Amb Prof Bitange Ndemo: Financing the Educational Transformation

The education sector is undergoing a significant transformation in response to the changing needs and demands of the 21st century. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies and innovative pedagogies while exposing the deep inequalities and gaps in access and quality of education worldwide. To achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning by 2030, there is an urgent need to mobilize adequate and effective financing for the education sector.

A recent Global High-Level Event on Education organized by the Belgian Government and the European Union (EU) as part of Belgium’s EU Presidency emphasized the importance of education. The event focused on Africa and covered several aspects of education, including teachers and the teaching profession, financing of education transformation, equity and inclusion in and through education, gearing up vocational education (VET) and higher education for the future, the green transition, greening education, and green skills, and the digital transition, digital education, and digital skills.

In this piece, I concentrate on the financing of educational transformation. The event highlighted the urgent need for more investment in education.  The panel discussed how political commitment and workable solutions may foster international cooperation for more and better education. In preparation for the next Summit of the Future, the panel assessed the situation following the UN Transforming Education Summit, emphasising the need for action, and sparked high-level political involvement. The panellists pushed for immediate, workable solutions for education financing that ensure high-quality instruction and skill development globally. They also discussed best practices and scalable financing prospects under the Global Gateway concept.

Financing education in Africa is a daunting challenge, as the continent faces multiple and interrelated barriers to achieving SDG 4. According to the African Union (AU) Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025, about 30% of the school-age population in Africa is out of school, and only 10% of young people complete secondary education. A February 2024 UNESCO publication estimated that Sub-Saharan Africa will need about 15 million new teachers by 2030 to meet the demand for quality education. UNICEF Report 2020 noted that Africa was the most affected region by the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 250 million learners disrupted and an estimated loss of US$ 10 billion in education spending.

The UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM) 2023 estimates that between 2023 and 2030, the average annual financing gap amounts to a staggering $ 97 billion per year for low- and lower-middle-income countries to reach their national SDG4 targets. An earlier report noted that domestic public expenditure on education remains below the recommended benchmark of 4% to 6% of GDP or 15% to 20% of total public spending in more than half of the countries. Moreover, international aid for education has stagnated since 2010 and needs to be aligned with the needs and priorities of the recipient countries. The report warned that with a significant increase in education financing, 40% of the world’s population will have access to a complete pre-primary to secondary education cycle by 2030.

To address these challenges, Africa needs more and better financing for education from domestic and external sources. Domestic revenue mobilization is crucial, as it accounts for more than 80% of education financing in Africa. However, many countries need help to raise sufficient and sustainable revenues due to weak tax systems, illicit financial flows, corruption, and debt servicing. Therefore, there is a need to strengthen the capacity and governance of tax administrations, combat tax evasion and avoidance, and ensure fair and progressive taxation. There is also a need to increase the share and efficiency of public expenditure on education by allocating at least 20% of the national budget and 6% of GDP to the sector and by improving the equity, quality, and accountability of spending.

Participants pointed out that external financing is also vital, as it can complement and catalyse domestic resources, especially for the poorest and most fragile countries. However, international aid for education in Africa is low and unpredictable, falling short of the global commitment of GNI. Moreover, assistance in education needs to be better targeted and coordinated. Instead, it is characterised by duplications, fragmentation and misalignment with national priorities and systems. Therefore, there is a need to increase and improve aid for education in Africa by scaling up the volume and predictability of funding, prioritizing the countries and sub-sectors most in need, harmonizing and aligning the interventions with national policies and plans, and enhancing the mutual accountability and transparency of donors and recipients.

In addition to increasing the quantity and quality of education financing in Africa, there is also a need to explore and leverage new and innovative sources and mechanisms of funding, such as debt relief, debt swaps, social impact bonds, education levies, philanthropy, and private sector engagement. These can provide diversified resources, mobilize new actors and partners, and incentivize results and performance. However, these innovations should not replace or undermine the existing sources and mechanisms of education financing but rather complement and enhance them. They should also be aligned with effectiveness, efficiency, equity, and sustainability principles and be based on evidence and best practices.

The imperative to revolutionize education financing in Africa has never been more pressing. The Global High-Level Event on Education highlighted the urgent need for increased investment and innovative solutions to bridge the financing gap and ensure inclusive, equitable, and quality education. Concerted efforts are essential to dealing with deep-rooted challenges such as insufficient domestic revenue, unpredictable international aid, and the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mobilizing domestic resources, enhancing public expenditure efficiency, and improving the alignment and effectiveness of external aid are crucial steps. Moreover, exploring new funding mechanisms and fostering stakeholder collaboration can unlock the resources needed to propel Africa towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 by 2030. By prioritizing education financing and implementing comprehensive strategies, Africa can unleash its vast potential and pave the way for a brighter future for generations to come.

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