30 July 2021 - Global

World leaders fail to fund global learning crisis

World leaders fail to fund global learning crisis

At the Global Education Summit on 28-29 July, leaders have yet again failed to respond to the scale of the global education crisis and its impact for generations to come.  Those paying the cost of the announcement of just over $4 billion for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) are children most impacted by inequality and discrimination. This amount falls short of the $5 billion we and many others have been calling for, and puts the learning and wellbeing of millions of children at risk.  

This outcome is a failure of leaders and their duty to the millions of children who have missed out on school due to the pandemic to help protect our public health, up to 16 million of whom may never return on top of the 258 million children already denied their right to quality education.  

100 Days of Action   

Ahead of the Summit, our supporters, partners, and children themselves have taken thousands of actions to get world leaders’ attention and push education to the top of their agendas, as part of the #100DaysOfAction campaign. Over 2000 child campaigners took part in activities, from hosting a chat show to online art competitions. In Kosovo, child-led group Respect our Rights met with President Vjosa Osmani to discuss the challenges faced by children when it comes to education, where President Osmani committed to support child-led initiatives. 

Children meet the president of Kosovo

Across Colombia, in addition to painting beautiful street murals raising awareness about education, children have met virtually with the Ministry of Education to discuss the importance of the safe return to school for all. And in Kenya, we facilitated a Children’s Summit where children met with the Ministry of Education to describe the situation of education in the pandemic context.  

Ahead of the Global Education Summit, in partnership with ONE, we organised a side-event to highlight the learning crisis which has resulted in almost 400 million children failing to gain basic reading skills by aged 10. Selina Nkoile, ONE Education Champion and GPE Youth Leader shared her message to leaders: “I always tell my pastoral community – you can only milk a cow seasonally, but education is the cow you can milk forever – you will reap the rewards in the long-term.” Watch the event. 

Developing countries step up on domestic financing  

Domestic education financing was the real success story of the week.    

Nineteen Heads of State from low-income countries committed to spend at least 20 percent of national budgets on education, rallying behind a political declaration on education financing led by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. The pledges of $196 billion for their own education systems over the next five years will provide sustainable financing that will provide a crucial shield against learning losses resulting from the economic impact of COVID-19. 

Kenya actioned its recommendations by dedicating 26 percent of national budget to the education sector, following advocacy for increased allocations to basic education at both national and county levels. As our recent blog sets out15 million children such as Akeson in Kenya were denied their right to quality education as result of the pandemic. She told us: “When the pandemic came, it was difficult learning, the schools were closed, there were no teachers. We had no alternative means of learning and I thought my dream of becoming a nurse was quashed,” she says. 

UK leadership fails to deliver 

As co-host of the Summit, the UK’s role was to mobilise other donors. However, its failure to live up to its rhetoric of global education leadership yet again made the headlines yesterday. The UK pledge of just £430 million – short of the £600 million target – failed to inspire others to step up and fill the gap. In a year where it has disbanded a world class international development department, cut the aid budget, and hosted a lacklustre G7, this week’s summit casts yet more doubt on the UK’s diplomatic influence ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) which they are due to host later this year.   

Leaders at GES 2021

Build forward better 

Conflict, displacement, climate, hunger, and health crises threaten children’s right to learn today and tomorrow unless we prepare now to respond better in futureIn her concluding statement, Julia Gillard, GPE Board Chair and former Prime Minister of Australia reinforced that the work is by no means done. Addressing the scale of the challenge before us will involve new donors joining the partnership, existing donors continuing to lead, and partner countries implementing their commitments.  

But, she asked, The real question is, do we have the will? The will to prevent the pandemic’s economic fallout from shrinking education budgets. The will to seize this once in a generation opportunity to unlock the future we want for children.”  

If we are to recover from this crisis and protect education against future shocks, leaders must demonstrate political will and step-up financing to education ahead of the G20 and COP 26. 

To do so donors should 

  • Urgently ensure the GPE is fully funded at $5 billion, and fully implement existing pledges for international and domestic financing.  

  • Protect and increase aid spending in line with global targets to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid, with progressive commitments towards 15% of ODA for education. 

  • Support the early replenishment of the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA20), prioritising aid spending on social sectors and on children. 

  • Support debt cancellation, including extending the Debt Service Suspension Initiative at least until the end of 2022, devolving their recently released Special Drawing Rights quota to the poorest countries and moving towards an independent mechanism for the systematic, comprehensive, and enforceable treatment of unsustainable debt. 

GPE developing country partners should: 

  • Transparently implement the pledges made at the Summit and continue to reach the target of spending 20% of national budgets on education.  


Now is not the time to turn our backs on children. Leaders must urgently recognise the opportunities to change the course of history are running out. Unless action on education financing is urgently taken, we risk losing a generation to the pandemic – and failing to deliver an equitable and green global recovery.

We stand side by side with children in the world's toughest places.

Related articles