/ 16 September 2022

United Nations: State, private sector, civil society must seriously boost spending on education

Rethinking Education
Around the world, education systems are struggling to equip learners with the values, skills and knowledge needed to thrive in a rapidly changing world. (Ryan Gray/Reuters)

Across the world, education is in deep crisis. This is a slow and often unseen crisis, but it affects us all. At the upcoming United Nations Summit on Transforming Education, world leaders have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take decisive action. The UN and the European Union now call on all member states to deliver much-needed commitments to ensure that all girls and boys can enjoy and benefit from a meaningful, modern, high-quality education. Their rights and our collective futures depend on it.

Education is the most powerful and transformative tool we have to empower girls and boys with hope, skills and opportunity for their future. It also paves the way for solving many of today’s global problems. But in many parts, poverty and inequality still have a major influence on school attendance and learning achievement. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated a pre-existing crisis and the global funding gap for education has increased significantly. Even before the pandemic, governments were spending less than half of the needed sum on education. Since then, two in three governments have cut their education budgets while some international donors have announced their intention to reduce aid to education.

Collective action on future-oriented learning and education financing is urgent if we want to recover pandemic-related learning losses and ensure that children and young people everywhere are able to access their right to education as enshrined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Investing in education has a transformative effect across the sustainable development goals. It advances gender equality — educated girls are more likely to participate in the decisions that most affect them, to live longer, healthier lives, and earn higher incomes. It makes a major contribution to national development — every euro spent on education can generate €10 to €15 in economic growth. Nurturing informed, empowered citizens can help countries to tackle major problems such as climate change, social breakdown, conflict, gender-based violence and more.

The EU is significantly increasing its investment in education in partner countries — more than 10% of its international partnerships budget, representing more than €6-billion, towards global education.

Now we need others to do likewise. The UN secretary general is calling on all government leaders and all actors, including the private sector and civil society, as part of a global mobilisation, to make concrete commitments to increase funding for education, from all sources.

At the Transforming Education Summit, the representatives of all countries and partners face a moment of truth; now is the time to collectively fill the investment gap to tackle the global education crisis. Now is the time to invest in learning recovery and help put the sustainable development goals back on track, thereby sowing the seeds for the transformation of our education systems, so that education better prepares learners to contribute to a more inclusive, peaceful, sustainable and just future, leaving no one behind.

Amina J Mohammed is the UN deputy secretary general 

Jutta Urpilainen is the UN commissioner for international partnerships