. At least 69 million new teachers will need to be recruited by 2030 for primary and secondary education, including more than 17 million in Africa.

As part of the plans, investing in skills for the future, to prepare the professionals, business leaders and decision-makers of tomorrow for the green and the digital transformation is also foreseen as a key aspect of the financing. To ensure this is relevant, timely and future-proofed, the Commission and GPE must involve both business and trade unions in the education curriculum planning – across the world a mismatch of education, skills and job opportunities still remains a key challenge.   

Investing in equality, especially promoting girls’ education and leveraging the potential of digital innovations will be another key objective of the proposal. Educating and empowering girls is a priority of Europe’s Gender Action Plan III, which aims to curb the rise of inequalities in the context of the pandemic, and accelerate progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

This is a bold gesture in times when finances are strained and when other global leaders are considering cut backs on development aid, so it was a timely announcement from the European Commission just ahead of the G7 meeting in London, and no doubt done to encourage the UK not to cut its aid budget. 

The global learning crisis has existed for generations. An estimated 617 million children between the ages of 6–14 worldwide are unable to achieve minimum proficiency levels in reading, impacting on the ability of adolescents to find jobs or to develop the skills needed for the 21st century. Those the system is failing most are women and girls and the pandemic has only aggravated the situation. As a result, there are now wide chasms of  inequalities, the digital divide, and psychological and mental issues, which will require more than €100million per year, spread across the globe, to have any lasting effect. 

With most of the educational challenges present in low- and lower-middle-income countries, including those countries from which many migrants are now seeking security in Europe, it is essential for the European Union and its Member States to consider a more holistic and long term approach to development. If further investment is made into education and training, with an objective of creating more business opportunities and decent work jobs, and negotiated mutually beneficial trade agreements are secured, then a more sustainable approach to development could be achieved. 

Whilst €700million is a very generous offering, this generation of children and youth must be better supported to have secure and prosperous futures, wherever they are in the world. 

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