By Robert Palmer, University of Nottingham and NORRAG.
The Education Cannot Wait Fund is a positive step in the right direction, but is it really ambitious enough? Even if the Fund is resourced as planned, the world will still witness millions of children in crisis-affected countries waiting for a quality education, and millions more will grow up over the next 10-15 years and become young adults who missed out on an education. The Fund will not cover children aged under 3, or youth aged over 19 years. For many, it seems, education will have to wait. The Fund is imperfect. But it is a great start.
In the lead up to the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May 2016 there is a great deal of discussion and hope regarding the 23rd May launch of the Education Cannot Wait Fund; even while there is still open acknowledgement that it is imperfect and that ‘the world’s best professionals in education in emergencies… [have]… very little understanding of how it [the Fund] will work’.
While the creation of this Fund is being warmly welcomed by most stakeholders, the details of what the Fund can do – and by when – in relation to the actual need is less discussed.
Price tag: Educating 75 million children in crisis-affected countries = US$11.7bn per annum
It is stated that 75 million children aged 3-18 years, living in 35 crisis-affected countries, are in desperate need of educational support. The total education cost across affected countries is estimated to average $156 per child, meaning that the real annual total cost of educating these 75 million children would be US$11.7bn.
The cost assumptions built into the proposal for the Education Cannot Wait Fund are that while the total education cost across affected countries averages US$156 per child, domestic resources will contribute on average at least US$43 per child, and thus the financing gap (that needs to be filled by the Education Cannot Wait Fund) is U$113 per child.
US$8.5bn external financing gap per annum
The US$11.7bn per annum price tag to educate all 75 million in crisis-affected countries is made up of US$3.2bn expected to come from domestic resources, and US$8.5bn from external financing (via the Education Cannot Wait Fund and other means).
Whilst the ideal might be to reach out to all 75 million now, the reality is that coverage will be staggered over 15 years. Against the overall need of reaching 75 million children and an US$8.5bn external financing gap, the Education Cannot Wait Fund has the ambition to scale up annual financing from US$153m in year 1, to US$1.5bn by 2020. This, it is claimed will reach 1.36m children and young people in year 1 and 13.6m children and young people by year 5.
What is less discussed, however, is the flip side to this. While it is noted that 75 million children aged 3-18 years in 35 crisis-affected countries are in desperate need of educational support, the Education Cannot Wait Fund will – even if fully resourced as hoped – still leave millions of children and young people, well, waiting.
Education Can Wait (for funding)
The Education Cannot Wait Fund is rather misleading; because its level of ambition and projected scale up plans openly acknowledge that for the majority of children and young people in crisis-affected countries education will have to wait.
In year 1, the projected reach is 1.36m children and young people, meaning that 73.6m children and young people are left waiting (for education support). In year 2, the projected reach is 3.4m, meaning that 71.6m children and young people are waiting. By year 5, the projected reach is 13.6m, meaning that 61.4m children and young people are still waiting. Eventually, the plan is, that by year 2030 there will be no more children and young people in crisis-affected countries waiting for educational support. In the meantime, because of funding, education will have to wait.
Education Can Wait (if you’re aged 0-3 or over 18)
While there are volumes of recent evidence highlighting the importance of early childhood learning and development – especially the first 1000 days – children aged 0-3 are not to be covered by the Education Cannot Wait Fund.
Further, while there is increasing concern about the need to support young people (especially those aged up to 30) in crisis-countries – especially countries that are affected by conflict – including through technical and vocational training, young people over 18 years are not to be covered by the Education Cannot Wait Fund.
The Education Cannot Wait Fund has decided to focus Fund efforts on the age range 3-18 years, ‘as it was felt that… support to 0-3 year olds and over 18 young people and adults… was impractical in the first stages of Platform operation, and could be reconsidered at a later date’ (ODI, 2016: 30, emphasis added). In other words, those aged 0-3 years and those aged 18+ who are living in crisis-affected countries perhaps will also have to wait for education.
Imperfect. But it will be a start
As Kolleen Bouchane of the Global Campaign for Education and Global Business Coalition for Education says, the Education Cannot Wait Fund is certainly ‘imperfect. But it will be a start.’ The setting up of the Education Cannot Wait Fund is certainly a positive step in the right direction. But we still need to challenge the underlying ambition of the Education Cannot Wait Fund; that will mean many millions of children and young people will have to wait for education. Globally the funds are there; but global priorities favour bullets over books.
48 hours of global military spending or education for 75 million children?
US$8.5 billion per annum would be needed to reach all 75 million children in crisis affected countries. It is expected that the Education Cannot Wait Fund will need 15 years to scale up to this amount. US$8.5bn may seem like a lot of money, but to put it into perspective it was equivalent to less than 48 hours of global military spending in 2015.
 Of these 75 million, ‘while a number are out of school, for those in school, many are at risk of education disruption, drop out, and poor quality, alongside psychosocial and protection concerns’ (Nicolai et al., 2015: 4).
This blog will appear as an article in the next issue of NORRAG News (no.53) on Refugees, Displaced Persons & Education: New challenges for development and policy – which will be on the NORRAG site in late May 2016.
NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.