Africa’s Future Depends on Improving Education

To be sure, Africa is not facing this challenge alone. According to a 2016 report by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (the Education Commission), where I serve as a commissioner, by 2030, more than 800 million children – half the world’s school-age population – will graduate or drop out of school without the skills to secure a decent job. This is a global learning crisis, and it demands a global solution.
One of the biggest obstacles to improving education quality is financing. Today, only 10% of official development assistance funds education programs in poor countries. Clearly, that share needs to increase. But even an increase in international funding levels would not be enough to ensure that every child in every school was learning. To accomplish that, we need new approaches to supporting education and new mechanisms to solicit and deliver financing.
For several years, I have joined colleagues from around the world in government, civil society, and the private sector to help the Education Commission study funding solutions. Our big, innovative idea is to create an International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd), which pools donor funds to make it easier to secure loans from multilateral institutions like the World Bank and the African Development Bank. It also seeks to help lower-middle-income countries access credit at favorable rates and avoid the debt trap of high-interest loans. Ultimately, by leveraging $2 billion in donor guarantees, the IFFEd will make $10 billion in grants and concessional funding available to the some of the world’s most challenged countries.
But change needs to start at home. The facility will succeed only if African countries increase their domestic spending on education. On average, the poorest countries spend just 3% of their national budgets on schooling, while middle-income countries spend an average of 4%. Our data indicate that those figures will need to increase to 5-6% to make a lasting difference. While investments in physical infrastructure like roads and railways are critical, investments in young minds are equally important.
It costs about $400 a year to educate a school-age child in Africa. That is a fortune for a poor family struggling to make ends meet. But for governments in Africa and around the world, it is a small price to pay to train the creators of future prosperity. After all, as Nelson Mandela famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2018.

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