Take Education Funding Seriously or Face a “Human Tragedy”

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Jun 25, 2020
by Qatar Foundation
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Take Education Funding Seriously or Face a “Human Tragedy”

Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education and former UK Prime Minister, warns of the danger of large-scale cuts to education spending at Salzburg Global-WISE program

This article was originally published on the Qatar Foundation’s website

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has warned the underfunding of education means “a human tragedy is unfolding”, at an international conference organized by Salzburg Global Seminar and Qatar Foundation’s global education initiative, WISE.

Speaking at Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined Part II – a three-day virtual gathering addressing the impact of COVID-19 and the future of education systems around the world – Brown, a UN Special Envoy for Global Education, voiced his fears that “hope will die” among millions of children and young people if they are denied access to learning because their countries cannot afford to give them the opportunity.

He called for solutions including debt relief for the poorest nations to allow them to invest in education and health, saying: “I harbor the aspiration that we will be in a world where we are developing the potential of all young people, but we also have to recognize that we have an education emergency impacting the life chances of millions of children around the world.

“We know that $180 a year is spent on the education of a sub-Saharan child, compared to $5-7,000 a year on a child in Western and other countries; that 70-80 percent of young people in countries like South Korea, Japan, and Singapore can go into some form of higher education, while in an African country it is less than five percent. It’s not just about what then happens to education systems – it’s about what happens to children and young people as human beings.

“It’s said you can survive 40 days without food, eight days without water, and eight minutes without air, but you can’t survive for a second without hope. Hope doesn’t just die when food convoys cannot get through or ventilators are not available; it can die when young people feel they don’t have a chance to plan for, or dream of, the future. And we have to face the fact that it will die unless we take the necessary action.”
Brown told the conference that education is being “crowded out” as other areas are prioritized for expenditure and aid, and that low- and middle-income countries with “already low and meager education budgets” could see them cut further, described this as “a recipe for disaster.”

“As well as persuading countries that they cannot build for a long-term future without investing in education, we have to remind them that education unlocks opportunities for employment,” he said. “We must persuade them that not cutting education budgets is not just in the interests of education, it is in the interests of quality of life.

“Financing education has to be taken seriously, because we cannot send teachers into classrooms without the resources they need, and children into schools without the necessary backing. A human tragedy is unfolding if we do nothing and leave education completely underfunded, lacking the resources to enable children to flourish in the future.”

Speaking about his hope that “we can be the first generation in history where we can say every child goes to school”. Brown emphasized that education cannot be reformed without global cooperation, saying: “Scientists, technicians, researchers, virologists, and immunologists all want to work together to fight COVID-19. The same is true of teachers, educators, and others in education to coordinate a response to the crisis that it faces.

“We know we have a challenge ahead, so let us work together to reimagine a new future and put pressure on to ensure the proper financing of education. We can make a difference. I think back to the ‘space race’, with the US and Russia vying to get to the Moon quickest, and then, in the 1990s, they came together to create the International Space Station.

“If we can cooperate in outer space, surely we can find better ways to cooperate on earth and build the future for education that we all dream about, and that every child in the world deserves.”

All Means All

The conference saw participants given an overview of the 2020 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report by its director, Manos Antoninis of UNESCO. He said that “identity, background, and ability still dictate education opportunities,” highlighting that children with disabilities are two-and-a-half times more likely never to go to school than their peers and, in at least 20 countries, no girls in poor rural areas complete secondary school.

The report also found that inequality has contributed to the education crisis caused by COVID-19, with 40% of poorer countries not targeting at-risk learners in their response to the pandemic; and said understanding of the importance of inclusive education needs to be widened, funding should be focused on “those left behind”, governments should encourage parents and communities to help design inclusive education policies; and inclusive practice should be a core rather than a specialized topic for teachers’ development.

“In a world increasingly faced with uncertainty and precariousness,” said Antoninis, “inclusion has to be central to the future of education.”

For more information or to watch sessions in full, please visit: www.wise-qatar.org