Aid cuts could spell disaster for the education of poor children

Donor cuts and empty promises leave poor countries in the lurch

As donor aid levels plummet children in developing countries could face a bleak future as they miss out on the chance to go to school. Ahead of a high level Global Partnership for Education (GPE) meeting in Copenhagen today, international agency Oxfam has called for rich country donors and the World Bank to put money on the table for basic education.

Poor countries are experiencing massive shortfalls as donors pull out their funding with one extreme case, Burkina Faso, losing over half of its total education aid. Five donors, including Italy and the Netherlands have slashed their aid to Burkina Faso, a country where more than a third of children are unable to go to school and 43 per cent of the population lives on less than $2 a day. The consequences could be devastating in such an aid dependent country.

Tahirou Traore, national coordinator of the Education for All coalition in Burkina Faso said: “Everyone has the right to education, but without the funds we will struggle to educate the children and to train the teachers. A country's productivity is based on what children learn in school."

World Bank funding commitments falling

And it’s not just donor governments who are leaving poor countries in the lurch; worryingly, new World Bank funding commitments for basic education in the poorest countries fell by over $700 million in the last financial year, and new funding commitments for primary education in Africa fell to the second lowest level in more than 20 years. This is despite a high-profile commitment at the UN MDG summit last September to direct an extra $750m in funding for basic education to the poorest countries over the next five years.

Oxfam’s Education Policy Advisor, Katie Malouf Bous, said: “Unless donors reverse the trend of cuts, there’s a real danger that a generation of children will lose the chance to learn, and that countries will remain poor and aid dependent."

“The World Bank is now reducing the funding that millions of children rely on, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. If it is serious about helping to tackle the education crisis, it must match its grand words with action, and deliver on the promise made a year ago.”

Other countries that are losing a significant chunk of their funding from multiple donors include Zambia, which is losing 31 per cent, Cambodia and Mozambique 18 per cent and Bangladesh 16 per cent. Last week new calculations by Oxfam revealed the biggest drop in aid levels for 15 years, a devastating blow for developing countries. Money from rich nations is likely to fall by at least $9.5 billion by the end of 2012 – a shortfall that would be enough to educate more than half the 67 million children across the globe who cannot afford to go to school.

Ministers meet to decide on education finance

At the replenishment meeting of the Global Partnership for Education today ministers from donor and developing countries will meet to decide how much financing will go to the global initiative that supports education in the poorest countries.

Malouf Bous said: “The whole point of the Global Partnership for Education is to stimulate smart investment in education. Following a lack of concrete commitment to deliver additional money for development at the G20 last week, donor countries can’t turn up at another meeting empty handed. They must step up to redeem themselves and put their money on the table to make education for all a reality.”

The Global Partnership for Education is an effective way for donor countries to deliver their aid, channeling money to support country-owned plans and coordinating donor assistance. Some countries, like Australia and the UK have made renewed commitments, whilst others, like Germany and France, have a long way to go.

Malouf Bous concluded: “Investing in education will mean future generations can work their way out of poverty, rather than being dependent on aid.”

Read more

The Millennium Development Goals

Oxfam's Health and Education campaign

Notes to editors

  • New World Bank commitments to basic education in IDA countries fell to $403m in FY11, compared to an average of $1.146 billion over the previous three fiscal years. This also represents a drop of $575 million compared to the five year average of $978 million. New commitments specifically for primary education in the Bank’s Africa region fell to $29 million: the previous 20 year average was $120 million, and the only year with lower commitments in the period since 1990 was 1997.
  • All data cited here are publicly available on the World Bank’s website.
    The Bank typically calculates basic education using a formula that combines all of the primary and pre-primary categories, 75% of general education, 75% of public administration and 50% of secondary.
  • IDA is the International Development Association, the World Bank’s concessional lending arm for the poorest developing countries.
  • Data on Burkina Faso and other countries losing bilateral aid for basic education is from: http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2011/0824_bilateral_aid.aspx
  • Oxfam’s aid cut figures are based on existing and predicted OECD government aid budgets for 2010-12. The cuts in overseas development assistance total around $11.2 billion with Italy, the US, Spain and Netherlands the major “cutters”. The cuts are only partly off-set by a big increase in Australian aid and smaller rises in the UK and Germany, which keep their aid spending constant as a proportion of national income. Meanwhile, aid levels are flat-lining in other countries, including France and Canada.
  • The GPE has requested an additional $2.5 billion to be delivered by donors over the next 3 years. This money would be able to provide 50 million new textbooks, train 600,000 new teachers and support 25 million more children enrolling in school.

Contact information

For more information, or to arrange an interview with an Oxfam spokesperson from the event in Copenhagen, please contact:

Sarah Dransfield, Oxfam Press Officer:

  • Phone: +44 (0)1865 472269
  • Mobile: +44 (0)7767 085636
  • Email: sdransfield@oxfam.org.uk