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Sustainable Development Goal 4

In 2015 the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed, with Goal 4 addressing global education. One of the central aims of the SDGs is to “leave no one behind”. To achieve this in education will require a substantial increase in finance, access and quality.

UNESCO states that globally, education funding remains substantially below the target level that would be required to meet the ambition of SDG4. In 2015, it estimated the annual shortfall at around $39 billion.

Covid-19 impacts

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on education systems and on children and young people’s learning and wellbeing is increasing daily. The crisis is preventing children and adolescents in every country from fulfilling their right to quality, safe and inclusive education.

The world’s most marginalised children will be hit hardest

Out of the total population of students enrolled in education globally, UNESCO estimates that over 90 per cent have been affected by school closures due to Covid-19. School closures will hit the world’s most marginalised children the hardest, including girls, the poorest, children with disabilities, and refugees, migrant and internally displaced children. “For these children, the pandemic could mean losing precious progress gained to date on realising their right to education and the achievement of SDG4.”

For girls, school closures present significant challenges. Over 111 million girls live in least developed countries where getting an education is already a struggle. These are contexts of extreme poverty, economic vulnerability and crisis and where gender disparities in education are highest. In Mali, Niger and South Sudan — three countries with some of the lowest enrolment and completion rates for girls — closures have forced over 4 million girls out of school.

Children with disabilities often face multiple challenges to accessing inclusive education. This is exacerbated during times of crisis. Before Covid-19, over half of children with disabilities were out-of-school at the lower secondary level in low and lower-middle income countries. Distance learning activities and tools, including radio, TV and online lessons are often not made accessible to children and youth with disabilities, including those with visual or hearing impairments. Similarly, children from minority ethnic groups or refugees and migrants may be locked out of distance learning due to linguistic or cultural barriers.

FCDO Programmes

On the merger of DFID and the FCO, the then Secretary of State for International Development, reconfirmed the UK Government’s commitment to education:

“The UK is and will remain a global leader on girls’ education. Promoting 12 years of quality education for all girls is a priority for the UK and the Prime Minister. Between 2015 and 2019, we supported no fewer than 5.8 million girls in gaining a decent education. At last year’s United Nations General Assembly, we announced a further £515 million to help over 12 million children – half of them girls – into school. The challenge for the next five years will be to ensure that the progress made towards the Sustainable Development Goals is not lost as a result of COVID-19. It is a challenge that the UK government is determined to meet.”

FCDO supports the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the only multilateral fund for education. The programme seeks to improve to improve learning, increase equity, and create efficient and effective education systems in 89 developing countries through the development and implementation of Education Sector Plans. The FCDO contribution to GPE from 2018-21 will support approximately 2,100,000 children to stay in school and train 170,000 teachers.

In the last 12  months the GPE has raised US$ 500 million to support partner countries with planning and implementing their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The funding is helping governments sustain learning for up to 355 million children in 66 countries. The UK is the largest donor to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and has contributed to this Covid-19 response fund. The figures for spending in 2020 are not yet published.

FCDO also funds This Girls’ Education Challenge Phase 2, designed to enable up to one million marginalised girls (currently supported through Phase 1) to continue to complete primary school and transition on to secondary education.

A further 500,000 highly marginalised adolescent girls, who are out of school, will also be targeted to gain literacy, numeracy and other skills relevant for life and work. It is estimated that at least 400,000 girls will complete junior secondary school in the first four years of the extension.

In 2019, the UK provided £789 million in bilateral aid targeted at education. This, along with equivalent figures for the previous few years, breaks down into sub-sectors as follows:

UK aid funding for education, by sector

Source: FCDO, Statistics on International Development: Final UK Aid Spend 2019, 24 September 2020, and earlier editions

This includes only bilateral aid – that is, aid provided for a specific programme or purpose. The UK also provides contributions to the core budgets of multilateral institutions such as UN agencies or the World Bank, and some of these may also have provided aid for education – for example, the UK provided £7 million in multilateral aid to UNESCO in 2019.

The bilateral aid total has varied over the years, with no obvious trend, but it has typically been around the £600-800 million range. The UK’s levels of aid for education rank highly in international terms – based on data from the OECD (which is not directly comparable to the FCDO’s figures), the UK provided the equivalent of $612 million in 2019 in aid for education, which is the third-highest among OECD countries. (The top two were Germany, at $2,935 million, and the United States at $1,438 million[1].)

[1] Source: OECD.Stat, table DAC5, retrieved 24 January 2021

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