Looking ahead to the Transforming Education Summit: Time for urgent action
Nani, 10, in his classroom in a small rural village in Andhra Pradesh in southern India. Nani now attends school regularly instead of working in the cotton and chilli fields. Rajan Zaveri / Save the Children
At the end of June, education and finance leaders will come together to discuss their priorities for the upcoming Transforming Education Summit. This Summit in September offers an important opportunity for Member States to accelerate progress towards SDG4. It aims to mobilise greater public and political commitments to transform education so that, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — alongside growing inequality, conflict, and impact of climate change — no child loses out on their right to education and the life-changing potential it offers.
Everyone knows what’s at stake, not least the 260 million out of school children before the pandemic, and the tens of millions more who may never return after[i] at risk of never returning to school following the pandemic, the families who support them, and the teachers who teach them. Education is now in an unprecedented crisis, and only by ambitious global leadership will it be resolved.
As we head into the June Pre-Summit meeting, we will hear for the first time from leaders about what they hope to deliver as part of this global moment. It is imperative that all leaders on education set out a bold and ambitious agenda for children’s futures.
Save the Children has high expectations for the Summit and the ongoing preparatory meetings and believes that there needs to be concrete action on the following five areas in order to be a success:
1. Inclusivity and child participation must be at the heart of the summit
First and foremost, we will only be successful in transforming education if the process is an inclusive one. Children know how valuable their education is and the difference a quality, safe and inclusive one can make to their futures. As leaders sit together to decide which actions must be prioritised, it’s more important than ever to put children and teacher’s perspectives and demands at the heart of those decisions by ensuring they are part of robust and meaningful national and global conversations.
2. Recognise the challenges facing global education & recommit to foundational learning
Globally, education systems have never been more vulnerable, and they are only likely to face more pressure from crisis, conflict and climate change in the years to come. To take genuinely transformative action, we need leaders to show that they understand the true scale of the problem facing education and make new commitments that respond ambitiously to these challenges. We cannot allow the next generation of learners to pay for our inaction now.
Foundational skills are the building block needed to make progress in school, attain higher order skills and reap the full rewards of education, yet estimates show that 70% of children in low-and-middle income countries may not be able to read by age 10 as a result of the pandemic (and increase from 53% before the pandemic). Leaders must prioritise investments and policy reforms that effectively improve foundational literacy and numeracy learning.
Children play and learn at a reading club facilitated by a Save the Children early years teacher, Jun Rey, in a rural village in Malungon, Mindanao, Philippines. Save the Children/ September 21, 2018
3. The summit must plan for future crises
Any commitments made as part of thorough national consultation processes should include anticipatory planning which future-proofs education systems against new global health crises, conflict, economic shocks, and sudden and slow-onset disasters linked to climate change. Better, timely and transparent data is needed to keep improving our response to crises.
Without action that doesn’t anticipate future challenges, leaders will merely be playing constant catch up, rather than building and investing in education systems which are as resilient as the children who need them. A child’s right to quality education does not end in times of emergency.
4. The summit must build on existing momentum
We need to know the impact that existing commitments are having on education systems and where we can go further. Education leaders should use this opportunity to outline in detail how they have so far delivered on commitments made under Declarations such as the Kenyatta Declaration, G7 Declaration on Girls’ Education, Incheon Declaration and the Safe Schools Declaration. Each of these is an example of potential transformative actions in progress – but only if we don’t allow momentum to stall. Much more transparency is needed to ensure delivery on these commitments is on track.
5. Leaders must put their money where it matters
In order for us to stand any chance of success in meeting the challenges ahead, more and better financing for education is non-negotiable. This funding needs to be spent more equitably and target the children most impacted by inequality and poverty.
Governments in low- and middle-income countries must increase the size of their budgets through strengthening Domestic Resource Mobilisation (DRM), progressive tax policy, an increase the share of that budget towards education to at least 20%. They also need to increase their education budgets by accessing other forms of finance, including improving debt sustainability, accessing concessional loans, utilising Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), and accessing new forms of innovative finance.
Donors can support governments by sharing expertise between tax administrations/ministries of finance to strengthen DRM. Donors also need to urgently increase the share of ODA for education, including through fully funding Education Cannot Wait in February 2023,
To be successful, this global moment will need to be championed by engaged Member States who recognise and relish the opportunity in-front of them. The first test will be the pre-summit in a few weeks’ time. We will see who is serious about transforming education, and whether they have the power and ambition to take others with them.