Poor Countries Focus More on Debt Payment Than on Education

As the world races towards achieving universal basic education by 2030, a glaring deficit of 69 million teachers looms large on the horizon, reveals new data from UNESCO. Sub-Saharan Africa bears the heaviest burden, facing an urgent need for an additional 24.4 million primary education teachers and a staggering 44.4 million for secondary education. Within this region, overcrowded classrooms and overburdened teachers are all too common, with a staggering 90% of secondary schools grappling with severe teaching shortages.

One-third of the poorest countries in the world are spending more on paying back debt to wealthy nations and investors than they are on children’s education, said Save the Children.

In its new report  – Fixing a Broken System: Transforming global education financing, the organisation said that 21 out of 70 low- and lower middle-income countries with available data spent more on external debt than on education in 2020.

It said that interest payments are expected to absorb on average ten per cent of the annual budget across low-and lower middle-income countries by 2024,  which comes to an increase from seven per cent in 2015.

Head of Education at Save the Children Hollie Warren noted that education systems needed more and better funding across low- and lower middle-income countries. Instead, they are being gutted to service unmanageable debts. It is wrong that the world’s poorest children are having to suffer because of a debt crisis that was not of their making, she said.

“Underfunded education systems cause millions of children around the world to show up each day to overcrowded classrooms without enough teachers, books or materials to properly learn. Millions of children are also still not in school – their education disrupted by conflict, climate change and crises, and with each day of school that a child misses out on, it becomes harder for them to catch up.

“Global education leaders have the opportunity to fix this at the forthcoming Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund. The Annual Meetings offer an important opportunity governments and education leaders to come together to mobilise action for education for every child. For us to stand any chance of success in meeting the challenges ahead, more and better financing for education is non-negotiable. This funding needs to be spent more fairly and target the children most impacted by inequality and poverty. The world has a moral imperative to ensure that they are adequately funding education to ensure that all children are in school and learning,” she said.


The report said that Covid-19, climate change and conflict disrupted access to and funding for education. Further,Save the Children said that children from lower income households were least likely to have access to remote learning materials to continue their learning during school closures during the pandemic. At least two-thirds of households with children in developing countries lost income during the pandemic.

On climate change, the report said  it disrupted access to education by destroying infrastructure, including roads and schools, as well as diverting government and household resources towards replacing damaged infrastructure and investing in adaptation and mitigation strategies.

With respect to children in conflict affected areas, the report said that children are more than twice as likely to be out of school compared to their peers in non-conflict affected areas. Further, conflict is correlated with reduced national income and tends to lead to the re-direction of government spending away from social sectors and towards military expenditure. The organisation said.


The report also mentioned that significant progress has been made in the education sector in recent years– both in terms of increases to funding and improvements to educational outcomes. In low-income countries, it said that the total education funding grew in real terms by 66% over the past ten years and primary completion rates increased from 46% to 70% from 2000-2020. However, the report stated that this progress was uniform, with the most progress made in urban areas in higher income countries. The challenge will continue to be meeting the needs of the poorest children living in the poorest, often most remote, areas – thus far, financing has not been scaled up sufficiently in many of these contexts to meet needs


Realising children’s right to education is one of the best tools governments have at their disposal for economic development and eradicating poverty. For every dollar invested in girls’ education, developing countries can receive $2.80 back in economic and social returns, and achieving 100% secondary school completion rates for girls by 2030 could lift emerging economies’ GDP by 10% compared to business-as-usual scenarios, the report said.


Save the Children called on governments and international development partners to

  • Strengthen domestic resource mobilisation by improving revenue mobilisation and spending efficiency.
  • Prioritise quality and equitable spending with a focus on improving learning for the most marginalised children, including through more and better Official Development Assistance (ODA) and climate finance.
  • Harness opportunities to channel more and better finance into education, including through ensuring debt sustainability, improving access to sustainable concessional loans, utilising Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), and new forms of innovative finance.


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