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The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) Financing Summit taking place on July 28th and 29th will focus a spotlight on the gap in education funding around the world.

The GPE’s own estimate is that the annual gap between what is spent now and what needs to be spent to achieve quality education for all stands at nearly $200 billion, a difference made bigger by the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on countries’ economies.

So, admirable as the goal of raising at least $5 billion over five years in donor pledges to spend on global education may be, the solution to the lack of investment in education will not come from aid. Countries are predominantly going to have to find ways of helping themselves; and quickly. Domestic financing constitutes the lion’s share of resources to education in GPE partner countries: more than two-thirds of education resources from domestic public expenditure.

This has long been recognised by African leaders and is why domestic financing is front and center of the GPE’s Raise Your Hand Campaign.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is co-hosting the global Summit, is leading the calls for GPE partner countries to prioritise investing their own money in educating their own youth.

“Protecting domestic education budgets and ensuring that we do not lose education momentum because of the Covid-19 pandemic will enable us to create more prosperous and resilient economies,” explained President Kenyatta.

Other African leaders have emphasised the need for national self-reliance and accountability. President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana put it starkly when he told a GPE replenishment in Dakar that Africans could not depend on others to finance the education of their continent. In February this year, at the African Union Leaders’ Summit, President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone had a similar message for his fellow leaders; they had to be accountable for protecting education budgets.

But changing learning outcomes for African children requires something even more fundamental than investment. It requires local leadership.

The World Bank estimates up to one-third of education spending is lost to inefficiencies – such as low levels of learning, high repetition rates, waste in procurement, and poor education workforce management. For decades, progress was measured by inputs not outcomes.

Even where local leaders are galvanised by the need to use their existing education budgets effectively, systemic challenges in low infrastructure, capacity and resource environments are hard.

Much can be done by making sure that every existing cent already being spent is spent well; but effectively tackling the challenges in many education systems needs more than additional dollars. It needs strong political will and the absolute determination to deliver results by challenging and reforming what is measurably not working.

One example of this is the EdoBEST basic education programme in Edo State, Nigeria, where NewGlobe supports the state education board in delivering transformational change across more than 1,000 public primary schools.

It has just celebrated its official third anniversary, having been showered with praise by the World Bank, which calls EdoBest a great example for other states in Nigeria and even other countries to follow.

Edo’s Governor, Godwin Obaseki, told CNBC Africa recently that the local political desire to change learning outcomes, in order to drive wider development, had been crucial.

“For a reform process like EdoBEST to be a success, political leaders have to wish to take on this kind of reform; they have to be personally motivated, they have to show commitment. When you show commitment – everybody else will invest. Leadership is key.”

In the case of EdoBEST educational transformation became a political priority because the breakdown of the education system had left young people – in the Governor’s words – “unemployable and desperate to find a future elsewhere.”

That in turn led to thousands of young boys and girls to undertake perilous trips across the Sahara in the hope of reaching Europe and a brighter future. An ineffective education system and lack of investment was not just depriving children of their rights and undermining long-term economic prosperity – it was undermining the very fabric of society.

Three years on, EdoBEST has achieved stunning results. Governor Obaseki points to children in EdoBEST now learning at about 70% of the rate of their counterparts in Europe and Asia. That same review of the average situation in Nigerian schools measured them at about 30 percent.  It took countries like Singapore, like South Korea two to three decades to achieve such speeds.

The brave initial decision by the Governor to prioritise basic education transformation over everything else, utilising his existing budget envelope, is now reaping additional benefits for the Edo State education system.

It has attracted tens of millions of dollars of additional funding from the World Bank, as one of its “Accelerator Program” investments in Africa – along with Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, all of them picked out for additional support because of their ability to “demonstrate strong political and financial commitment to improved learning.”  

The World Bank’s Education Director, Jaime Saavedra, set out a clear case for why political leaders must prioritise educational transformation using EdoBEST as a model. “Investing in human capital in the education of our children is critical for their welfare and well-being, but is also instrumental in fostering innovation and long-term growth and development. A highly skilled workforce with higher wages is more innovative and productive and copes better with economic shocks. In today’s world, we need that more than ever.”

African leaders are increasingly leading education programmes designed and financed by their own governments, unlocking new opportunities domestically and internationally through their leadership. It is the recognition of this emerging shift coupled with the huge societal gains from transforming education which is driving President Kenyatta’s clarion call for all African leaders at this forthcoming GPE summit. 

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