Julia Gillard: We won’t achieve the SDGs without more money for education

22 Mar 2017 |

Education has been successful at lifting millions of people out of poverty. According to the OECD, one year of schooling can grow an individual’s earnings by 10%. Each additional year has the potential to lift average annual GDP by 0.4%, not to mention creating a virtuous cycle of economic growth and reduced poverty.

South Korea and Singapore are examples of how putting a premium on education can turn around a country’s fortunes.

However, in many parts of the world, access to education and quality teaching remains elusive. This is at a time when education is more critical than ever to prepare young people to live and work in a digital world.

What are the issues?

These are some of the issues Julia Gillard, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education, a global fund dedicated to education in developing countries, explored in a Meet the Mentor briefing at the Global Education & Skills Forum 2017.

A former Education Minister and Prime Minister of Australia, she set out what the global education community must do to affect better educational outcomes in some of the world’s poorest countries, and why this will benefit the global community at large.

Primary education

In assessing the world of education, Ms Gillard pointed out that access to education may have improved, but around 260 million children in the world won’t be able to attend primary school or secondary school.

This includes 75 million in areas affected by conflict, and also refugee children whose educational needs are often neglected in favour of food, shelter and medicine.  Only 25% of children globally get to go to secondary school.

Under-education

Another issue dogging progress in global education is quality of teaching: “In 2030, 1.6bn young people will be on the planet and fully half of them will not have had an education that gives them lower secondary school skills,“ Julia Gillard explained.

“At the same time, half of the world’s current jobs will be no longer exist and be replaced by jobs that require greater and greater skill levels. “

Teacher shortage

Part of the reason is that there is a global teacher shortage, which can be measured in the hundreds of thousands.

In some countries, even if every person who went into higher education chose to become a teacher, this would not help plug the gap, Julia Gillard insisted.

Adding to this, she identified a lack of adequate classrooms, pointing to Malawi, where it is still common for children to be taught outside, with lessons being cancelled frequently due to inclement weather.

Education technology

Julia Gillard sees a role for technology in addressing these shortcomings. However, simply handing out technology will not have the desired impact:

“There have been some naïve attempts to drop technology in and pretend it’s a solution. Technology can play a part but you have to be realistic: many of these places don’t have electricity and certainly not reliable electricity. Technology requires constant connectivity and people with skills and training,” she warned.

Technology could make a difference if teachers were given smart devices so they can connect with other teachers to share experiences and get training, she added.

Funding shortage

At the heart of the issue is a lack of funding. At present, $1.2 trillion is spent globally on education for low and middle-income countries, coming from sources as varied as national governments, global organisations, philanthropists and parents.

Ms Gillard shared that the finding of the UN Education Commission led by Gordon Brown last year that even if these funds could be used even more efficiently, this would not be enough to cover the shortfall.

So what needs to happen?

To make a significant change, Ms Gillard said, the amounts spent need to be virtually tripled to make a significant change, to $3 trillion. These funds will have to come from international development assistance, which currently spends only 3% on education, but more importantly by mobilising domestic resources in the countries themselves.

In humanitarian crises, only 2% of aid spending is currently on education, and raising this percentage could make a real difference to children in those fragile settings.  Ms Gillard pointed to a new fund, Education Cannot Wait, which will address this issue.

Schooling planning

The Global Partnership for Education advocates rolling out a new, inclusive model for schooling in developing countries.

“When the scale of a problem is measured in the hundreds of millions, unless you are changing the whole system you are never going to fix the problem,” Ms Gillard maintained. “A well-planned system for schooling in a lower income environment will outperform a poorer-paid system in a high income environment.”

Applying this approach, she continued, had resulted in greater primary school attendance and greater gender parity even in some of the poorest places in world.

Education and the SDGs

While Julia Gillard points to the renewed energy and commitment to education in the global community, the question is what is at stake if funds cannot be mobilised and deployed effectively?

Education affects areas such as healthcare, where people to understand how to take better care of themselves.  Rising levels of education are also associated with greater peace and education is fundamental to understanding and acting on climate change, Ms Gillard explained.

She concluded that not giving education the focus and funding it needs could be a major stumbling block for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which the international community has committed to.

You can watch this session in full here:

The Global Education and Skills Forum took place on 18th and 19th March 2017 in Dubai, UAE, with the theme of “How do we make ‘real’ global citizens?”