Governments across the world invest less in those children who need education the most, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a latest report, calling for equitable financing to lift millions of children out of a learning crisis.
The report, Transforming Education with Equitable Financing, notes that on average, the poorest quintile of learners’ benefits from only 16 per cent of public funding for education, compared to the richest, who benefit from 28 per cent. Among low-income countries, only 11 per cent of public education funding goes to the poorest learners, while 42 per cent goes to the richest.
FAILING THE WORLD’S CHILDREN
With respect to funding and investment, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said, “we are failing children. Too many education systems around the world are investing the least in those children who need it the most.”
“Investing in the education of the poorest children is the most cost-effective way to ensure the future for children, communities and countries. True progress can only come when we invest in every child, everywhere,” she added.
The report – Transforming Education with Equitable Financing – looks at government spending from pre-primary through tertiary education.
SMALL INVESTMENT, A BIG LIFT
Examining data on government spending across pre-primary, primary, secondary, and tertiary education from 102 countries, the authors of the report found that a one-percentage point increase in the allocation of public education resources to the poorest 20 per cent may pull 35 million primary school-aged children out of learning poverty. The study noted that around the world, public education spending is more likely to reach learners from wealthier households in both low- and middle-income countries.
Across the world, public education spending is more likely to reach learners from wealthier households, which applies in both low- and middle-income countries
GAPS IN SPENDING
The report points out that the gap is most pronounced among low-income countries. It said that children from the richest households benefit from over six times the amount of public education funding compared to the poorest learners.
In middle-income countries, such as Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, the richest learners received around four times more public education spending than the poorest.
Meanwhile, the spending gap is smaller in high-income countries, or up to 1.6 more between the two groups, with countries like France and Uruguay falling at the higher end of the gap, the UNICEF said.
Moreover, the report states that children living in poverty are less likely to have access to school and drop out sooner. They also are less represented in higher levels of education, which receive much higher public education spending per capita. These children are also more likely to live in remote and rural areas that are generally underserved.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, education systems across the world were largely failing children.
Two-thirds of all 10-year-olds globally areunable to read and understand a simple story, the UN agency added, citing recent estimates.
- In the past decade, public education spending has become more equitable in 60 per cent of countries with data.
- However, nearly one-third of countries spend less than 15 per cent of their public education funding on the poorest. Among low-income countries, this share of countries is strikingly high at 80 per cent.
- In 1 out of 10 countries, learners from the richest households receive four or more times the amount of public education spending compared to learners from the poorest households in 10 per cent of countries.
- Appeals for education in emergencies often receive just 10 to 30 per cent of the amounts needed, with significant disparities across countries and regions
The report called for urgent action to ensure education resources reach every learner.
The UNICEF called on governments and key stakeholders to transform education with equitable financing:
- Most critically, unlock pro-equity public financing to education through broader coverage and volume of decentralized allocations, resources to schools, and resources to students of disadvantaged backgrounds (by education and social protection ministries).
- Prioritize public funding to foundational learning by securing funding for all in pre-primary and primary education and targeting the poor and marginalized at higher levels of education.
- Monitor and ensure equitable education aid allocation in developmental and humanitarian contexts between and within countries, including sub-sector levels when applicable.
- Invest in innovative ways of delivering education to complement gaps in existing public funding, through multiple and flexible pathways including quality digital learning.