"The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development envisions a world free from poverty, hunger, disease, fear, and violence. A world that respects human rights and assures every woman and girl full gender equality. A world where every country reaps the benefits of sustainable economic growth. And a world where every boy and every girl learns to read, write, and achieve his or her potential."
This is the start of the speech of Alice Albright, Ceo of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) at the Foreign and Community Affairs Commission of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, last 14 May, on the occasion of the Parliamentary audition on the fourth of the 17 Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Quality Education: ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
The meeting at the Parliament is part of a survey on Italy’s international action for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and for the effectiveness of the Italian legislative framework and cooperation system.
Founded in 2002, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), of which Alice Albright has been CEO since 2013, is a multi-stakeholder platform bringing together developing country governments, donor governments, civil society, international organisations, the private sector, the teachers’ union globally, and foundations, in order to strengthen education systems in developing countries, and finance education through grants at global and national level. The GPE is the only global partnership entirely focused on improving education in the lowest-income countries, including countries that are fragile or affected by conflict. GPE’s chair of the board is Julia Gillard, former Australian Prime Minister (2010-2013), and Education Minister (from 2007 to 2010).
In order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 Quality Education”, “We need to pick up the pace," explains Alice Albright: “We have just over a decade to achieve these goals, failure is not an option. But if we don’t accelerate progress, we will not meet the Agenda’s education goal in a decade — but rather in 10."
“While we’ve made great progress in getting more children into school — we've seen a 40 percent increase since the beginning of the new millennium — an alarming 263 million children still don’t attend school," observes Alice Albright. “We have been invited to the Italian Parliament to give a state of affairs of education, why it is so important at the moment and the level of progress we need in order to achieve the overall goals."
Sustainable Development Goals aim at ensuring education for all by 2030. It is an ambitious goal, that seems almost impossible. Can you give us some indicators that describe education’s current situation in the world?
There has been progress in certain areas, principally in the areas of completion and attendance at primary schools, but overall, if you look at the big picture there is not enough progress in areas of schooling beyond primary school, in other words, lower and upper secondary school. One of the big changes between Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals regards education, the need to make better progress on the quality agenda, which means our children aren’t learning enough, and the second big change is the equity agenda, meaning that there aren’t adequate schooling opportunities for every child: boy, girl, rural, urban, rich, poor … Progress is not enough, education is vital to the sustainable development agenda and to guarantee security and prosperity and help children globally learn and get the skills they need to be an active part of the workforce.
Is education for all a goal we can really achieve?
First of all we must achieve it. A number to take into account is that in 2030 there will be 1.6 billion young people of whom, without a surge in education investments, over half, which is 825 million, won’t have the skills to work and thrive. In order to contribute to the 21st century economy, people will need to be educated. So we must achieve education for all. The rate of change needs to be accelerated, particularly for the poorest girls in the rural areas. They tend to be the ones who are most excluded from education. At the current pace we are not going to reach the goal we need by 2030. If we don’t speed up the pace of change, it will take more than 90 years before all children in sub-Saharan Africa are completing lower-secondary school. And it will be girls who get there last, with the poorest girls following behind the richest boys by 70 years. We need to pick up the pace at international level. What does that mean? It means making sure that education is at the top of the agenda. We need to put more money into education, international money, and make sure that domestic resources are being invested in education. We need to hire and train more teachers. Africa needs between 9 and 10 million more teachers, so we need to train them throughout the continent. Another thing we need to do is to help countries on delivering education equitably. It’s the most excluded population that doesn’t have a chance: it could be girls, children in rural areas, children with disabilities... There are a number of things that have to be done together to help accelerate the rate of availability of a good education.
How can this partnership, that is a big investment on education, have an impact on migration flows?
Conditions of lack of hope and instability are some of the causes of migration. We think that investment in education over the long term will have an impact on reducing migration. One of the choices is investing and strengthening the education system in the countries where the immigrants are coming from.
What outcomes and what impact has the Global Partnership for Education had over the years?
If you look at the number of children who were at school in 2002 compared to 2016, with the help of GPE 77 million more children have started school and just over a half of them are girls. Another thing that we look at is the rate of completion of primary school. 75% of girls in GPE countries are now completing primary school, and that percentage was 50% in 2002. So we see a real impact in terms of children starting and completing primary school. As already highlighted, more work needs to be done for lower and upper secondary schools, and that’s something we are going to work on. Another measure we spend a lot of time on is whether countries are contributing their own domestic resources to education. We see now a number of countries being above the 20% benchmark, which is what we look at to determine whether or not these countries are bringing their own resources into education. Just to give you an example: Ethiopia. If you look at the number of students that Ethiopia now has, students have increased from 10 million a decade ago to more than 25 million today. In Chad, we see that the country has made some progress in providing schooling for refugee children. In Burkina Faso we see that the government is making an effort to give education in remote areas. If you look country by country we can see the proof of improvement, how the institutions are beginning to come together and provide more schooling opportunities. That is good but it’s not enough. If you look at the big picture there is a lot of work to be done, as I mentioned earlier. If you look at the makeup of the children who are not in school, they tend to be girls. There is a lot more to be done on the gender and quality agendas. Children have to finish school having learned the basics and skills they need: reading, writing, studying maths, science… there is lots to do in these areas, that have to result in better quality. This means: more teachers, better training for teachers, more materials... There has been some progress but, as a global community, we need to do more.
Can you mention countries with successful results or particularly important projects?
A good example is Senegal, where the government has demonstrated a strong commitment to education, working with multiple partners to support the implementation of the country’s education sector development plan. At granular level I have seen a very impressive school in Addis Ababa and their approach to teaching children with disabilities. They have both a mainstream as well as a parallel track approach. I have seen a similar example in Nepal, in Kathmandu, where schools set up a special programme with children with disabilities where they attracted teachers who have the same disabilities as the children. You see a lot of effort in many countries to try and improve things, and it is quite laudable.
The Global Partnership for Education is made up of States, civil society organisations, private sector organisations…. Is this type of model working?
The GPE is a multi-stakeholder partnership, that includes at the moment 67 countries in the world, 21 donors across the EU, civil society organisations globally, the private sector, 3 UN organisations (Unece, Unesco and Unhcr), and the teachers’ union globally. We also have as our chair of the board Julia Gillard, who is the former Australian Prime Minister (2010-2013), and Education Minister (from 2007 to 2010), so she understands the issue deeply. And then we have as advice chair Serigne Mbaye Thiam, who is the Education Minister of Senegal, and more recently he has taken on a new portfolio in Senegal but is still very devoted to education. So they both bring significant expertise to GPE. In terms of how we work, all the organisations support the institutions and work a lot on what the country needs, so it’s a very country driven and country focused approach.
Which are GPE’s objectives?
We have three big objectives:
- Better quality education
- Better equity of education, meaning availability to everybody
- Better efficiency of the education systems: Are they using money well? Are they avoiding dropout and repetition, which are a form of inefficiency? Are the teachers getting to the right places? Meaning: are they in the whole country, not just in the main cities? Are there enough books? Are there enough school buildings?
What is GPE’s financial model?
We work with all country partners in a group that is called “Local education group”, that brings together governments, donor partners, civil society partners, and many others. We encourage countries to give priority to education in their budgets, so we ask them to dedicate 20% or more to education. Four out of every five GPE countries have an education budget at or above that threshold or are on track to getting there. Since we opened our doors, we have invested $4.9 billion in partner countries, helped to put 77 million more children in school, and trained millions of teachers.
What is Italy’s contribution to GPE?
Italy is an incredibly important partner and we are delighted to have it as a partner. So far Italy has contributed about 52 million dollars to our fund. We are certainly grateful for Italy’s contribution. However, if you compare it to many other members in the G7, it is not supporting us as much as we would like. One of the things that we have suggested respectfully to the Italian Parliament is to contribute more to the GPE, because we do rely on the G7 for financial support. Because Italy’s contribution is lower compared to other G7 countries we would like to see it invest more of its domestic budget in education and GPE. Italy contributes in a number of other ways, so it is a very important member of our board committee. And the GPE Secretariat looks forward to welcoming a member of Italy’s esteemed Junior Professional Officers Program this fall. It will be the first time we have hosted a junior professional from a donor partner. The other thing that was extremely helpful and that regards Italy is 2017’s G7, that was held in Taormina, Sicily. It highlighted to the rest of the world why education is so important, so from our perspective it was a very important contribution.
Why is education a big challenge of the future?
It is absolutely an important challenge and it is at the heart of achieving a sustainable development agenda. If young children and youth, adolescents and teenagers are able to read and write, and do maths and science, it puts them on track to becoming self-sufficient and getting jobs, and it allows them to meaningfully participate in their society. Without education there will be a negative effect on income, on the level of security, on the ability of communities to contend with difficult social scenarios, just to name a few. Another very important dimension is gender: right now if you look at the adult population that is illiterate, two thirds of them are women. And if you look at the gender dynamic of who is able to continue school and who is not, women and girls in rural areas tend to be left out, and that will have a generational impact on society: those women will be likely to get married early, they will have a number of children, very early in their lives, they will be less inclined to send their children to school, they will be less inclined and knowledgeable about how to take care of their children. If you start getting girls and children in the schools, you start to get generational benefits. One example that will give you a picture of this is South Korea: after the Korean war in the 50s, the country made a very deliberate decision to start providing free quality education to the population as a form of recovery from the Korean war and now South Korea is a very vibrant country, very successful globally. Another example is Finland that, after World War II made a similar decision and decided to invest in education and now it has one of the most successful education systems in the world. Other countries are also beginning to make real progress in improving their education systems, for example Rwanda, Ethiopia and Cambodia. Why is this important for the world? Terrorism will go down, security will go up, the ability to deal with climate change will go up, and prosperity will grow.
Cover photo: Alice Albright with Gassi Public School students, N'Djamena, Chad, February 2019. Credit: GPE/Carine Durand